Books I Bought in 2007

I'm afraid book reviews are on hiatus. You will find here brief reviews of books through 2011, longer reviews through fall of 2014, and then nothing. Sorry! I got distracted trying to finish a game and then never got back to reviewing.

I acquired 93 books in 2007.

Left Over From 2006

Wolfe, Gene
Soldier of Sidon
More of la-belle-dude-sans-memoire, in Egypt. This seemed shallow, but Wolfe always convinces me that it's my own fault for not getting it.

January 2007

Green, Simon R.
Hell To Pay
Newest Nightside novel? I don't remember anything about the story, which is fine. You don't read these in order to have your literary outlook changed forever.

Richardson, Kat
Private detective learns to see ghosts. Good idea for a series (I mean, if you've already decided to cash in on the supernatural-romance sweatshop) but the writing failed to carry it. The pacing seemed all wrong; I had no sense of what the protagonist cared about or worried about. Also, her helpful magic buddy and convenient boyfriend were both too convenient and helpful for any tension. Will not read sequel.

Reynolds, Alastair
Zima Blue and Other Stories
Some of Reynolds's best stuff. These stories are not set in his "Revelation Space" universe. This makes them less depressing.

Briggs, Patricia
Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, book 2)
More shapechanging mechanic. This swerves sharply towards the median: our heroine is torn between her werewolf boyfriend and her human boyfriend, or was it vampire boyfriend? Or a second werewolf? I now have the plot confused with, oh, about three other series, and whose fault is that? Still readable.

Lukyanenko, Sergei
Night Watch
Urban fantasy from Moscow, where the natural evolution of light-vs-dark is the business-as-usual milieu of barely-distinguishable corrupt government and crime mob. Light magicians and sorcerers are bogged down in a permanent standoff-and-treaty with Dark vampires and witches -- with countless deals, alliances, rivalries, and friendships running across the line, at every level from the petty to the top. Charming and tricksy. Also made a great movie.

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Kid meets intense mythic avatars from the dawn of et cetera. Present-day setting, and brings in some characters from Kay's early Fionavar trilogy. This bothered some people who remembered anything about Fionavar. It didn't bother me, but in retrospect those characters were a distraction from the plot. But then maybe the plot needed distraction. Without Kay's usual layerings of historic detail, the intense mythic avatars kind of came off as twits.

Scalzi, John
Old Man's War
I read this on Scalzi's web site Way Back When. Old guy signs up on a one-way trip to Explore the Off-World Colonies! Up side: restored youth; down side: it's a military ticket. Most of Earth's old folks go for the deal. We thus get a war story which isn't the growing-up of a naive teenager, which is worth the price by itself. Enthusiatically told and funny, too. The plot of the last section goes off in a somewhat unrelated direction; you could look at this as a set of closely-linked novellas, or as the beginning of a trilogy with long-term plot threads.

Butcher, Jim
Proven Guilty
I think this series needs momentum on its side. I had to wait a long time for the paperback of this (and the sequel still isn't out in paperback). When I'm not chewing the series down like candy, it isn't that memorable. Anyhow, our hero attempts to cope with the tidal wave of crap that the past several books of bumbling have brought down on him. (PS: I liked the TV series, so there. Different story, different characters, but nicely done.)

February 2007

Dowling, Terry
Blue Tyson
Twilight Beach
Series of short stories in an Australian future -- meaning the mix of aboriginal and colonial, nation and tribal confederacy, mythic and scientific. Also a lot of alien and slightly posthuman. (I already had some of these volumes, but now I have matched editions.)

Nix, Garth
Lady Friday
Continuation of steam-pulpy kids' series about a boy chasing around the House of the Architect after God's Will. (Still in probate.) Has a nice percentage of creepy. I wish these were coming out faster, though -- they can't take that long to write.

Friedman, Daniel P.; Felleisen, Matthias
The Seasoned Schemer
Friedman, Daniel P.; Byrd, William E.; Kiselyov, Oleg
The Reasoned Schemer
I never got good at functional or logical programming. I went through these as a refresher. They're followups to the original Little Lisper (later rewritten for Scheme); tutorials and exercise books written in Socratic form.

Harrigan, Pat; Wardrip-Fruin, Noah
Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media
Collection of academic articles on RPGs and computer games. Ego purchase: one of the articles is about my game Shade. Many of the other articles are excellent, and I only stop at "many" because I skipped around a lot. Eventually I need to read the rest. Contributors include Costikyan, GRRMartin, Borgstrom, Czege, Kevin Wilson, Mechner, Meretzky, Crawford, Ken Hite, Emily Short, ...

