Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Makes me miss the 80's

A while back, I picked up a friend of mine some Dean R. Koontz at one of the book sales. She read Breathless, handed it back to me, and told me to read it so we can Book Club it.

Here's the problem. As I believe I mentioned, I quit reading Koontz not long after Servants of Twilight since the plots went beyond my suspension of disbelief. Breathless is kind of like that, except it's at least semi readable.

What plot there is is tied up in several sub plots, a few of which never connect to the larger narrative, and all of which end in a big ol's Deus ex Machina, emphasis on the Deus.

Let's see. We have Grady Adams and his Irish Wolfhound Merlin. Then we have Dr. Camilla Rivers, a vet. Then we have Henry Rouvroy and his soon to be dead brother Jimmy and Jimmy's soon to be dead wife Nora. Dr. Lamar Woolsey, a mathematician and chaos theorist who can also beat Vegas odds at the card tables. Tom Bigger, the homeless guy. Then the might as well be nameless serial killer and the lawyer who hires him who show up in about 6 total pages spread in the second half of the book and do next to nothing.

So anyway.

Grady walks the dog, sees visions of white animals frolicking in the glade. Camilla is a vet, who has animals suddenly going into trances and coming out of them content. Henry shows up at his brother's remote farm, kill the brother and his wife, then assumes Jim's identity. Tom has a vision on the beach and walks the California coast.

The white animals break into Grady's house and steal his baked chicken. He invites Camilla over to meet them. Camilla names them Puzzle and Riddle, since they don't fit into any known taxonomy. Claire takes pictures and sends them on to colleagues, who pass it up the food chain, thinking they're lab experiments. This gets Homland security involved, who bring in Woolsey as a consult.That Woolsey is also Grady's best friend's father is just a coincidence.

Henry is convinced his brother and sister-in-law aren't really dead and stalking him.

Tom ends up in a motel where an elderly Jewish couple gets him home.

And somewhere in this, we delve off of plausibility into Intelligent Design, since as the mathematician explains, math doesn't support the theory of evolution.

I mean, it's readable, but it's not anything I'd be inclined to reread ever. It made me long for the days when his plots involved time travelling Nazis, rich old men ripping off H G Wells, or even policemen fighting voodoo.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Hail, Hail, the gang's all here

So, I had originally intended to read something else before starting Enchanter's End Game by David Eddings, which finishes up The Belgariad (mainly because I dislike having back to back posts out of the same series), but I also knew it would be a quicker read than the next volume up before we start the library books.

Anyway, as I stated above, this is the last book of the first quintet. Likely sometime after New Year's, I'll dig up the second quintet and the follow up volumes, but for now, I'm satisfied having read the original stories.

Like the previous volumes, this opens with holy writ from one of the world's religious texts. In this case, we get a passage from The Book of Torak, who frames his narrative with him as the hero. Mind you, the idea is that if his prophecy wins out, this will be the literal truth of the world.

Then we meet up with Silk, Belgarath, and Garion as they cross from Drasnia into Gar Og Nadrak on their way to boundless Mallorea. Which is made more entertaining by the occupying Mallorean Agnaraks conscripting everyone into their army. Eventually, they make it to the land of the Morindim, another godless race. Instead of seeking UL with the Ulgos, these decided to raise demons. Eventually though, they make it to Mallorea and head to Cthol Mishrak where dead Torak lies sleeping.

Then we return to the armies of the west, as they plan a diversionary war to draw the Agnaraks to Mishrak ac Thull. Which works well until the Malloreans and the Murgos arrive at the same time. Polgara, Ce'Nedra, Errand, and Durnik become guests of 'Zakath the Mallorean Emperor who gives them over to the Gromlims for transport to Cthol Mishrak.

Once there, everything comes to a head, and the necessities meet in what's billed as the final battle (well, you know, other than the next quintet...) and we get our happy fantasy ending as just about everyone ends up happily married and healed.

As I complete this, I understand that the overall story is better than the individual books. Becauses, frankly, each book has its own problems, but the story itself is engaging. We'll return to the Bels and Pols soon, I assume, but for now...

Friday, November 10, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, The Riven Queen!

Again, proving that they're quick reads, I finished Castle of Wizardry by Davis Eddings on lunch today. (And if anyone is missing this particular volume, I seem to have an extra.)

So, we pick up with the escape from Cthol Murgos, as the party rides hard from the soon to be ruins of Cthol Mishrack. As Belgarath is exhausted from his battle, the party rests in Algaria at the only permanent settlement, The Stronghold. (The Algars tend to follow the herds and tend to be nomadic. They basically built the Stronghold to give visiting Murgos a place to attack.)

In Algaria, Belgarion meets his cousin Adara, who's in love with Hetter, the party member who can talk to horses. She ends up accompanying them back to and through Ulgoland to Sendaria, where Polgara and Garion and Ce'Nedra make a field trip back to Faldor's Farm for Garion to see once and for all his hoime is not the farfm. Which is good, since as soon as the reach the Island of the Winds and Riva, Garion is revealled to be Belgarion, the Bearer of the Orb of Aldur, and the Prophecied Child of Light in the upcoming battle against the Child of Dark, Torak.

Almost all of the royalty in the West is there, excluding Porenn of Drasnia (who just had King Rhodar's baby) and Ran Borune of Toledra.

Garion finally gets more information on the prophecies and what's expected of him. To try to save lives, he Silk, and Belgarath leave secretly in the night for Mallorea in hopes of causing the confrontation with Torak before total war breaks out for generations.

As such, Polgara is essentially left in charge of those left behind. And she's unhappy. Ce'Nedra, who as part of the betrothal with Garion (again, a condition of the prophecy), has joint ruling powers in Riva, and uses her charm and wits to join the war party. Mostly, she becomes a figure to gather together the disparate non Alorn races to join the fight against the Agnaraks.

And she does this quite well, learning and having to deal with the fact she's likely leading the armies to their deaths.

By far, it's in this book where the plot actually gets interesting. The secrets are revealed, and it's all heading to a showdown.

The one outstanding problem is one of Fate verses Free Will. As Taiba, the Marag woman and Relg, the Ulgo get closer, the prophecy itself states this is necessary and they have no real choice in the matter. Which is really kind of horrible. There's a line in Mercedes Lackey's Mage Storms trilogy that I find myself reflecting on when reading about Relg and Taiba; the idea that lifebonding (or destined love) is almost like enslavement, and love given freely without that kind of bond isn't a bad thing at all, since you have choices with it.

What we know at the end:
Garion is Belgarion, whom prophecy foretold.
Belgarion must face Torak, the Dragon God of Agnarak.
The child Errand is the only other one who can touch thr Orb of Aldur currently.
Ce'Nedra is fulfilling prophecy on her end by raising an army to keep the three headed East safe.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Smiling faces beautiful places...oh wait, wrong side.

I finished Michael G. Williams's Attempted Immortality this afternoon as I was trying to plot out my next few books, thanks to a combination of the goodreads awards and the library. I say this mainly since I've been reading The Withrow Chronicles interspersed with The Belgariad, and this book is currently the last one published.

Anyway, we open on Roderick and Withrow in a beach town on an island on the North Carolina/South Carolina border searching for the ancients who made a deal with a demon back in the day. They seem to have gathered to raise an ancient the cousins dub The Rhinemaiden, after the singing trollops that start Valhalla in Wagner's Ring Cycle. (For those unfamiliar with it, it's four operas about drunken Norse Gods. Google or YouTube Anna Russell and get the short version.)

Anyway, since it's winter, nobody seems to really be in town other than the ancients, their thralls, the technopagans, and Withrow and Roderick. Well, there is one realtor, but she generally just shows up twice and makes nasty commentary.

Anyway, most of the Asheville vampires end up in Sunset beach to help draw out the elders to stomp them out. We also find out the techopagans have utilized magic to do one of the tricks that was ever popular in Mage: The Ascension, wherein flashlights and car headlights now cast sunlight.

Much is gleaned here, such as an understanding that the Last Gasp isn't the last power a vampire is going to get, and indeed, vampires evolve as they age.  We also keep getting hints that Roderick is more than he appears to be, although what he is has yet to be defined.

There's a lot of cross and double cross, and Ross, last seen making out with Withrow in the back room of a big box store is back negotiating on behalf of the ancients. One should also mention that regardless of whether he's a tulpa or a demon, thanks to Dungeons & Dragons, he's vulnerable to silver.

Overall, the theme here is that the ancients are just as divided as the ancillae are in terms of who's doing what to whom. Because, as it turns out, almost no one really wanted the Rhinemaiden to wake up. (In OWoD terms, it's a bit like reading about Sabbat Tzimisce trying to take out the Voivodate. Only with less Vicissitude.)

Honestly, I look forward to volume five, the presumed end of this, since I'm curious as to what horrors await our anti heroes in Charlotte, where no one wants to go.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Not quite like Remy LeBeau

I technically finished David Eddings's Magician's Gambit yesterday, but a very long day at work crossed with a lack of sleep meant not updating until now.

So, We pick up with out party leaving Nyssia and heading to Aldur's Vale. (Aldur being the god of Sorcerers.) Unfortunately, due to a bunch of Murgo interference, the party instead rides through the remains of Maragor, where the God Mara eternally weeps over his slain people. (Seems a few millennia ago, the Tolnedrans invaded and slaughtered the Marags wholesale. Whether it was due to an odd quirk of religious cannibalism or the amount of gold that that Marags weren't using lining the streams remains open to debate.) A visit with Mara yields no real results, other than another discussion on prophecy and the dry voice in Garion's head informing Mara that his sorrow is not far from ending.

The trail to the Vale is treacherous out of Maragor and they end up finding the cave where the Gods met to talk during the creation. Garion pulls a new colt back from death in the cave.

More than a few conversations happen in the Vale, most of which involve getting Garion to understand his Sorcery. We find that Polgara talks to the birds, and Ce'Nedra, who is half Dryad, talks to trees. Alder again refers to Garion as Belgarion, and much is made of finding people to fulfill roles as foretold in prophecy. We also get to meet the other Sorcerers who serve Aldur, Beltira and Belkira (twins) and Beldin, the dwarf. Beldin is one who shows affection through insults, which Polgara and Belgarath understand, but most of the rest of the party doesn't at first.

