Thursday, January 26, 2017

Three Slices by Kevin Hearne, Delilah S. Dawson, and Chuck Wendig

Three Slices is a collection of three novellas that share a common theme, using cheese to predict the future (tyromancy).
A Prelude to War Copyright by Kevin Hearne.
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys by Delilah S. Dawson.
Interlude: Swallow by Chuck Wendig.
I got the book to read Hearne's story when it fit into the Iron Druid series. Finally got around to reading the other 2 stories. Dawson's vampire circus stuff is interesting but bludbunny is perhaps not to my taste right now.

Wendig's story takes up after the last Miriam book so I lucked out there. Now I can start Thunderbird as soon as I can get my hands on it.

Sadly tyromancy was not 'real' in all the stories. Perhaps I should put air quotes around 'sadly' as well. They were all good standalone stories and I'm glad I read I read the series fill-ins for Hearne and Wendig.

Finished January 17, 2017

League of Dragons (Temeraire 9) by Naomi Novik

League of Dragons is the final book in the Temeraire series. After a travel-adventure around the world in the first eight books we see the series finally winding down. A global League of Dragons is in the offing; will Napoleon be its ultimate master or will the dragons develop something more egalitarian and human-friendly?
“But I have this to armor me against Napoleon’s most pleasant aims,” Laurence said, “that all he does has ever been for his own selfish vainglory. He wishes to be loved by the dragons of France not for their sake but for his. He has had no hesitation in spilling their blood, and the blood of his soldiers, to make himself a perfect tyrant, bestriding the world unopposed. He cannot suffer an equal—and so he cannot be suffered. His means, his immediate acts, may be noble; his ends are less so, and he has shown himself insensible to the wreck and horror of war.”
There is a need to paint Napoleon as the self-serving bad guy since England and Russia's views on dragon sentience and independence are at odds with our hero's (Laurence and Temeraire) views. Novik loosely parallels the events of the Napoleonic wars, including Napoleon's capture and exile.

The status of European and English dragons are addressed within the context of the political realities defined by the cultures involved.
The Bellerophon was visible out on the horizon, with Lien a little awkwardly disposed on the deck, a heavy band of chain marring the clean white line of her neck. They were making sail. Jane shook her head. “I shan’t give ha’pence for the chance, though. I dare say that beast could make shore from St. Helena in a day and a night if she put herself to the trouble, and it is sure enough he will find some excuse.”
This is the last book in the series and it seems like a good place to stop. As a fantasy series that roughly relates the events of the era of the Napoleonic wars, we've reached the natural conclusion. The series concentrated more on plot and world building than story, but I suppose the story of the dragons could roughly be the story of the end of slavery and the rise of middle class. Mostly it was some fun adventure with talking dragons. A fun read. I like to think of it as the British TV series Sharpe... with dragons.

Finished January 4, 2017

Revisionary by Jim C. Hines

Revisionary is the fourth book in the Magic Ex Libris series and I hope it is not the last. The premise of the series started as magic being perceived or created as words and objects can be pulled out of books and used in the real world. We reach the point where magic is more of a primal force that is often more conveniently manipulated using one or a combination of books.

The former founder and leader of the Porters, Johannes Gutenberg, is gone and Vainio is on his own, with little to no support from the Porters, and the U.S. Government barely tolerates the new magic research facility he's helped start. When politicians are assassinated by werewolves a chain of events lead to the discovery of a conspiracy to harness magical creatures to take over the world.

“I didn’t expect him to die,” Deb said sullenly. “I don’t give a rat’s shit about you. I’m not here for the Porters or for Vanguard. But I’m not gonna let the military sail in and do to the sirens what they did to the vamps in Detroit. Whatever conspiracy we’re dealing with, it’s targeting people like me. I need your help to bring them down. As long as we’re going after the same assholes, I’ve got your back.”
The plot revolves around similar themes found in the X-Men and Avengers films, with the government trying to control or exterminate magic users and creatures. The overarching theme is fear of "the other" and the way those in power manipulate those fears for their own personal ambitions.

The series as a whole uses a magic system that constantly refers to sci-fi and fantasy books I've read or plan on reading. Our protagonist, Vainio, is always wishing he could just curl up with a good book instead of running around being an action hero. It is really a treat to have Vainio pull a weapon or ingenious trick from a favorite book. The fast-paced adventure keeps the message from overpowering the story.