Gentle, Mary
Ilario: The Lion's Eye
Standalone novel set in Gentle's "Ash" alternate history. I say this is her best novel; the plot is coherent (not tight, but plenty of momentum). It rebounds between political intrigue (petty and dirty, not world-spanning) and the wonders of Gentle's mad setting, while remaining tightly focussed on themes of family and gender. In every combination -- the protagonist is a (true) hermaphrodite, and the story only more complicated from there. And unlike Gentle's usual take on family, it's not unremittingly bitter. (Note: currently in print in the US, but divided into two volumes confusingly titled "The Lion's Eye" and "The Stone Golem". I read the UK edition.)

Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Sixth you-know-what.

Hite, Ken; Woodward, Jonathan
Underground Boston
A pamphlet essay on inventing a secret history for Boston.

Brinley, Bertrand R.
The Big Chunk of Ice
A novel of the Mad Scientists' Club, long unpublished. Boys' adventures involving the Alps, diamonds, haunted castles, and even girls. Amusing.

March 2007

Duncan, Hal
Followup to the deeply confusing, vivid, and authorially gymnastic Vellum, about which I was ambivalent. I'm afraid I fell off the wrong side of ambivalent with this one. Duncan is juggling a whole nest of analogous characters in different settings, trying to spread a gestalt story across their fragments, but I couldn't get a hold on it. So I read a bunch of fragments about characters with similar names. Some of them were really well-written fragments; I hope Duncan writes a novel next.

Duncan, Dave
The Alchemist's Apprentice
(Not the same Duncan!) Smartass kid in Renaissance Venice runs errands for his grumpy master Nostradamus. (Not the same Nostradamus!) Because it is Venice, politics occurs, thence rooftop chases, duels, poisonings, amorous assignations, demons, and more politics. Thoroughly fun.

Vaughn, Carrie
Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Look! More urban werewolves! This is actually an early entry in the genre, which I didn't pick up until now. Small-time radio talk show host decides what the hell, let's talk about all that preternatural stuff that we're not supposed to admit exists. (She is a recent werewolf victim/convert.) The show strikes a nerve, furries and vamps start calling in, and it catalyzes the Big Paranormal Coming-Out Month that's either backstory or futurestory in most of these series. Has a certain amount of familiar tropage (look! the badass bounty hunter!) but a good read.

Doyle, Debra; MacDonald, James D.
Land of Mist and Snow
A slightly Lovecraftian Civil War yarn. The Union is building an extremely peculiar warship, far in the Artic, no cold iron allowed anywhere and the work crew aren't exactly human... Creepy, though rather thin.

Campbell, Alan
Scar Night
Someone really enjoyed his Mieville. This has a crumbling city suspended on enormous chains over a pit with a carnivorous god at the bottom. Unfortunately you now know all the good parts of the book. Everyone in it is nasty or annoying or both.

April 2007

McGarry, Terry
Conclusion of a trilogy which started with a familiar "young misunderstood wizard runs away from home" plot, and got progressively more peculiar. I don't think this one is very successful, but at least it fails at something distinctive. The various narrators (at least one of whom is insane) try to deal with all the magical catastrophes that have befallen their wonderful magical homeland. Including the catastrophes from ancient history that led to (what we thought was) the original status quo. The result is a bit too tidy, considering its magnitude, but you can't fault its ambition.

Shinn, Sharon
The Dream-Maker's Magic
Third in a kids' series about a world with homey forms of magic. The dream-maker (there's just one at a time) is a good-luck charm for everyone he or she meets, while never being happy him/herself. This fits into a comfortable adolescent hard-luck growing-up story, with enough friendship and cheer to avoid pure tragedy.

Moriarty, Chris
Spin Control
Sequel to that coal-mines-in-space novel from a few years ago. This thankfully drops focus from the gimmicky unobtanium, and sticks to politics. All right, Israeli politics. But it feels a lot more relevant than downtrodden blackleg miners. It's got AI politics too, and spy politics, involving our friends the spy and the AI from the first book. Also ants (literal and metaphorical). Moriarty is shaping up.

Lukyanenko, Sergei
Day Watch
More Russian fantasy. This series is organized as groups of connected novellas, and I didn't like all the sections in this book. But, overall, still good. (I liked the movie Day Watch too, but the movie is a conclusion -- the book Day Watch is not -- and the movie goes off in a completely different direction than the novels.)

May 2007

Scalzi, John
The Ghost Brigades
Sequel to Old Man's War, this time focussing on the more alien parts of the Colonial Defense Force. The characters from the first book do show up, but we have a different point of view. Still entertaining, and I want to know where the third book goes -- we get a broader perspective on what's going on each book -- but I will (again) wait for the paperback.