From The Vale, The party enters Ulgoland, Home of the Ulgos. It seems after the creation, the Gods chose their people, leaving at least one group godless. (We meet a few more of these groups later on, although the Dryads technically count.) This particular group petitioned the gods to take them in, but they told them to seek their father UL. Whom a man named Gorim finally found, and persuaded to take his people and the animals unclaimed as his. Since the time when Torak took the orb and cracked the world, they've lived in caves under the ruined city of Proglu. All leaders of the Ulgo have taken the name Gorim after their founder. I should mention that one the way to Proglu, the party encounters a monster whom Belgarath met many eons ago. During the fight, Polgara and Garion manage to bring the spirit of her mother into battle, which makes Belgarath mildly upset.

Anyway, the upshot of the visit to Ulgoland and Proglu winds up being that Ce'Nedra stays with Gorim and a diviner (one who can sense caves and traverse through rock) joins them for the journey into Cthol Murgos. This would be Relg, who's a fundamentalist of the worst sort, who spends much of him time after being told by UL to get his ass out of the cave and help praying and abasing himself. He does however start loosening up after seeing Murgos (particularly their King, Taur Urgos) in action. After silk gets captured, Relg actually drags Silk out of the pit through solid rock to free him. Later, his unique ability becomes both weapon and body disposal.

Any rate, the entire thing comes down to Rak Cthol, where Ctuchick  waits along with the child who bears the orb.

While that particular confrontations comes out predictably, they do discover what may well be one of the last of the Marags in the dungeons. We close on Relg, who seems to think her nakedness is a sin against UL, leading the party back to her for rescue.

What we know by the end:

Garion is actually Belgarion.
All the members of the party have titles as defined by the prophecies.
There are two proecies out heroes are using, while the Agnaraks have one of their own.
This also is the first real mention of the Mrin Codex and the Darine Codex.
The only one vulnerable in Rak Cthol was The Queen of the World (Ce'Nedra), thus why she stayed in Ulgoland.

We'll return for book for in a little while. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Big problems

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne is a real departure from his soon to finish Iron Druid series. Among other things, at over 600 pages, it's his longest published work. It's also high fantasy, coming closer to George R. R. Martin world building than say, Mercedes Lackey.

The known world here has six countries, of which five have kennings from their patron deity at the outset. Five are at peace, with one, Hathrir mostly at detente with the other five. (The Hathrir have the kenning of fire, and are generally larger than the other peoples in the world. Thus one part of the title plague.) 

Since it's part of the series title, a word on the Kennings. Kennings are magics granted by the gods based on a particular element. The elements in question differ a bit from both Western and Eastern elements, as we have Fire, Water, Air, Earth, Plants, and about midway through, Animals. Rumors abound about a Seventh Kenning, but it as of yet remains undefined. Kennings are granted in a fashion where you either get blessed or join the gods. The first we witness, in Forn, involves tree roots sucking seekers into the ground, where they either become blessed or become fertilizer. The others aren't particularly easier sounding, as Air involves throwing one's self off a cliff and Water involves drowning in a tidal pool. Blessings occur in different degrees (as discussed in the book, it seems like most of them have 3 levels), and overusing the power causes the body to age. (This is all more than what the reader is given at the outset, since we more or less jump right in to the book without explanation . We meet our narrator in Brynlon, and he starts relating tales told on Survivor's Field by the bard from Rael.)

See, in Platonic fashion, what we're reading in the journal of Dervan, a recently unemployed historian at the university in Pelemyn. He's good friends with the Pelenaut (leader of the country), who gets him to follow around Fintan and record his stories as well as occasional spycraft.

Finatn's tales give us a view of one of the Hathrir clans sending an invading force into Ghurana Nent to establish a new settlement after a volcano erupts on the old one. This upsets both the Nentians and the Fornians to their south. (Forn is home of the Kenning of Plants. Therefore, the Hathrir burning trees is abominable to them.) In the meantime, what come to be known as Bone Giants start showing up in the East. a single giant winds up in Kauria, where a linguistics expert is brought in to communicate with him.

North of Kauria, invading hordes of Bone Giants arrive on the shores of Brynlon and Rael. The problem being that no one knows really where the giants came from, since the seas are filled with krakens that eat boats since something called The Rift.

And on the Plains of Nent, a young boy discovers the sixth Kenning after being mauled by giants cats.

Fintan tells these stories using his Kenning, which includes a special stone that allows him to take on the appearance of each individual narrating character. And there are a lot of them. Which is good, since it gives us just about everybody's perspective on the simultaneous invasion.

As an added note, two of the narrators are gay men, which was not something I expected in this volume.

It's a good start to however long this series is supposed to go. I'll be interested to see how this progresses, particularly since most of the map remains unexplored.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Be careful what you wish for

Been a busy weekend, but I still managed to finish Michael G. Williams's third book in The Withrow Chronicles, Deal With The Devil. 

Unlike the previous two volumes, this one seems to be setting up a larger metaplot that ties together some of the random events of the previous two volumes in the series, which is a good thing.

 We start by getting introduced to a new real life superhero in Durham, NC, who gets dubbed The Bull's Eye after she gags a burglar with a bag from a particular box store. Then we end up finding Withrow meeting a new supervillain while trying to track down a foreign vampire in Durham. Said villain is in the Duke library breaking open a case containing an antique Blue Devil outfit.

After watching the newly christened El Diablo put on the outfit, Withrow meets Ross, who seems to be a demon. (Whether or not he actually is becomes a topic of debate after the climax of the story, since for Ross to be an actual demon would suggest that hell and by extension heaven is a real place. Withrow's cousin Roderick thinks it's likely demons are actually Tibeten Tulpas summoned into the Western world.)

Ross apparently has a crush on Withrow, as undead passions rise along with demonic one, which culminates in a protracted makeout session ath the local Uberbargains box store.

Along side the hero/villain story, we also have the foreign vampire who's farming two twins who evidently have delicious blood due to some kind of "vitamin" a lab at Duke was using on a few of the athletes. There's a fairly interesting discussion with that, since one of the twins seems to fetishize the blood drinking, although whether or not it started off as consensual is a topic that gets addressed as Withrow prepares to confront Dmitri.

Jennifer is back, and in a larger role this time, as she's working with Duke technopagans to figure out what all is going bump in the night.

As I said, he seems to be building a metaplot for the series, since we finally find out more of the roots of the Transylvanian from Book Two as well as what caused the zombies back in Book One.We're also left questioning how much Withrow can trust Roderick, since Roderick seems to be acting on his own agenda in things.

I'll be curious as to what surprises Book Four holds within its bound pages.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Hate That Queen!

So, today we're focusing on David Eddings's second book in The Belgariad, Queen of Sorcery.

When we left our Fellowship, they were leaving Cherek for Arendia. We open on the norther border of Arendia, near the ruins of Vo Wacune, former home of the Wacite Arends, who were exterminated some 2.5 millennia ago. As of now, there are only two factions of Arends left, the Asturians, who speak modern English, and the Mimbrates, who speak like rejects from a Ren Fest. The two sides were united under a king of the Mimbrates and a queen of the Asturians following the war that brought Torak to the West looking for the Orb of Aldur. (Aldur being one of the gods of the series. Aldur has no real people of his own, other than a small grouping of Sorcerers who serve him.)

In the great forests of Asturian influence, we meet Lelldorin, an archer of some renown, who joins the party. Lelldorin is very Arendish, he's part of a larger plot to take out the King and make it look like the southern Tolnedrans did it. He's brave, and prone to getting swept up into things like regicide. However, he's not nearly as bad as the Mimbrate Mandorallen, whom we meet next, who's part of an epic love triangle that's the gossip of the entire kingdom. Seems he and his liege's wife are of similar age and in love, although neither will act on it, since the wife equally loves her husband, as does Mandorallen.

Lelldorin gets poisoned going through Arendia, and is left in the care of Mimbrates. Mandorallen comes along to court, wherein the whole regiscide plot comes apart and the Gromlim priest behind it is exposed. (A word on Torak's people, the Agnaraks. The Nadraks are merchants on the North Eastern side of the continent. The Thulls are considered chattel and live in the middle Eastern section of the continent. The Murgos live in the Southeast, and are a warrior caste. The Gromlims are priests of Torak and also sorcerers of Torak and look quite a bit like Murgos. Then there's the Mallorians, but we really don't meet them until book 5. They live on the other continent.)

Anyway, from Arendia, the fellowship travels further south into Tolnedra, currently undergoing a rather expensive and poisonous attempt at regime change. Seems the current emperor, Ran Borune, is not far from death and has no male heir. Therefore, the other great families are trying to get their own candidates in position to take the throne by bribery and poison. We hear of Maragor to the East, where the Tolnedrans massacred the Marags over the sin of cannibalism and the large amount of unused gold in the rivers of Maragor. A monastery sits on the border to try to calm the ghosts who haunt any who venture into Maragor.

The party gets waylaid early on by a Nyssian, seeking to bring Garion, Polgara, and Belgarath before his queen, Eternal Salmissra.

While visiting Ran Borune, we meet Ce'Nedra, his daughter, who's unhappy about being confined to the palace, as well as a clause in the Accords of Vo Mimbre that states she must go to the hall of the Rivan King on her 16th birthday. Since there hasn't been a Rivan King in several centuries, she finds it humiliating.

After leaving on not so great terms, the party continues south, joined by the disguised princess. The ruse is revealed in short order, and Ce'Nedra joins the party, mainly existing here to argue with Garion.

One of the current front runners for the throne catches up with the party, and the Gromlim running him turns out to be the one who killed Garion's parents. This opens Garion to becoming a sorcerer in his own right, who promptly kills the Gromlim.

Anyway, as the enter the Dryad territory, they get waylaid again by mudmen that happen to be animated by snakes serving Salmissra. Once dispatched, they visit the Dryads, who tell Ce'Nedra she can't stay with them.