Our heroes defeat the conspiracy (of course) and there seems to be an uneasy peace in the world, but there are still loose threads and the possibility of a rogue's gallery of new villains to deal with so there's plenty of room for more books in the series.

Finished January 6, 2017

Monday, January 16, 2017

Last God Standing by Michael Boatman

Jehovah the God is retired and incarnates and lives the life of an asthmatic black man aspiring to marry his girlfriend and make it as a stand up comedian.

All deities have agreed not to interfere with mankind but something is up and Lando must dip back into the Godhood biz and try to keep the universe from shattering.

Does he give up his mortality to set things straight or is it already too late?
Then we sell you to a sweatshop in Mexico or Singapore or Waco, or just rent you to those two idiots from John & Kate Plus 8. I guarantee you… in five minutes you’ll regret everything you ever did in your whole life.
Dated references can be problematic. Pluck a reference from pop culture today and catch the zeitgeist the characters are living, or risk appearing corny as hell in a few years. I think we know in what category John & Kate Plus 8 falls.

Broad humor falls flat as often as not. It is played out by a 'bumbling' god and a cast of unsympathetic characters. A shaky foundation to the 'rules' of magic/religion make this an uneven read. Impossible things happen but are then impossible again. The premise is interesting but it can be a chore to pick up the book again after a rough patch.

Eventually the author abandons humor to get to the rest of the story out.

The alternate reality thing was pretty good. Imagining a world where Africa and the Americas are the predominant world culture rather than Europe was well done.
Through them, I plunge into the river of human consciousness. Through them I am absorbed into the flow of All, allowed entry onto the DNA-encoded information superhighway that defines every god who ever lived. I kick down the unlocked doorways of doubt – doubt can’t help me here – and plunge deeper, past what is known to what is hoped, to what is dreamed and dreaded and adored and hated, falling until I reach the primaevel core of human creativity, linked directly to the collective unconscious; the morphogenetic field; the phenomenon that unites humankind through simultaneously generated ideas and shared cultural symbolisms. It is the sea from which consciousness arises and the river through which it flows. It is the uncharted depths of shared metaphor, the River of Souls: the Eshuum
The novel aspires to combine broad humour and some pretty heavy metaphysical concepts. Not quite successful in this but there are some pretty good scenes and the ending does manage to wrap up strange god/supergod premise.

Finished reading December 18, 2016

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blightborn by Chuck Wendig

Second book in the Empyrean trilogy. It picks up right away from the first book. It is a dystopian future based on mono-agriculture (fuel corn in this particular scenario) and a totalitarian regime using various techniques to keep the masses in check. The parallels are clear. No single character is particularly endearing, including the hero Cael. The painfully obvious hierarchy metaphor of the floating cities for the haves vs. the have-nots is juxtaposed with the lack of any nobility or vision on either side of things.
Besides, the Heartland treats the hobos the same as the Empyrean treats the Heartland. There’s always an order to things. Someone’s always on the top. Someone’s always on the bottom.
She’d rather be on the top, thank you very much.
I was as slow to read this book as it was for the first. Mostly because it's kinda depressing when there's no one to really cheer on. Everyone seems to be stumbling along trying to achieve their selfish ends.

The gay character gets to develop a romantic relationship. Perhaps it was controversial when the book first came out but now it seems kinda an overused point of conflict. Except the Heartland is a reflection of middle America so still an appropriate issue to address.
...We were a team. He didn’t think we were the leaders of the Sawtooth Seven, but we were, oh, we were. We were bound together in our hatred for the Empyrean. The skyrapers were just starting to really seal the deal, taking things away from us that we’d always assumed would be there: our farms, our education, our choice. We’d already had to put up with them floating above us and telling us who to marry, but now we had no choice as to what we did with our lives. And the way to the sky was shut.
Mission accomplished, but Cael might be dead. No other main characters missing. No one is particularly heroic. I'll probably read the third book in the trilogy soon, just to see if I feel the same way that the first two thirds of the book is a bit of a slog and last third is great fun.