Brennan, Herbie
Faerie Wars
Boy falls into elf war. Lame. Might have had redeeming -- no. Might have had non-lame qualities, but I can't remember them, nor how it ended.

Marks, Laurie J.
Water Logic
Third book about a wonderful magical homeland that got invaded by militaristic assholes. The first two books kicked that cliche into a puddle, along with any other cliches in earshot, and this one jumps up and down in the puddle wearing pink polka-dotted galoshes. The question was not how to repel the invaders -- they're here, they've been living here for decades. Nor was it how to kill them; the war is over. It's how to rebuild a country out of whatever it is that war leaves behind. The series is relentlessly personal, familial, and full of love. I bet you think that sounds sappy.

In fact Water Logic is not my favorite of the series so far; it's a time-travel plot, which is not handled particularly deeply. But it's got plenty of what I like about the books.

Duncan, Dave
Mother of Lies
Conclusion to war story on fantasy dodecahedral world. Competent but not engaging; I read it mostly to see if the dodecahdron had an interesting explanation. (It doesn't.) I would have thought Duncan was on a downslide if he hadn't also come out with The Alchemist's Apprentice this year.

Reynolds, Alastair
Galactic North
Collection of stories in the "Revelation Space" universe. Considerably more bitter and depressing than the Zima Blue collection. I guess it's just a downer of a universe.

Berg, Carol
Flesh and Spirit
I ought to remember more about this than I do, because I liked it a lot. Plus I just bought the sequel (but haven't read it yet). Oh, right: self-centered drug addict attempts to stay the hell away from his family and, preferably, the entire world. His family and the world do not cooperate. Despite my description, the guy is quite a sympathetic character (it helps that his family is not). He stumbles across a plot to save the world -- via librarians, always a win for me -- and everything gets more complicated from there. Magic, scary elf/nature-spirits, mysterious Dark Lord, and I've just talked myself into reading the sequel next.

Vaughn, Carrie
Kitty Goes to Washington
Sequel to werewolf talk-show book. This one is exactly what the title says: werewolf testifies before Congress. It's nice to see the politics playing out, but the plot goes in a TV-thriller direction, with TV-thriller levels of plausibility. (Evil politician tortures hero in front of live cameras!) I am unenthused about continuing to read these.

Williams, Liz
The Demon and the City
More Chinese demon-police noir. The demon partner gets center stage here, with Detective Inspector Chen not even showing up until halfway through the book. Still more fun than anything.

June 2007

Lukyanenko, Sergei
Twilight Watch
Third in series. Possibly intended as the final volume, but then the movies started appearing and Lukyanenko realized he could keep writing sequels. (This is speculation; what I know is that he wrote Final Watch in 2006. It hasn't come out in English yet.)

Anyway, this one amps the scope up in an end-of-trilogy sort of way, as yet another conspiracy threatens to do serious damage to everyone's favorite status quo. I like my idea for the closing plot gimmick better than Lukyanenko's.

Baker, Kage
Mother Aegypt and Other Stories
A variety, of which only some are bitter and depressing. Every time I consider reading Baker's big Company series, I think "But it's ten books and what if even a quarter of it is this bitter? That's like two and a half books that I don't want to read."

Morgan, Richard K.
Woken Furies
Third Takeshi Kovacs novel. This is startlingly well-written for a book that passes itself off as gritty techy-action thriller. Kovacs tries to deal with his recent past, and then more and more of his distant past runs into him. Plotty as heck. More and more story threads work into the knot, and every single one is set up, chapters and chapters before you realize where it's going. If Morgan can keep writing like this, he's going to be famous or something.

Mieville, China
Un Lun Dun
The last author I'd ever think of allowing in front of children pulls off a fine childrens' story. Much creepy scenery and verbal cleverness; also a deft and deftly-used awareness of the tropes of kids' fantasy. Easy to compare to Gaiman's Neverwhere, but I'll happily throw Roald Dahl into the matchup.

Pratchett, Terry; Stewart, Ian; Cohen, Jack
The Science of Discworld 2: The Globe
Sequel to the only "The Science of..." book I've ever read (or wanted to read). Pratchett is cheerfully willing to put his characters through (the usual) absurd escapades in order to demonstrate points about science, evolution, history, and consciousness. And he can pull the gimmick off without it even seeming contrived, dammit. Not written on a level where I learned anything new (or expected to), but I'm pleased I read it.