And so, we wind up in Nyssia, with Belgarath and Silk taking the journey south through the jungle and the rest going by boat to Ssith Tor. It's here we see the wretched hive of scum and villany that is Nyssia. Due to the nature of the jungle, most of the Nyssians have addictions to any number of psychotropic herbs and berries. Slavers run in and out of port. The Nyssians were evidently behind the long ago assassination of the Rivan King, so the Alorns aren't happy to be there. Eventually, Salmissra manages to kidnap Garion, not long after he and Polgara have a really bad fight. Salmissra is surrounded by her eunuchs and her snakes. She essentially drugs Garion into submission, although the nondissociative voice in his brain keeps him rational.

Eventually, everything works out, as Salmissra's plot is revealed and Polgara fulfills a long ago promise to another incarnation of the Queen.

Silk and Belgarath make it soon after, and the party book ends with the party headed to the Vale of Aldur.

What we know by the end of this book:

The Orb of Aldur was stolen by a former disciple of Aldur named Belzedar, and no one is sure how he did it.

Garion's full name is Belgarion, although he's not happy about it, since it means his life is changing.

The Gromlims seem to be bound and determined to stir up trouble in the west since the time of prophecy is upon them.

This is the book where the adverbs start becoming problematic.

Still, other than the overreaching plot becoming more obvious to readers, it remains a solid entry in the series.

Monday, October 16, 2017

No bread pudding this time

So, I finished Michael G. Williams's second book in The Withrow Chronicles today, and found it to be a nice change from the first.

Tooth & Claw picks up some time after Perishables, as Withrow is investigating the murder of the last person who knew him in life. (Ok, we actually pick up in 195* as Clyde, the friend, is investigating the murder of a couple of locals by what everyone assumes was a Songcatcher.) The murder goes unsolved, and Clyde goes up the murder site every year on the anniversary to ponder his failure. Withrow usually joins him.

Except this year, when Withrow finds Clyde exsanguinated in the same spot the old body had been found.

Withrow's biological cousin, who also got turned into a vampire is visiting from Seattle and helps Withrow track down the murderer. That Rodrick has his own agenda is a story in and of itself.

Much of the book delves into the world of vampires in this setting, and the concept of "The Last Gasp", wherein after the last person who knew you in life dies, and you murder someone, you gain a power of some kind. Like flight or making mushrooms dance.

Jennifer from the last book is in here, briefly, as a Paranormal investigator. And a new character, a lesbian detective named H'Diane (and her girlfriend LaVonde) is introduced, as Withrow tries to cultivate her as a police contact. The thing is that there's a touch of Hoodoo up in the hills, and an old witchwoman gives LaVonde a talisman for H'Diane that protects her from vampires.

Unlike Perishables, the book is one complete story, and there are no post apocalytic recipes to be found, which was a lot less distracting. Really, about the only real issue I had was with the printer formatting, wherein there's a line break at the end of every paragraph, which works well on a blog, but drives me nuts in print.

Good read.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Here we go again

Part 2 of the twofer.

I thought another series might keep me from posting about the same series for multiple entries. On the way out the door, I grabbed Pawn of Prophecy, Book 1 of David Eddings's The Belgariad. Which I promptly finished sitting out back with the dog.

Ok. Long time readers have probably heard me kvetch about how badly the author needs a thesaurus. I still think he does, although his choice of adverbs is not quite as bad early on.

Anyway, we start on Faldor's Farm, in the rather remote kingdom of Sendaria. We meet Garion, who's been raised at the feet of the head cook, his Aunt Pol. Garion grows into a teenager over 50 pages, and we hear a few of the stories of this world. Anmes the God Kal Torak, who took Aldur's orb and cracked the world.

Eventually, the people of Torak make their way to the farm, and that starts the adventure rolling, as Pol and Mister Wolf, the itinerant storyteller grab Garion and join the Alorns (Silk and Barak. Silk is a Drasnian, Barak is a Cherek. The kingdom of Belor's people were split in 4 years before this begins.) They're also joined by the smith Durnik, who lived on the farm with Pol and Garion.

Long story short, we, by the end of the volume, know that Mister Wolf is actually Belgarath, a sorcerer of legend; making aunt Pol Polgara, his also Sorceress daughter. Garion is now known to be a relative of the pair. We also know that there are Gromlins, priests of Kal Torak seeking them out. We know something of value has been stolen. The Alorns are mobilizing for war, and the party is headed to Gondor Arendia, where the folks are high on nobility and low on intelligence.

Re-reading reminded me how much I love the character Silk, who's part of the major occupation of Drasnia, the secret service. AKA he spies. He also gets some of the best lines throughout both series.

Honestly, the writing is about like reading some of the interactions in the old Sega CD game Lunar: the Silver Star, where the characters honestly care about each other, but also have no issues smart talking to each other. It's kind of charming, really.

A fun read, even if it's not the most original series out there. Also, you can get a thesaurus and replace repeated adverbs in your own edition.

Bread Pudding made with Twinkies?

This is part one of a twofer, since I managed to not only finish one book today, but then managed to finish the other book I had on me.

Anyway, I recently won an auction and got the 4 books that currently make up The Withrow Chronicles by Michael G. Williams. The first book, Perishables, spends two of three sections narrated by Withrow, a fairly young vampire in North Carolina, who in the third act meets the narrator of the second act, Jennifer.

Withrow lives in a HOA supervised community. He's at the HOA Spring meeting actually, when the zombie attacks happen. While it's implied the zombies only break out in the Research Triangle, it still doesn't change that there's no room in hell and the dead are walking the Earth and causing traffic backups in the community.

Then we meet Jennifer, who's a computer supervisor at a Baptist college up in the mountains. Where there are several cemeteries. This leads to the entire student body pulling a Lord of the Flies style maneuver, with the baseball team raiding the food supply.

In the third act, Jennifer is working at a new dead end job in retail on Black Friday, at the store where Withrow is standing in line for a Blu-Ray player. A particular customer, who's preaching at her phone that Jesus better help her get a TV for her son, gets trampled, releases a Soviet era nerve agent that manages to turn her and the guy trying to help her up into zombies. These zombies also happen to be the variety that move fast and can transmit the zombie plague via bite. Also, they share a hive mind.

At the end of each chapter, we get recipes for some strange concoction that was mentioned in the preceding prose. Ambrosia salad, snack cake bread pudding, and icebox cake. Thankfully not included is the recipe for jellied beef.

It's a wonderfully silly read, and his commentary about people's actions on Black Friday were too true to be truly funny.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Acts of contrition

So, I recently found a book I last read back in high school that I remembered really liking. What I found out is that what I enjoyed as a child kind of terrifies me as an adult.

The book, Penance, by Rick R. Reed, concerns teenage hustlers living on the streets of Chicago, and how one, Jimmy, winds up setting off a pedophile serial killer. Jimmy is hustling, when he gets picked up by Dwight, who thinks that only through pain can street trash be redeemed. That the pain he's giving helps him get his jollies is another matter entirely. Jimmy manages to make a break from it when Dwight's wife comes home a few days early. This inspires the wife to take thier daughter and leave Dwight.

This of course sets Dwight over the edge, who in turn builds a torture dungeon in his basement. Said basement is soon filled with Jimmy's friends, while Dwight stalks Jimmy.

Jimmy, in the meantime is aided and also antagonistic with Father Richard, a priest who's also a pedophile. Difference being Richard is is SAA and doing his best to fight the urges, and unlike Dwight, isn't blaming the hustlers for his issues.

While the book still remains entertaining, things I found titillating at 15 when I last read this are now a heck of a lot more terrifying at 41.

Which is another discussion, since it makes me wonder which other books I read at that age range would inspire a different reaction in me now. Stephen King's IT comes directly to mind, since I was around the age of the boys at the beginning when I first read it, and spent much of my time thinking how cool it would be to be attacked by Universal Monsters.

Also, Penance was one of the Dell Abyss imprint book, of which not that many were published. However, as I was reading through the titles at the back of the paperback, I was amused at how many books released in the line still line my shelves from authors like Poppy Z. Bright and Kathe Koja. I think Nancy A. Collins may have had a title or two under the heading. As I recall, the line was based on Nietzsche's line about the Abyss staring back into you, and was supposed to feature stories less about supernatural monsters and more the horrors of humanity. Quite frankly their success with taht was hit or miss, but most of the books in the line I did wind up enjoying.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

For Puck's sake...

So, evidently back in 2010, I started and never finished Chris Adrian's The Great Night, and bothered to mention it on Facebook. So, I requested it again and finally finished it on lunch today. And remembered why I never finished it 7 years ago.

It's an interesting concept but a really terrible execution of the premise.

Let me explain. It's billed as a retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and insofar as Titania and Puck being characters, it does have that in common with the original. There is a troupe of actors in the park on Midsummer Night, although they're rehearsing a musical version of Soylent Green to guilt the mayor of San Francisco into quitting his program of killing the homeless for food. And instead of 4 young lovers, we have 3 people with some commonalities trapped within Buena Vista Park as the fairies run free.

As the set up, it's Midsummer. Titania is missing Oberon, who vanished following a rather bad fight years prior. She decides to free Puck from his bondage, and he goes all beastly and starts trying to kill everyone, saving the Queen for last.

In the meantime, we have the actors (as mentioned above) running around, and three people who got lost on their way to a party in the neighborhood. Henry, the gay pediatrician who's lover just delivered a Taylor Swift breakup to him; Will, who's ex is supposed to be at the party he was trying to get to; and Molly, who dropped out of Chaplain training to become a clerk.

We spend much time in their heads, reliving their pasts and eventually find the connection between the three of them. We also learn slowly about why Titania got so mad with Oberon, dealing with a mortal boy who died of leukemia during his time as a changeling Underhill.

Oh yes, mortality is one of the biggest underlying themes in a book about mostly immortal beings. And not very subtly handled either. From Molly's ex's suicide to Henry's missing youth, to Will's inability to relate to women... To Titania eventually accepting that even the immortal can die and Puck realizing his own role in the shenanigans.

