Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Barking by Tom Holt

This standalone novel by Tom Holt twists the werewolf-vampire trope into a humorous story about belonging and the magic of chartered accountancy. An old childhood friend inserts himself into the life of our protagonist. Is being a dull junior lawyer doing estate law different from being the junior monster in a werewolf pack?
No, he argued with himself, it’s not the magnificent heightened senses and superpowers and all that stuff. It’s not even the changing into an animal, because that’s great. It’s them: Luke, Pete, the bloody Ferris Gang. I was right to leave them and wrong to come back. If only I can get away from them for good; New Mexico— 
But that wouldn’t be possible, would it? Your wolf is first and foremost a pack animal. He’s part of a group. He belongs. Now, belonging is a wonderful thing, as opposed to being isolated and lonely and nobody in the world giving a damn. But like everything else, it depends. Above all, it depends on who you belong to.
This is a fun and surprising take on werewolves. Comparing and contrasting the pack mentality with being a lawyer, and a dull estate lawyer in particular, in a law firm turns out to be a great source for humor.
Biscuits: he remembered them, vaguely. They belonged to a world where people were people, rather than werewolves, zombies, vampires or unicorns; a place he might once have taken for granted, but never again. The events of the last two days suddenly rushed up around him, like flood water, and he huddled in his chair, his face in his hands, as though his memories were a cloud of buzzing flies.
Holt apposes mundane office life with the fantastic to make the fantastic both mundane and silly. The problems of werewolf life include maintaining pack order, not chewing the furniture, getting drinks in down at the pub, and not snacking on cats.
A quiet room somewhere with no windows, a calculator and a pencil, and that’d be the end of Bowden Allshapes. A few calculations, some straightforward addition, the two bottom lines would balance and that’d be it. Accountancy as a lethal weapon; death by double entry. And then he’d be free.
The central conflict of the book revolves around trying to balance the numbers in a set of books. It is less a werewolf story than it is about identity and finding where you belong... and the magic of accounting. Plus there's a unicorn.

Finished 12/11/2016 8:02 AM

Calamity (Reckoners 3) by Brandon Sanderson

The series continues with the previous rebel leader turned evil and the team trying to turn him back. I can see this being the series conclusion, especially with Sanderson having so many other projects on the go.
(Is there a point to this? I asked. Yeah. Entertaining me. Say something stupid. I’ve got popcorn and everything. I sighed, tucking away)
All the texting and stupid puns and metaphor manglings makes sense as the books are targeted towards the young adult crowd. The violence level makes it more teen than tween.
Well…crashed it here. Turns out flying is way harder than people think. In the air, I was about as adroit as seventeen geriatric walruses trying to juggle live swordfish.
Might need to work on that one.
In a series where regular folk are the heroes and Epics are villains and monsters I found the conflict resolution a bit too easy. It was probably appropriate for the age range though. An excess of subtlety can ruin a straightforward adventure.

A fun sci-fi adventure very much along the lines of Sanderson's Alcatraz series.

Read 29 November, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kingkiller Chronicle - The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are the first two books of the Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Rothfuss twists the usual teen hero fantasy in an interesting way by switching between the past where the boy becomes a man and reveals his great powers and a future where he has lived through his 'heroic' deeds and now hides in anonymity. We are all waiting for the third book to explain what happened during the intervening years, especially what the whole 'Kingkiller' thing is all about. There's also an ancient evil that few people believe in to deal with.

Rothfuss has received well-deserved praise for his writing. He is great at hanging rich world building and character development on an intriguing plot. Dialogue and terminology specific to the world is not loaded with jargon or medieval-ism.

It was 4 years between the first two books and so far we have been waiting 5 years for the third book (The Doors of Stone - coming 2018?). Perhaps the delay is due to Rothfuss spending so much time going to conventions and doing his podcast: Unattended Consequences: A weekly conversation between Patrick Rothfuss and Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity). Perhaps it is the time he devotes to his family or his Worldbuilders charity. The monster.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things was published three years after the second novel. It is a standalone side story featuring a complete adventure focusing on a secondary character. I haven't read it yet as I wanted to read it shortly before I get my hands on the last book. In general I dislike waiting years between books in a series so I try to let them pile up. Rothfuss has said that the third book will definitely complete the trilogy, but there will be more books set in the world and include his main characters as well as shedding light on new and minor players.

In other news, Lin-Manuel Miranda will be involved in a TV adaptation and a movie of Kingkiller Chronicle.

I don't necessarily suggest immediately going out and reading these two books, I strongly suggest you get them as soon as the third one is available... or the movie comes out.

I read Name of the Wind in November 2010,  and Wise Man's Fear in May 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak

Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak is an urban fantasy novel set in the days of Prohibition and Al Capone. Its magic system is much like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. Angels and saints co-exist and do battle with the forces of evil and chaos as represented by the magical realm of faerie ruled by Oberon and Titania. Of course, Chicago is the setting.
I wasn’t sure if Oberon had told him I was a Roman or if Doolin just thought I was Italian since my skin was swarthier than his pasty flesh. It was possible he even believed I was part of the South Side gang. Whatever the case, his assumption seemed to fuel his attack, making me wonder about his past history with Capone’s boys.
The book sticks to the noir style, warts and all. I was reminded that film-noir was created as a low budget film style. Budget writing, acting and special effects. The racial stereotyping seems pretty accurate for the period. Irish, Italian, Mexican, and black all get the old-style treatment.
Eye can give you wings . . .
Aware of what that offered entailed, I said nothing. There were worse things than endless servitude to the Gate, and believing the dragon was at all a thing I could trust with my life and my soul was one of them.
How does that last sentence parse for you? I found the writing a awkward in places. I guess it helped that the protagonist was so taciturn.