Finished January 9, 2017

The Iron Druid Chronicles, a series by Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Atticus O'Sullivan is the last Druid on Earth, and thanks to his special concoction he calls Immortalli-Tea he has lived since time of the Roman Empire. With his sidekick the Irish wolfhound Oberon, he wields the power of Gaia to protect the Middle Earth against the depredations of Norse, Greek, and Roman gods; as well as the powers of Faerie. There are vampires and werewolves, and many other "monsters" as well.

This urban fantasy series is very much in line with Dresden Files. The romantic relationship between Atticus and his apprentice Granuaile, that weaves its way through the book, rarely relies on the "rescue the princess" trope. Good adventure and with a sense of humour. Oberon, the "talking" dog, mostly interested in sausages and poodles, is my favorite sidekick in this genre.

1. Hounded
Atticus O'Sullivan is the last of the Druids. He lives quietly in Arizona; running an new-age bookstore and occasionally shape-changing and hunting with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. Centuries of peace and quiet come to an end when a Celtic god tracks him down looking for some stolen property.
2. Hexed
Things are getting hectic in Tempe, Arizona. Atticus must contend with not one, but two witches' covens, a fallen angel, and followers of the Roman god Bacchus. With his faithful hound Oberon, some good neighbours, and his vampire lawyer, Atticus must broker a supernatural peace in Arizona and protect the mortals he has been hiding among.
3. Hammered
Things are becoming untenable in Tempe, Arizona. Anonymity seems out of the question now as vampires and demon hunters both seek to use and/or destroy the last Druid. Its time to get out of Dodge so as a favor to his vampire lawyer Atticus travels to Asgard to battle Thor.
4. Tricked
The battle on Asgard left some powerful enemies now looking for Atticus in Arizona. The local Navajo trickster god Coyote helps the Druid hide, but also tricks him into dealing with some nasties out in the desert. Further tricks are played on Atticus by godly powers closer to his heart.
5. Trapped
The druid Atticus has survived since the Roman empire by flying below the magical radar. Now his cover is blown just when he has to risk returning to Europe to complete his apprentice's binding to the Earth to become the first new druid in 2000 years.
Enemies from the Roman and Greek pantheon as well as vampires, Loki, and the Norse dark elves are all out to get the druid.
6. Shattered
The apprentice is now a full druid, and after rescuing his archdruid and former master from a magical time-bubble prison there are now three druids.
Atticus, Granuaile and "Owen" must battle Loki and a malevolent menagerie of magical beings. Is the newly Gaia-bound druid ready for the big leagues? Is the newly released archdruid able to adapt to a world that has passed him by? Can Atticus protect his friends and family while battling for the fate of the earth?
7. Hunted
The druids' last interaction with the European gods at the foot of Mount Olympus have come back to haunt them. Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon, the wolfhound must race across Europe, fleeing the best hunters of the Greek pantheon.
Loki is preparing for Ragnarok and killing Atticus is part of the preparations. Can the druids reach sanctuary in Britain and thwart Loki's plans before the hunters catch their prey?
8. Staked
Atticus and his friends must come together to deal with the vampire conspiracy the almost exterminated the druids 2000 years ago. Owen, his former mentor, and Granuaile, his former apprentice, both have their own problems to deal with before they can all team up and put an end to the vampire's plans to take over the world.

Its great that a series this long can manage to tie off long running plot elements, kill off and introduce new characters, and still maintain the air of ongoing risk necessary for a fun adventure.

Oberon the sausage-loving Irish wolfhound is still around for comic relief so I'm gonna keep reading the series.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

Mankind has moved out into the galaxy; they a not alone. Beacons are strung out among the stars to facilitate safe travel for faster than light ships. These beacons are the lighthouses of the future, and like lighthouses of yore they need a lighthouse keeper. One lighthouse keeper plays a pivotal role in brokering peace while battling his own demons.

Hugh Howey has gained some fame by personally managing his publishing rights and keeping his e-book rights above all else. The e-book and audiobook business is pretty hinky in general so Howey's courage and sacrifice is something many new authors should consider if and when they break into the business.

I look forward to read more by Howey. I listened to the audiobook, actually. The first person viewpoint and the context of trying to stay sane while living alone in a beacon lent itself very well to the audio format.

Finished 13 December, 2016.