Honestly, save yourself the trouble of suffering through reading this and go read Shakespeare in the original Klingon instead.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Somewhere, over the rainbow

This book is over 30 years old, so I feel minorly confident I won't be spoiling much with this particular graphic, particularly since there are a few movies and stories that follow similar paths to a conclusion.






Anyway, we don't actually get into this until the last third of the book, and they honestly matter less than the humans reacting to them.

We really start with Dom, a novelist who's first novel is getting published. Dom's started sleepwalking, and building shelters while doing so. We also meet Ginger, a Jewish surgical resident in Boston, who starts having fugues at the sight of random objects. And Brendon, a priest who suffers a catastrophic loss of faith right in the middle of Communion.

These three form the center of about eight others who wind up back in Elko, Nevada, where everyone had stayed about 2 years prior. From there, we find that almost everyone in the group suffers from odd dreams and strange triggers. Through Ginger, we find out everyone had been brainwashed. Through Brendon's Rector, we find out the strange gifts of healing and telekinesis that Dom and Brendon share can be passed on to others.

In the mean time, we have Col. Falkirk at Thunder Mountain, who believes that the people involved in the landing are somehow possessed or no longer human and wants to exterminate those who regained their memories.

It's one of Koontz's longest books to come out of the 80's, but it's also one of his best. All the things that became hallmarks of his work, like technophobia the innate evil of mankind are not particularly present here. We only get one mention of infinity transmitters. It's also not nearly as nihilistic as other stuff from the era, as ultimately faith and hope come from the resolution. Worth the investment.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tying up loose ends by unravelling others

So, Since I guess there's been some local chatter about the drop in posts since the last one, I've had bronchitis, which put me on antibiotics and cough syrup. Neither of which makes me all that excited to focus on anything other than my eyelids. Also, bronchitis fills me with the urge to read Steven King's The Stand, although the only copy I have at the house in the original, not the later complete edition. And believe me there is a difference, although one could only wish that the original had cut some of the journey back to boulder. No, it's just as long and overdone in both version.

None of which has to do with the novel and novella I'm actually reviewing here.

Seanan McGuire wrote another October Daye Novel, The Brightest Fell, which also contains "Of Things Unknown", which concerns April O'Leary of Tamed Lightning.

The big section concerns Toby being sent on a quest not particularly willingly by her mother Amandine. Who wants Toby to find her sister August, who wondered off on the Babylon road about 100 years prior seeking to open the gates to Deeper Fairie and Oberon. In order to guarantee her cooperation, Amy forces Tybalt into Cat form and Jazz into Raven form and locks them in cages.

This requires waking one of her nemesis from elf shot to gain his assistance. That would be Simon, who turned her into a fish for several years at the beginning of the series. Simon is also August's father, and thus the best choice to assist in finding her.

Simon's twin brother, Sylvester does bind him prior to waking, ensuring his cooperation.

From here it gets ugly. The quest takes them from Amy's tower, through pixie land (where we find out Simon had helped relocate the pixies) , to Blind Michael's realm and to Anwyn, last seen being locked off to trap a psycho duchess. In the course of this journey, we catch up with characters still dwelling in these realms. Including a police officer who's been trapped in Anwyn since the realm was sealed again.

And back into San Franciso, where August is eventually found, another deal with the Luidaig is sealed, and some very ugly conclusions are reached.

And then we move into "Of Things Unknown", where in CyberDryad April figures out a way to release the souls trapped on servers to their bodies. What she succeeds at doing will likely have repercussions down the line.

Again, it's a well written a book in a well written series. I'm kind of curious which of the new threads she intends to start weaving with next.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The curious incident with the sapphire dog in the mountains

As I again went digging through the pile of used books I've managed to collect this year, I came across Game of Cages by Harry Connolly, book 2 in his Twenty Palaces series. Mind you, I never read book 1, but hey....

I feel like I missed something in the set up. We start with the narrator, Ray Lilly, working in a grocery store, wondering if vaguely defined events in the last book were a dream. Then Catherine walks in, and we're headed out of Seattle to a small town in Northern Oregon, wherein an auction is taking place. Not just any auction, one where the big prize is something referred to as a Predator, a being from outside normal reality.

Catherine and Ray both nominally belong to some organization known as the 20 Palaces. They kill predators and those who summon them. Ray is something called a Wooden Man for Annalise, who is a Peer in the organization. Catherine is an investigator. (Still not sure oin all the rankings, but near as I can tell, the Peers actually use the sigils that create magic. Catherine has no magic of her own. Ray has protective sigils tattooed on him by Annalise. He also has a ghost know, which is for him, a slip of paper that can cut through anything. It also cuts away aggression when it hits humans or animals. Usually.

So, anyway, in the pecking order, Ray is somewhere under janitor. However, he's street smart.

They arrive after the auction has already ended. However, the winner is dead and the Predator has escaped.

A character who's pretty much Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China summons a predator that's a big ball of lightning. And everyone winds up trapped in small town Oregon a few days before Christmas chasing a Sapphire Dog. (Its method of feeding is to enchant humans to want to possess it, then fight over it. Kind of like Needful Things.)

We find out no one can leave town or sound the alarm as the bodies keep piling up. What passes for the local constabulary calls the staties for backup, and instead wishes them a Merry Christmas.

A peer does show up to take care of the issue, but he dies.

Annalise shows up, and she's glorious.

In the end, I begin to understand that we, the readers are looking through Ray's eyes and his complete lack of information on what the Twenty Palaces are. We get a brief glimpse at how magic in this setting works. We find out about other organizations unaffiliated or opposed to the Twenty Palaces.

It was interesting, and I enjoyed reading it. But I think I need to find book one to get a deeper understanding of what's going on here.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Lane closures ahead.

So, I picked up Night Work by Steve Hamilton at one of the clearance sales I went to this year, mainly because the cover art made it look like a good chiller. Which it wound up becoming, other than one thing. We'll come back to that.

The story centers around Joe Trumbull ("JT" to his friends) who lives alone in Kingston, New York. His apartment is one of two above a boxing gym, in what was the Kingston Greyhound. When we meet Joe, he's headed out on a blind date, his first date since his fiance was murdered a little of 2 years ago.

Joe's date goes well, she even forgives him for being a Probation Officer. Or doesn't mind. She doesn't matter, because they find her strangled in a grave yard a few days later, much like JT's fiancee was. (To be fair, fiancee was strangled and left in her bed.)

However, almost every woman JT interacts with over the next few days winds up being strangled, and the State Police discover that JT's necktie and shoelaces were the garottes.

So, needless to say, JT is the prime suspect, particularly since the deaths all resemble that of his fiancee's.

It's a good set up, and the plot moves at a speedy pace. Problem is, when we find out what is actually going on, the entire things falls apart. And not in the way things normally fall apart. More like the answer is mildly understandable, BUT goes so far over the top that it almost completely ruins the build up.

I guess he has a series he wrote that people enjoyed. I may check it out sooner or later, since other than the resolution, this was a good book.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Really?

I recently inherited about 10 books from my Training coordinator, who's former roommate left them at his house. Among them were a few John Saul novels, an author I haven't read since probably 1992.

Darkness was a reminder of why it's been a while.

The story centers around Villejeune, Florida, a village about 50 miles south of Orlando on the cusp of the Everglades. The town is divided into the working class (with a few rich folks who's lives improved by the number of retirees moving in) and the Swamp Rats, living in shacks in the swamps.

With me so far? In Villejeune, we have the local lawyer, who's adoptive son seems to have a preternatural understanding of the swamp, and a complete lack of emotion.

Moving back into town, we have the Anderson family, who's adopted daughter seems to have very few emotions, although she's a bit looney, trying to cut a baby out of herself that doesn't exist.

Both teens have vision of ancient looking men reaching out of mirrors for them.

And the daughter's grandfather, Carl, is getting vitamin shots from the local doctor that keep him hale and healthy.

While out in the Swamp, the Dark Man is sacrificing their children.

It's really kind of silly, since I had most of the major plot twists figured out LONG before any of the characters did. Also, much like Dean R. Koontz, he does his best to make extreme science the culprit, even if there is a touch of supernatural floating around the swamp.

I mean, I guess I get that we're in the old horror trope of sacrificing the young to keep the old alive and healthy, but it's doesn't particularly excuse the resolution of this silliness involving the children eating their elders.

It's easy reading, and it hold attention, and it doesn't delve quite as deeply into the silly levels Richard Laymon did, but it still reads like a contract novel, designed to pull money out of people's pockets for a cardboard display.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Not bad for an advertisement....

So I picked up Urban Enemies (edited by Joseph Nassise) mainly because Kevin Hearne advertised that it contained "The Naughtiest Cherub", which tells the story of Loki meeting Lucifer. (I should mention: the gimmick here is that all the stories in here are told from the point of view of the antagonists of their various series.)

There are other authors and other series in here that I read, so they were a sort of bonus.

We start off strong with Jim Butcher's "Even Hand", told from Marcone's perspective, as he's forced to enforce his part of the Accords. I suppose Marcone is a villain, but the Dresden files is filled with other complex antagonists who would be more qualified as villains. Not that it matters, it mostly has to do with Marcone mediating a rather violent dispute between some Formori and the local White Court of vampires. Using bombs.

"Sixty Six Seconds" by Craig Schaffer (I'm skipping a few here, since a few of the stories weren't particularly of interest to me, so I'm doing highlights) Crosses his Daniel Faust series with his Harmony Black series. It mainly concerns demons collecting bounties on souls. It reads a bit like Simon R. Green, without the cheekiness.

"The Naughtiest Cherub" by Kevin Hearne continues my love/hate of the Iron Druid. I mean, while giving Lucifer quirks of liking Prince and David Bowie, his portrayal of Loki continues to disappoint.

"Down Where the Darkness Dwells" by Joseph Nassise is ok, dealing with a necromancer who manages to form a symbiotic relationship with Asheral, a fallen angel.