Problems arise and and are solved with little to no organic development. The characters remain invariant through the course of the story. It didn't help that the characters had no interesting quirks or habits to give them color.

Both Nick and the dragon have been around for 1600 years and yet seem pretty naive and clumsy. You'd think Nick would be a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Lee by now. Unfortunately strict adherence to the genre requires that he miss the obvious and constantly get knocked out cold.
I wondered what else had been altered just by that one card. I suspected I’d find out before too long.
And I suspected that at least something caused by that alteration would come back to haunt me and maybe offer the dragon another chance to free himself again . . . even if more than a city burned next time...
Teaser for more books? I hope not.

Knaak may be more of a pure fantasy expert. Maybe I should try some of his other works. The story was okay as an exercise in genre but the characters were flat and the period color work was stilted.

Finished 12/08/2016 5:27 AM

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

Been a while since I've read this series but there was enough of a recap built in to the first part of the story to get me back in to the swing of things.

The dragon's naiveté is a continuing, and mostly the only source of humor in an otherwise grim and stodgy alternate universe set during the Napoleonic wars.

The globe-spanning Temeraire series hits every continent, exposing us to different dragon-human cultures. In this book we start with Japan and China in the first half of the book and finish with Russia.

Of all the different ways dragons coexist with man around the world Russia is the worst, and sadly as our memory-deficient protagonist Lawrence learns, Britain is not far ahead. The amnesia gimmick is kind of hokey but forgivable given that it is book eight in the series.

The parallel to the Napoleonic wars is roughly accurate so we have a general idea of how the rest of series will play out. There are hints early on in the book that there may be a North American story in the future.

Believable period dialog and societal conventions combined with some exciting battles carry this and previous books in the series. I look forward to future installments of the Temeraire series.

Finished reading November 27, 2016

Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff

This is a story of a man with multiple personality disorder who tries to resolve his internal issues while trying to live a 'normal'  life.  His 'house' is populated by over a hundred personalities, the strongest handle different aspects of his life. Things get complicated when someone tries to play matchmaker when a woman with MPD is hired.

The developing romance is complicated by their attempt to control and/or cure their psychological issues. Sensitive, funny and dramatic in turns, Matt Ruff gives us a satisfying story about an uncomfortable subject. There is controversy over whether MPD actually exists, but that need not be of concern as Ruff is first and foremost a story teller, and uses MPD as a device to explore the characters rather than taking sides on the issue.

I've read Fool on the Hill and Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff as well. Both great reads.

Read March 10, 2014

Something More Than Night by Ian Tregillis

Something More Than Night is Ian Tregillis's first novel after the completion of his very popular Milkweed Triptych.

It falls into the category of Judeo-Christian urban fantasy. Similar to Bobby Dollar (Tad Williams) and Sandman Slim (Richard Kadrey). Tregillis does a fantastic job of world-building a heaven based closely on the works of Thomas Aquinas.

Tregillis follows the classic Hammett/Chandler gumshoe/film noir narrative.  It is true to the genre but doesn't cross the line into parody. The mystery is seen through to its conclusion and the damsel in distress is protected without the story being predictable.

This is a standalone novel that isn't begging for a sequel or series treatment. Well worth the read.

Read February 15, 2014

Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey

A pretty interesting standalone Urban Fantasy novel from the guy who brought us Sandman Slim. The book precedes Slim but shares many common elements. Our hero is a San Francisco tattoo artist who is violently introduced to the "real" world where monsters, angels and demons share the world without regular people realizing anything is out of the ordinary. He and his companions must travel to hell to seek the means to return our hero's life back to "normal".

Great action, a talent for describing weird monsters and fantastical lands, and some smart-alecky banter make this a fast-paced fun read.

The guys got a way with words:
No, you're going to kill yourself because you can't stand the real world. Reality is a two-ton weight strapped to your balls. And they just keep getting heavier.
I'm not a fan of tattoos or the tattoo and piercing culture but I like the author's treatment of the subject:
Spyder saw much of his early ink less as a tribute to the art and more to his own neuroses. He wore his fear on his skin for everyone to see.
A timely pop culture reference given that the Sr. Strange movie just came out recently.
"You need to work, dude. Get back to what you know and what you're good at. I bet you could really make the colors dance now that you've got all those Dr. Strange super powers."
On an interesting side note Kadrey had his short story "Carbon Copy" turned into the movie No Ordinary Baby, starring Bridget Fonda. He called it a truly awful film. Interesting. Gotta check it out.

Finished reading the book 12/06/2016 6:27 AM.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Lifehacker's 17 Science Fiction Books - A good start

17 Science Fiction Books That Forever Changed The Genre | Lifehacker Australia

Some good suggestions in the user comments as well.

A pretty good list of seminal sci-fi books, although I agree with Paul F Tompkins' H G Wells character from The Dead Authors Podcast that Jules Verne did not really write science fiction.

If I ever get around to making my own list I'd add E E 'Doc' Smith as the father of space opera. Both the Skylark and Lensman series are well worth the read.