"Bellum Romanum" by Carrie Vaughn deals with the origins of the vampire Gauis Albinus who is somehow responsible for Pompeii.

"Make It Snappy" by Faith Hunter concerns the Master Vampire of New Orleans and his brother.

"The Difference Between Deceit and Delusion" by Domino Finn follows Tunji Malu, some kind of African demon who eats people. He also has a very charming tarantula the size of a small car named Ananasi.

"Balance" by Seanan McGuire explains much of the history of the Jhorlac (aka Cuckoos) and how they operate.

There are other stories and authors in here, but these were the ones that actually stuck out to me and made me want to see if the library has their series. Mind you, what it really served to do was make me wish Jim Butcher would write another Dresden File....

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Meanwhile, off the coast of Zanzibar....

I'm actually a few days late updating, since I finished the book Friday, but I spent my weekend camping and watching the Perseid, which has nothing to do with Devil's Due, Taylor Anderson's latest in the Destroyermen series.

Now you'll pardon me for saying this, but I'm finding the more recent installments are a color commentator away from being WWE RAW or Smackdown. Because we get a lot of set up, one lesser battle about the midpoint (in south America), followed by the last 1/4 of the book, where th etitle fight happens in Zanzibar as Matthew Ready leads the raid to rescue his wife from Kurokawa and the Jaa-ph clan.

This is not to say it's a bad book, since it's not, it's just that it's becoming a bit formulaic. On the bright side, there's a fairly major development at the end of the book, which should make the next phase a bit more interesting, assuming we don't spend the next book in South America.

So really, here's a breakdown.

The Marines chasing the Dominion through the jungle figure out that they've been chasing a ghost force, leading Shinya to reevaluate how to proceed.

General Esshk and the Chooser of the Grik are busy in deepest Africa readying the Final Swarm to drive the Allies back off of Madagascar.

All the fleet not currently involved in the Eastern Theater or circumnavigating the globe to try to catch up with the New United States, get involved on the raid of Zanzibar, in the hopes of saving the prisoners there as well as well as stopping supplies coming from Zanzibar assisting the Final Swarm.

And our boat headed to Cuba via Africa does arrive after taking out both a Dominion Boat and a League Ship.

We're getting more on the League in this book that previous installments, finding that their arrival in this world was during a Spanish/French/Italian Fascist armada aimed at taking out their world's British Navy.

We briefly get to meet a member of the NUSA.

We see the Republic of Real People (down in South Africa) get their various colonial armies together to march on the Celestial City of the Grik.

By far, though, the biggest surprise comes at the end, and I imagine that those consequences will stretch over a few books.

Not bad for a series that was originally supposed to be a trilogy.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I said medium well, not half baked....

So, at one of the used books sales I've been frequenting, I stumbled across Richard Laymon's The Stake. Having read a few of his other novels, I thought, "Hey, I know they're the literary equivalent of a bag of chips, why not?", and then firmly got the regrets upon reading it.

Laymon, back in the days I was still reading Fangoria magazine every month was famous/notorious in their pages for writing stuff that was a step above the Zebra imprint supermarket horror, but not quite good enough to be considered a classic writer. (Let me add here, that while most of the horror available at Krogers was indeed forgettable and pulpy, there were a few that I still own and occasionally re-read. Lisa W. Cantrell being one of them.) Indeed, the first book I read by him, Out Are the Lights, held my attention fairly well until the horrendously silly ending, that revolved around a deaf character being able to read lips perfectly on a movie screen. But, we're not discussing that one at the moment, even as much as I want to get another copy of that travesty.

The Stake's cover claims it to be "A novel of the supernatural" and even has a Stephen King blurb on it. The former is a misnomer, and the latter is proof that King was willing to blurb for anyone in the 80's.A reviewer on goodreads refers to this one as the novel where Laymon learned to pad out the length. This is also pretty true, particularly given the subplot that gets introduced in the last third and gets wrapped up with a Deus ex machina at the very end.

Anyway.

The book starts with our hero, a midlist splatterpunk author named Lawrence Dunbar and his wife Jean, out exploring ghost towns on the California/Nevada border with friends and neighbors Peter and Barbara. They wind up in a real one, Sagebrush Flat, which dried up in the late 1960's. The town is in disrepair, although the hotel has a new padlocked hasp on the front door. Being drunk and needing to advance the plot, the couples break in to the hotel to explore. Climbing the stairs, Barbara falls through, and Peter, getting under them in the basement, finds a coffin with a teenage girl. Said Girl has a stake through her heart, is surrounded by garlic cloves, and has a crucifix standing watch over her rest.

The couples leave in a hurry. Pete and Larry, though, later on decide to go back and get the body.

That comes later. First, we meet Larry and Jean's daughter, Lane. Lane, who's in High School, has what passed for typical teen issues in the era. Her boyfriend is interested in one thing, and she has a crush on her English teacher, Hal Kramer.

Before Larry and Pete return to Sagebrush Flats, we get a brief glimpse of Mr. Kramer, and his "friend", who happens to be Lane's classmate Jessica. That he's made her his friend through the use of razors and threats of murder isn't important until later.

The boys go get the body while the wives are out of town. While exploring the desert around the town, they find a skinned coyote that someone was obviously eating for dinner.

The corpse winds up in Larry's garage attic, as Larry and Pete decide to make a Amityville Horror style true story book out of the vampire in the desert. Larry starts dreaming about the corpse, seeing her as if she was alive. She keeps making him promises if he'll take the stake out.

Oh yeah, in case I forgot to mention it, Larry spends most of the book obsessing about the women in his life who aren't his wife.

Eventually, Larry finds out the girl's name was Bonnie, and she'd been Homecoming Spirit Queen in 1968. Kramer, in the meantime kills Jessica and her parents, sets their house on fire, and then prepares to make Lane his next "friend". Lane, oblivious to most of this, is doing things to intentionally draw his attention to herself.

And finally, late in the book, we meet Uriah, the one who staked Bonnie and her friends in 1968 and buried most of them under the hotel basement floor. He feels he's on a mission from God to eliminate Satan's vampiric spawn, although we're mostly left to wonder is he's insane or not.

All of this comes to a head in the literary equivalent of Prom in a teen movie. Everyone winds up coming over for dinner.

It's not a particularly badly written book, it just feels as if there's a better book just waiting to be chiseled out of the slab of words as presented. It would have also helped on my end, as a reader in 2017, if any of the characters had been better developed. I mean, we get to know Larry, and we get to know Lane, but everyone else seems like a paper doll, standing there waiting to be interacted with. And, much like Stephen King's early work, the plot doesn't actually do much until the last 50 pages or so.

If you're wanting something that will hold your attention but not really require much thought, give Laymon a try.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The End is the Beginning is the End

So, I picked up Kevin Hearne's Besieged, with the understanding it was a collection of short stories, but I was hoping it was some of the previously published stories that seem to only be available in digital format, particularly since those seem to hold a few crucial plot points that get glossed over in the actual main series.

Sadly, they aren't in here. Instead, we get 9 stories, roughly 4 of which take place after book 4 and 5 that take place after book 8, with one of the missing stories being used as reference around when they're set.

Which is fine, since the last story in the book sets up the events we're supposedly getting in the series finale in April, but...

Anyway, the early stories mostly fill in stories from Atticus's past, including questing to the Library of Alexandra to find some scrolls sacred to Seshat. After a bit of a scuffle with Horus, he finds out Bast cursed hers with the noise of mating cats should one who is not her priest try to read them.

We get stories of a few demon hunts, one of which happens in 1850 San Francisco, another in Kansas.

All of which are presented as campfire tales.

In the present, We get Owen's tale of how he met Atticus, Granuail's talkes of trying to id Poland of vampire after the pact takes effect, Perun and Flidais in a "cuddle dungeon", and trying to rid the Tasmanian Devils of some sort of facial cancer.

The last story, the set up for supposedly the last book, centers mainly on Atticus having to leave Oberon in Oregon having been informed by the Morrigan that Loki has visited Lucifer and is now ready to begin Ragnarok. 

While all the stories are good and readable, and a strong reminder of why I enjoy the series so much, I still feel like this book is mostly filler, a morsel thrown to keep the wolves at bay who anxiously await the next installment. That it also doesn't include some of the other stories is almost criminal, since not everyone is thrilled with e-publishing.

I just can't help wishing for more.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I miss the rains down in Bridgetown

So, I went in to R. S. Belcher's latest return to Golgotha, Nevada, with as much of an open mind as I could muster, since, unlike previous entries in the series, this one is focused predominantly on only one character. Given the last two books in the series have been ensemble pieces with all the lunatics playing their own roles in the proceedings, I wasn't sure if following Maude Stapleton away from Golgotha would retain the magic that made the first two books so entertaining.

As it turns out, I needn't have worried much, since it seems Golgotha's weirdness isn't the only pocket of surrealness in the post Civil War world. Indeed, while Maude's narrative is set in 1870, we also follow her "Grandmother", Pirate Queen Anne Bonney across the oceans of 1721 on a quest of her own to find Carcosa deep in the heart of Africa. And in one really strange passage, the two timelines converge, making for one heck of a passage.

So, basically, we catch up with Maude not long after the end of The Shotgun Arcana, returning to her roots in Charleston, South Carolina, where her father has taken her daughter Constance. Leaving behind her new love, Mutt, she seeks full custody of her daughter and control of her inheritance from her Grandmother. Not to say there aren't complications of both the normal legal, but that comes in later.

In the mean time, we join Anne escaping the hangman's noose in Port Royal, Jamaica. She's gravid with child, and ends up delivering a son on the beach as part of her escape. Giving her son up to a friend to deliver to her family in South Carolina until she can return, she sets off on a quest for a city she's dreamed of paved with the bones of monsters.

Anne's story eventually chronicles her voyage to becoming the first Westerner to become a Daughter of Lilith. Maude, already being one, and in the process of teaching Constance to be one, must deal with her sisters within the rather small company, who seem to think that Constance needs to be sacrificed to refill the Grail that Maude emptied towards the end of book 1. We learn of the origins of Lilith mythology in this setting, and we learn of Lilith's husband, Typhon, who has a sect of his own, the aptly named Sons of Typhon, who's blood is much like the slick oil that was causing people to go nuts back in book 1.

As with just about every book in the Golgotha series, there's much to unpack in terms of mythology represented. Anne's tale takes us through the Oya and Orishas, while Maude's contemporaries represent Aztec and Oriental cultural mythologies as well.

It's also fair to say that Golgotha gets a little of its own placement in the narrative, as letters between Maude and Mutt travel a few times in the narrative. Mind you, this is where the odder bits of humor float up, as the local golem maker is reported to have hooked up with Shelley Wollstone, and a new brand of snake oil is drawing in customers from places like far off Night Vale.

And Maude even gets a bit of non-Mutt romance with a reporter who trails her doggedly through the book, even joining in her desperate flight to Carcosa on Anne's old ship, the Hecate.

My only regret on finishing this volume is realizing it's likely be a few years before we get another Golgotha volume, since I assume we'll be dealing with his other two series again before we return to Nevada.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Shamantery

So, as I believe I mentioned previously, I've been reading through some books I've picked up at various book sales of late while waiting on reserves to show up at the library. I'm happy to report one of them came in and was picked up today, so I'll be reviewing new fiction pretty soon. In the mean time, let me tell you of the kind of adrift in the overall timeline of Lois McMaster Bujold's World of Five Gods series, The Hallowed Hunt.  (I say adrift because goodreads lists it as book 1 in the series, even though it was written long after the first 2.)


While the two books written before this take place in and around Chalion, This one takes place in what seems to be south of Darcatha in an area once known as the Weald. (They got conquered by Darcatha before this book starts, but it appears they've regained some autonomy since Aurak destroyed the old king. The retain the Quintarian Orthodoxy that Darcatha instilled, meaning that those with Weald era issues like having an animal spirit grafted onto their souls are considered as bad as Demon ridden sorcerers.)

Thankfully, Ingrey kin Wolfcliff has a dispensation from the temple that keeps him from being burned at the stake to rid him of his affliction, namely having a wolf soul grafted on to his by his father. Which is good, since we meet him en route to a former prince's home in exile, where the Prince is dead and the murderer is a young Chalionese woman the Prince was trying to kill in process of adding a leopard spirit to his soul. Somehow, Ijada got the leopard and managed to bludgeon her attacker to death.

Which, in the Weald's political climate makes her more apt to be burned at the stake or hanged for murder than vindicated with a finding of self defense. However, since everyone must ride back to the capital with the prince's body, this gives us time to get a better view of what it means to be a shaman. Particularly when Ingrey's wolf starts coming to the fore and trying to kill Ijada. Thankfully, Learned Hallana (a divine of both the Mother and a Sorcerer in the Bastard's Order thanks to a quirk of fate), arrives at one of the stops on the procession and finds that a geas has been placed on Ingrey. She manages to remove it, but in the process, it brings the Wolf out of the containment Ingrey had built for it. The Divine sends a letter with Ingrey to take with him to another Divine in the Capital to see what can be done.

While this meeting does eventually happen, it's not before we meet another exceptionally memorable minor character in the book, Prince Jokol Skullsplitter, who got his surname from the skullspilitting headaches his poetry gives his crew. Jokol is from islands away from the Weald, and in town to drop off an Ice Bear named Fafa to the Bastard's Order in exchange for a Divine for his island.

While Hallana and Jokol provide some much needed comic relief throughout the book, much of the actual plot centers on Wencel kin Horseriver, Ingrey's cousin. Wencel, it seems, has a horse of his own. And quite a bit more besides.

It's actually quite breathtaking in its plot, once it gets going. We have a conflict between what a man wants and what the Gods want, although the Gods are limited by what their vessels can be inspired and willing to do on their behalf.

When I read this the last time, it was right after I managed to sprain/break by elbow, so my perceptions were likely off with the presence of painkillers. However, a new reread does suggest that while the book takes some time getting going (it's roughly one third of the book before some of the bigger plot points start coming in to play), the overall book remains a fantastic read.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades

While I've read Ernest Klein's Ready Player One on a previous occasion, I recently found a copy at one of the books sales I've been hitting this past year. Since I'm between holds at the library (most of my reserve list is either not published as of yet or I was late getting a reserve in so I have a bit of a wait), I figured I'd pass some time by re-reading it. I just wasn't expecting to finish it again in two days.

For those of you who haven't read it....

Ready Player One concerns one Wade Watts in the year 2044, as humanity is in decline from a lack of natural resources. When we meet Wade (AKA Parzival), both of his parents are dead and he's living in a stack cluster in Oklahoma City with his drug addled aunt. He's enrolled in an on-line High School in the OASIS, a free-ish online world that most of the Earth is in. (basically, with a set of gloves and a visor that scan the world on to your retinas, it's virtual reality on a universal scale.) And he's a gunter, one of the many seeking the OASIS creator Halliday's Easter Egg, which gives the first one to find it ownership of OASIS and all of his sizable fortune.

Wade's best friend online is Aich, who competes in tournaments for money and thus is more well off than Wade. (Seems virtual currency is worth more than "real" currency.) Later on, they add Art3mis to their cabal, a female gunter and blogger.

Halliday's will left everyone with a riddle to find the first key, which in turn would lead to the first Gate. While in Latin Class, Wade solves the riddle and uses a school provided transport chit to travel across the virtual world to get to a small forest that opens on to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Having access to the module, he's able to get into the throne room, where the Lich (who's supposed to be elsewhere) greets him and challenges him to a game of the 80's classic "Joust". (The one where you press the flap button a lot and try to make the NPCs drop eggs.) Art3mis, who had solved the riddle a month prior but had yet to beat the Lich meets him and points out that his name now tops the scoreboard, which had been blank prior to someone getting the first key. Wade figures out where the first gate is and ends up playing through challenge wherein he's Matthew Broderick in Wargames.

While this does lead to plenty of money and endorsement deals, it also puts a giant target on his back courtesy of IOI and the Sixers. IOI being a company that wants to control OASIS (so they can charge people to use it and make ad revenue off of it) and the Sixers being a group within IOI named Oologists who work for the company trying to find the Egg. The leaders of the Sixers, Sorrento, approaches Wade about becoming a Sixer. When Wade denies him, Sorrento and IOI set off a bomb in Wade's stack. Thankfully, Wade's in his hiding space, buried in a pile of cars.

And on and on it goes, filled to the brim with 80's cultural references, until the very last climactic battle in front of the third gate that features Ultraman taking on MechaGodzilla. And a race to the finish in the gate as Sorrento runs about 18 minutes behind Wade.

Given how quickly I finished it this time, I'll again say it's a very engaging read, filled with memories of my childhood, even if a few of the references got on my nerve. (Like the Second Gate, which involves RUSH's "Temple of Syrinax".) I also found myself laughing when a discussion about The Goonies revealed where I knew the mother on The Real O'Neals from.

If you haven't read it, and, like me, remember the 80's, pick up a copy. Or if you like Audiobooks, the version of this one is read by none other than Wil Wheaton.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The secret life of James

For those who haven't realized by now, mountain climbing tends to send me into Walter Mitty style fantasies. I know full and well that I will never summit an 8000+ meter mountain, but books about doing so, even the ones about the disasters that happen on them, makes me imagine what it would be like to do so.

With that in mind, I picked up Buried in the Sky by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan, which discusses the 2008 disaster above Camp 4 on K2. However, unlike some of the other books on the subject, written by survivors, this one is much more focused on the High Altitude Porters ("sherpas") that took people up and tried to get them down. Which is unusual, since one gets the impression from this book and others that the porters are generally considered pack mules and barely worthy of getting a picture taken of them at the summit.

So, for some background, K2 (aka Chhogori), lies on the Pakistan/China border and is the second highest mountain on Earth. Unlike Everest, the weather patterns aren't that predictable, making summit attempts more of a crapshoot than some of the other mountains. The two porters we get the most involved with (Chhiring and Pasang) share similar backgrounds, coming from really remote villages in Nepal and coming to Kathmandu to make money to support their families.

What came as a great surprise to me was how much detail the first half or so of the book spends on going into sherpa culture and the legends around the mountains themselves, in terms of Buddhist gods inhabiting them. (Everest's Goddess is one of fortune. K2's is one of blood sacrifice.) Sherpa is actually a clan/caste name that gets applied to any porter, although the clan Sherpas tend to look down at any other class that's trying to be a porter. (Like the Bhotse. But they all look down on the Muslim porters from Pakistan.)

Anyway, we eventually get to the climb. We hear about base camp, and how most of the porters look with disdain on the cairn to the fallen at the bottom, since it imprisons the souls of the dead instead of letting them fly free. We get the impression that most of them tend to look at the foreigners as decadent, although the money lets them overlook the worst of their sins.

They get about a 3 day window to climb and summit the mountain between storms. As such, the teams trying to ascend at the same time join forces and porters to lay ropes Problem being the one porter who can actually speak enough languages to communicate effectively with everyone gets sick at Camp 2 with a bad bacterial infection. Since he's also the only one on the mountain who's ever summited the mountain, this is also a very bad thing.

Most of the problems become well defined on summit day, as all groups try to get up past Camp 4 and through the Bottleneck traverse, which is prone to avalanches and is narrow enough that passage is single file, making the pace that of the slowest climber. The biggest issues to crop up are that the porters still functioning are used to Everest, where rope is used all the way up. K2 usually only gets ropes through the bad parts. As such, they run out of rope, and have to keep going back for more to get people up. Which further slows down the progress. With a turnaround time of 2PM, the first person to summit (who was free climbing ahead of almost everyone else) tops out at 3:30 PM. Which gets the rest of the summiters up there near dusk. Making for dangerous conditions climbing down in darkness. Particularly when the seracs above the Bottleneck start to calve, burying the ropes. Given they're in the "Death Zone", this gives people the choice of trying to bivouac in fatal conditions or trying to climb down in dangerous conditions.

11 people die from falling, avalanches, and exposure. One Porter, Karim, we get supposition on his fate, since no one';s particularly sure where he was, since he wondered off. There are a few photos taken from lower down the mountain that seem to suggest him in one place, but given high altitude tends to inspire hallucinations and most of the radio communication was static by this point....

We also learn of what it's like to suffocate under the snow and how best to survive if buried in one. Not that it helps, the climbers who get buried don't make it down.

It seems in the aftermath that everyone blamed everyone else for the disasters, but eventually things resolved themselves as best as could be expected. And Chhiring and Pasang lived with the consequences as best as they could and still climb the mountains.

It's ugly in several parts, but honestly, the background information presented on the folks who live in the area and the mythology that surrounds the mountains more than makes up for the nightmares of being buried in a glacier.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Well, that was cheerful

There are a few comparisons I'd make with Felice Picano's Like People in History, but "The Gay Gone with the Wind" as Edmund White blurbs on the cover isn't one of them. Actually, the two things that kept coming to mind as I read it were Stephen King's IT and a mid-90's movie, It's My Party. 

Having not read this before, I guess I stumbled across one of those "loved by more than a few people" books. Which is not to say I didn't enjoy the journey, I did, but I also spent more than a few passages either wanting to reach into the prose and give a character a "Get Over It!" Cher slap or rolling my eyes and saying "Oh, get her!" I realize some of this is due to being closer in age to our narrator's boyfriend in 1991 than the narrator himself, but....

Anyway, People is told mostly in flashbacks, framed by events transpiring in New York City in 1991. Our Narrator, Roger Sansarc, an author, professor, and several other titles, is taking his much younger boyfriend Wally to Roger's cousin Alistair Dodge's birthday party somewhere off Central Park West. Alistair lives with a boyfriend everyone refers to as the White Woman. As it turns out, Roger's birthday gift for his cousin is a bottle of sleeping pills to assist his AIDS ravaged cousin die. From there, Wally and Roger head out to an ACT UP rally involving chaining AIDS patients to Gracely Mansion to protest the mayor not releasing funds to help the plague ridden victims of the city. Wally an Roger fight on the way there, because Wally thinks it's wrong for Roger to help his cousin kill himself. Roger agrees to go back to Alistair's after the protest to stop him, but instead gets arrested after helping drop a large banner off the mansion's roof. He eventually gets out of holding that evening, and finds a very angry Wally, who thinks Roger planned everything that lead to his arrest. That eventually gets settled, and the two reconcile before they gat back to Alistair's early in the morning. Where Alistair has taken the pills, leading to Roger riding in the ambulance with Alistair and deciding on saving Alistair would best be served by letting him die or making sure he recovers.

In the meantime, we look in on Alistair and Roger's relationship, starting first in 1954, when young Alistair comes to Suburban New York while his parents are fighting over custody. Alistair makes short work of taking over Roger's circle of friends.

In 1961, Roger visits Alistair in California (LA), ostensibly to lessen his depression. Alistair has become some kind of junior real estate magnate, working through his mom and her current boyfriend. Alistair hangs out with the surfers, most of whom seem to be what today would be considered casually bisexual. Alistair is also schtupping the landscaper, which eventually gets found out, leading to said landscaper getting deported.

We next check in with Roger in 1969, as he rather druggedly makes his way north to a certain concert in upstate New York along with a girl he thinks can be his first. Let's see, the girl joins a commune, Alistair, who's at Woodstock, gets Roger hooked up with a fictional bassist from a British band, who ends up becoming Roger's lover briefly. Roger falls out of love with the bassist, falling in with a revolutionary working against the war in Vietnam. Roger goes before the draft board under the influence of codeine from oral surgery, passes out, and figures out Alistair had helped the revolutionary set Roger up as part of a protest against the draft.

And on to 1974 San Francisco, where Roger is running an upscale bookstore that his cousin Alistair is trying to set up an art gallery in. Roger eventually meets Matthew Longuidice, a former Navy man who's been serving in Vietnam. Matt has a bad leg, but he and Roger are in love. Alistair marries a woman and moves to Europe.

1979 finds Roger working for a NYC magazine and weekending in the Pines on Fire Island where Matt is more or less living all summer. Matt has become a rather famous model for Drummer. Alistair sails in from Europe, in the process of divorcing his wife. Roger is dealing with more than a little jealousy over Matt's flirtations, even though the relationship is presented as being open; it's kind of implied that the rule seems to be once with one person is ok, twice with the same person is verboten. Matt's obviously jealous of Roger as well, and Alistair stirs the pot all summer before making his final moves at the Jungle Red party. Which ends with Roger having a one night fling with Alistair's brother in law and Matt leaving with Alistair for Europe.

And in 1985, we find Roger still in New York, this time helping produce a play he wrote about gay history, ending at Stonewall. Alistair is back in town; they run into each other at a supporting character's memorial. (This gets really painful, as only one person tells the truth about Calvin. It gets mentioned later that, true to history, Calvin's cause of death is listed as Herpes, not AIDS. Since no one died of AIDS. If you were really good, it was "liver cancer".) Over dinner with Alistair, an old acquaintance informs Roger that not only is Matt back in town, but he's in the hospital. Roger gos to visit, and he and Matt reconnect over Matt's eventual deathbed. Matt asks Roger to get his parents to come see him, which is heartbreaking. Matt's parents love him dearly and are very proud of him, which is a damn sight better than many people in the era got. Matt's mother tells Roger of Matt's love of a children's book retelling of Patroclus and Achilles, and how she still relates that story to hiw she and her husband held on to Matt's (now amputated) leg after he was born as her parents tried to take him away. As happened all too often, Matt dies and Roger is listed as next of kin. When he collects Matt's belongings, he finds some of the last poems Matt wrote for him, and we find that the two of them still loved each other.

While I had a few issues, as mentioned above, by the end I was attached to the characters and better understood why Roger makes his eventual decision. I also spent much of the book in tears, since much of the last part covers my era of coming out. The Fire Island chapter is filled with Disco earworms.

It's a good read, and one that the younguns who don't know any of the history might benefit from. Or for those of us who are older, serve as a reminder of who we are and where we came from.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This is how your write a villain

Reading Benedict Jacka's Bound (the latest in his Alex Verus series), is a good reminder of what got me sucked in to his writing in the first place. Great pacing and a real mystery as to what's actually going on. By the end, we get an idea of how many books he's been plotting a few of the twists through.

Bound covers roughly 10 months of of Alex's life after being made Morden's second at the end of the last book. Needless to say, it hasn't improved his popularity with Britain's Light Council. While this does get Alex back into the Keepers, they're not exactly bending over backwards to help him.

In the meantime, both Morden and Richard Drakh, Alex's former Master, have him running around on both Council business as well as some personal business that doesn't make much sense until the end. On top of that, Arachne sends Alex and Anne and Luna and Varium off on a secondary quest to find a dreamstone, an item that might help Alex reach Deleo and maybe help defeat Drakh.

Which leads to the foursome taking over a Shadow Realm of their own after a bit of an adventure with a really angry hammadryad.

Towards the end, with Verus and Anne tapped to break into council chambers (or so they think), we finally get a tantalizing peek at what's been going on behind the scenes for a few books now.

Drakh's plot so far reminds me a bit of a traditional trickster, someone who's several steps ahead of all the other players, and much better at arranging pieces on the board.

Given it will likely be a year before the next volume, I can only hope time passes quickly.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Sigrud lives

Bit late writing this one up, since I technically finished Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Miracles yesterday. But since I wanted nothing more than a nice nap when I got home yesterday....

Anyway, this supposedly being his final book in the Divine Cities trilogy, I found it was less of a trilogy and more like a musical Rondo, as this book returns to many of the themes and scenes as the first book after a completely different second installment.

We start by meeting Sigrud in a logging camp several years after the events that ended City of Blades. What brings him out of his self imposed exile is news that Shara (former Prime Minister of Saypur, hero of City of Stairs, Sigrud's mentor) has been assassinated in Bulikov.

Sigrud takes it upon himself to find Shara's killer and bring justice to him. Which honestly happens fairly quickly, except for the fact that finding the killer leads him further into a much deeper plot involving things Aunt Vinya did prior to the start of the series, and indeed things that date back to the time before the Blink, when the Divinities died.

On the bright side, Mother Mulaghesh shows up a few times, now serving as opposition party leader in the Upper house of Saypur's parliament.

Much of what the plot revolves around in the idea that the divinities had children, either with each other or with mortals...leading to complications in the modern age, since Jukov, the trickster, made the children forget their divine heritage in order to protect them when the Divinities died. As such, one of the children, Nokov, the embodiment of the First Night, who was also tortured by Aunt Vinya in her misguided attempt to give Saypur a Divinity,  is running around, finding his Divine siblings and cousins and essentially eating them to become a full fledged Divinity.

It takes much of the book for the full scope of everything to become clear, most of which is Sigrud coming to terms with his own checkered past, and his remorse over the death of Signe, his daughter in the last book. Along the way, we find out what actually happened to him in the prison he was in before Shara rescued him and the greater meaning of the miracle that scarred him.

Along the way, we get exciting chase scenes, including an extended run along a fast moving people mover suspended by cables over the snow covered mountains.

Several themes get revisted here, the biggest of which seems to be Sigrud's personal "It's easy to find a cause to die for, it's much harder to find one to live for." We also get "How do we end the endless cycle of of pain inflicted upon each generation?" and "What exactly is Divinity?"

Phenomenal book. Phenomenal Series.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Ich bin ein Berliner

It's been a bit of a journey getting through it, but I finished Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical Christopher and His Kind, covering his life from 1929-1939, although technically the book ends in January of 1939 as he and W H Auden sail into New York City. But still, it's a decade spent partly in Germany during the rise of the Nazi party and around Europe and Asia.

We start with Christopher's arrival in Berlin, and his search for someone who can fulfill his fantasy of the "foreign boy". Which I'm not particularly kidding about. In a change from his fiction, here, the author is being honest about his homosexuality and how it propelled him through life. He describes in detail about how finding a boy who could be GERMANY in the avatar of a lover appealed to him, and so he met Bubi at one of the local dives. (There are a few long passages that precede this meeting discussing why the author didn't ever feel particularly comfortable in the UK practicing his homosexuality, and a few glimpses of college encounters ridden with guilt. It's a bit like reading Brideshead Revisited.)

Anyway, his romance with Bubi doesn't last long, particularly when Christopher's German improves, ruining the fantasy. H does move in with Frl. Schroeder, which is much like what''s described in Berlin Stories. Here though, she's a bigger than life character, one who doesn't care what happens under her roof as long as no one gets hurt. He talks of going back to Berlin later in life and visiting with her, hearing what happened to her during and after the war, as she lived in West Berlin.

He, as in the above mentioned book, does move in to the slummish attic with Otto and his family, although here we find out that it was not due to financial difficulties, but because he and Otto were shacking up. His description of his relationship with Otto is a bit odd, since to the author, it revolved around dominance and submission, with both trying to achieve the upper hand with the other. Or as described, Christopher gave Otto money and gifts, or Otto started looking elsewhere for attention.

As life in Berlin proceeds ever downward (Isherwood leaves right about the time Hitler gained the Chancellorship), we see the real people who populated Isherwood's Berlin books. Gerald, the lawyer who in time became Mr. Norris; Joan, who became Sally Bowles; and several students who had their own roles to play, some of whom survive, some of whom don't. We hear of the fighting in the streets between the three major political factions (those behind the current government, those backing the Nazis, and those who thing the Bolsheviks had it right and Germany needed to become a Communist nation), and how most of this is overlooked by the police.

He does meet and fall in love with Heinz, who becomes his constant companion throughout life out of Germany. So about 1933 to 1937ish. This includes stays in Belgium, Portugal, Greece, and France, but never in Christopher's homeland.  This is due to problems with Heinz's passport, which lists his occupation as something akin to domestic help. When Christopher tries to get Heinz into England, he's not allowed in, since Christopher's rather bourgeois family would unlikely need a foriegn houseboy. Christopher and Auden complain that it's likely because the border agent knew Christopher was Heinz's lover because the guard was also homosexual.

That love affair eventually falls apart, as Heinz's attempts to change his citizenship keeps running into issues, and Hitler starts conscription. Eventually, forced to return to Germany for what's supposed to be a night, Heinz is arrested by the Gestapo.

Thankfully, Isherwood passes on that Heinz did indeed survive the war, and even ended up marrying a woman and having kids. Which isn't exactly a happy ending, but it certainly beats the heck out of the fates of others arrested under Paragraph 175.

While this relationship was the focus of much of the book, Heinz's fate is revealed with about a fourth of the book left to go. Which leaves us with Isherwood and Auden going to Asia to cover the Japanese invasion of China, and their eventual immigration to the US. Where Isherwood leaves us with a bonne mot about how his future lover was only 4 years old when Isherwood made it to the States.

This book was not exactly what I expected. Based on what I'd heard from others, I was expecting most of it to be set in Berlin, and Heinz to be more of a focus of the narrative. Neither of which is true. Then again, Isherwood leaves Berlin in 1933 and Heinz is arrested in the late 30's.

Early passages in the book, describing his realizations of his queerness echoed back to my own early coming out, trying to find a personal mythology to explain why the heck I was so different than everyone else around me.

One of the things that becomes quite clear after the Reichstag fire is that those who could, left Germany. Those who couldn't, stayed. And in the case of the landlady, had to perform enough lip service to the Reich to survive, even if she did vote Communist in the prior election. Something that we, here in the modern era, seem to forget when looking back at it. It also makes Max and Elsa a smidgen more sympathetic in The Sound of Music when they sing "No Way to Stop It".

I'm also kind of amazed by his account of Chamberlain's role in the Munich Agreement, or the Munich Diktat, depending on how one feels about appeasement. Isherwood makes it sound like Chamberlain knew he's failed. Then again, he also says the communist leader at the meeting was probably the only one who openly opined the entire thing was farcical.

About the only thing that really got on my nerves through the first part was his tendency to refer to himself in third person when discussing the past, while using first person when recalling various things in what was his present. It took a lot of getting used to, plus the occasional reference to his eventual conversion to Hinduism.

Really though, Isherwood's tale reminded me most of the character of James Whale (himself a real person) as portrayed by Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters. Then again, both men were of a similar age and similar class backgrounds.

While I enjoyed the book, I doubt this will be one I revisit all that often. If only because a few things in here, particularly when he gets self destructive, made me want to reach into the story and smack some sense into him. (I mean this figuratively.)

Friday, May 5, 2017

Hands Across the Multiverse

So, during the recent library drought , I looked through goodreads recommendations and found that the library had one book out of about 15 that was recommended, looked interesting, and was available to check out. Which would be Mike Resnick's first John Justin Mallory Mystery (How goodreads labels the series, vs. the book itself which labels it "A Fable of Tonight"), Stalking the Unicorn.

The book is centered on a New York City Detective named, unsurprisingly, John Justin Mallory. We meet John on New Year's Eve, as he's behind on the bills, his wife has run off with his partner, and he's busy drinking whiskey out of a Mets coffee mug.

He's startled by the arrival of Mürgenstürm, an elf, who's willing to pay exorbitant cash if Mallory will help him find a unicorn before dawn. (That Mürgenstürm is responsible for the unicorn and going to be killed by his guild if he doesn't have the unicorn back by dawn would be his major motivation is hiring a down on his luck private dick.)

Mallory, like most sane folks, thinks the elf is a pink elephant. Then Mürgenstürm drags him across into HIS Manhattan.

Long story short, the unicorn got kidnapped by a leprechaun who also double crossed a demon who wanted it.

Along the way, we meet Captain Winnifred, the big game hunter; Felina, the cat girl; and Eohippus, a talking horse about the size of a chihuahua. Oh yeah, and Grundy, the demon who wants the unicorn for the ruby on its head that makes travel between this Manhattan and the one Mallory normally is in possible.

While I ended up liking the book, it does come off a bit like what would happen is Dashiell Hammett had written The Phantom Tollbooth.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bark at the Moon

So, today, I finished Mark Chadbourn's The Hounds of Avalon, and with it, The Dark Age Trilogy. While I kind of regret reading Book 1 of the next trilogy (thanks to a misunderstanding with goodreads.com) before finishing this middle trilogy, it did make reading through this really dark book a slight bit more bearable.

Dark is a bit light. Perhaps pitch would be a better description of the tone throughout. Actually made The Empire Strikes Back look like Pollyanna by the end.

We center mainly on Hal and Hunter, the last two members of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons of the current pentad following The Age of Misrule. Hal is an inofficious bureaucrat with the remains of the government (currently seated at Oxford) and Hunter is something of a Soldier of Fortune currently employed by the government. Both come to find out about their position around the midpoint of the book. Mallory and Sophie from Book 1 show up when Hunter is sent to capture of of the Brothers of Dragons on behalf of the government. Sophie winds up supposedly dead and in Lugh's court thanks to Cerridwyn's intervention. Where she meets a powerless Caitlin from Book 2, who in turn becomes an avatar of The Morrigan again.

Any rate, we get much more on The Void, the Anti-Life, that noticed the rise of humanity after the defeat of Balor during the Battle of London. We meet street gangs going around with Red V's on their chests who think of Ryan Veitch, the Great Betrayer, as some kind of Messiah. (Which, given his role in the next book...) Mind you, when Shavi, Laura, and Ruth show up about 2/3 of the way through, they still think of Ryan as a good man who had the misfortune of being used by the gods.

I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here. Hunter more or less plays the role of tactician of the new 5, trying very hard to get everyone in the right place. Hal, in the meantime, has a more cerebral task, tracking down  hints of Avalon in a Poussin painting. (And here you though Poussin only painted triangles disguised as historical figures.)

Said painting, complete with Dan Brown style anagrams.
Eventually, several different Lords (Bones, Flesh, Insects) show up with the Lament-Brood and hold Oxford under siege. And the true ugly of the book starts appearing, as Hal is arrested for assassinating the Prime Minister and sentenced to execution during the height of the siege. We watch the last gasps of humanity as the Hounds arrive and their howls become the last cries of humanity. And we find out that the government sold out to the Void.

And then we see how the present of the next trilogy begins.

As I said at the outset, this is a very dark book, with very few and very faint glimmers of hope lighting the last days of humanity. And the last days of the Golden Ones, really. I mean, everything changes at the end.

Yeah. I think I'll return to the final trilogy sooner than later, since I'm kind of curious how this all will turn out.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Exorcizamus te, omnis immunde spiritus.

So, in a moment I've been kind of dreading for a while now, particularly since Abracadaver was published in 2014, and Goldzilla has been announced yet not released, I did finish Laura Resnick's most recent Esther Diamond novel.

Picking up right after the ending of The Misfortune Cookie, we start at the end of Chinese New Year with John Chen, the funeral home worker dragging an exhausted Max, Lucky, and Esther back to the mortuary where a recently prepared corpse has just tried to walk out. While this might have lead into a rehash of the zombies in Unsympathetic Magic, it instead focuses on Lopez's partner Quinn, and his oppression by a very old demon. (How old? It speaks pre-Christ Aramaic.)

Given the indie film Esther was working on previously has folded production, Esther is quite pleased that Crime & Punishment: The Dirty Thirty wants her to reprise her role as Jilly C-Note, the bisexual hooker. Also gives her an excuse to sent the show's star, Nolan, to shadow Lopez and Quinn to figure out what the demon is plotting.

While th ebook features much of the same increasingly bizarre situations that make the series so much fun to read, there's a really large fight between Lopez and Esther that's really hard to make it through.

And eventually, we get resolution, sort of rushed, but satisfying none the less.

Unlike other books in the series, this one is not particularly focused on one Manhattan neighborhood. Instead, we're much more focused on the interpersonal relationships of the characters and how the supernatural tends to affect those relationships.

I hope Goldzilla eventually sees release, since I'd really hate to see the series end here.