Ford, John M.
The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History
Fantasy Masterworks edition, which I picked up to compare to my old paperback. (Some typos were corrected; others not.) Resource for the Dragon Waiting concordance that I put online in September. You read my concordance, right?

Lake, Jay
Excellent romp across a clockwork Earth that runs on giant brass rails through the heavens. (Don't think too hard about the mechanics of it.) Standalone novel, although I believe Lake is writing more in this universe.

July 2007

Wiesner, David; Leiber, Fritz
Gonna Roll the Bones
One of my favorite illustrators (you've seen Tuesday, right?) illustrates one of my favorite short stories. He goes dark and rough, appropriately for the story. The text is unfortunately compressed, losing some of its rhythm and charm. But this is still a nice ghost-story picture book; if you know young kids who read, consider it.

Hodgson, William Hope
The Dream of X
A condensed, novella-sized version of The Night Land. (The condensation was done by Hodgson for obscure copyright reasons, according to an intro by Sam Moskowitz.) I have not read The Night Land, and I have not yet gotten to this.

Lake, Jay
Trial of Flowers
More Mieville adulation. I started this, hated everybody in it, threw it aside after a couple of chapters. Entirely lacks Mainspring's charm.

Bear, Elizabeth
Whiskey and Water
Sequel to mythology-bouillabaise fantasy free-for-all. This one has, among everything else that goes on, Kit Marlowe squaring off against the Devil. (A Devil. Didn't you hear, they come in six-packs?) Blood and Iron was a roller-coaster ride but this one seems more of a meander -- less momentum and less direction.

Williams, Liz
Precious Dragon
Series continues strong. Inspector Detective Chen is back in the driver's seat.

Jablokov, Alexander
The Breath of Suspension
Collection of short stories which I haven't read yet.

Kenyon, Kay
Bright of the Sky
Beginning of a series set alternately in a future Galactic civilization and an artificial universe/habitat -- the Biggest of all Dumb Objects. Random human fell into the Bright during a wee hyperdrive accident, spent years there, and then somehow returned. His convenient amnesia gives the author a book's worth a plot which is completely unengaging; rather than an introduction to the Bright, it feels like reading the Cliff's Notes(*) stretched out over hundreds of pages. Also, everyone there is culturally required to be a jerk.

(* Note for modern reader: Wikipedia entry.)

Effinger, George Alec
A Thousand Deaths
The Wolves of Memory plus a handful of other Sandor Courane stories. I haven't gotten to this either. Yes, there's a whole stack of books that I bought in July and then let rot. Sorry, ReaderCon.

Donoghue, Robert; Hicks, Fred; Balsera, Leonard
Spirit of the Century
Hicks, Fred
Don't Rest Your Head
Two small role-playing games. Well, Spirit of the Century is medium-sized; I relaxed my rule and bought it even though it contains skill lists. Designed for fast-setup one-shot games; you create your character by writing down the titles of his back-story ("Captain Nemosis and the Radioactive Ruby of the Klondike!") and then yanking in the other characters as sidekicks or rivals. ("I'll save you, Captain Nemosis!") The game then rewards all references to the stuff you've invented. Presto, instant pulp drama, finishable in an afternoon.

Don't Rest Your Head is a simple game-mechanic set in a city of madness and sleep-deprived hallucinations. There's just nothing wrong with any of that.

Bull, Emma
A retelling of the Matter of Tombstone (the author's term, not mine). The primary viewpoints are original characters -- a widowed newspaper reporter and a wanderer with a knack for magic -- but nearly equal weight is given to Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Kate Elder. ("Mrs Holliday by courtesy", one narrator acerbically or thoughtlessly comments.) Bull is telling the story of the women of Tombstone as much as that of the men: Kate, the wives of the three Earp brothers, the writer Mildred Benjamin. She also ties in a glimpse of the town's Chinese community.

This volume does not reach the infamous gunfight (a sequel is forthcoming) but it sets up the situation, with twisty chains of magical influence creeping up and over the historical facts. It's not quite the mode of Tim Powers: we learn the underpinnings of magic early on. But it does the same job in the end, revealing truths about Tombstone through explanations that could have been true.

Rowling, J. K.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [borrowed]
Concludes the story of Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore, and the kids they met.

My judgement is that Rowling carries off her series successfully but imperfectly. She's built up many characters, plot threads, and themes across ten years, and a significant fraction of them are shorted or dropped in the end. Ironically, Deathly Hallows might have been a much better book if Rowling had been able to pass drafts around. The fan community (even the tiny slice of it I have contact with) very quickly came up with comments -- suggestions, connections the author failed to make -- which should have been beta feedback rather than book reviews.

As for the oft-vilified epilogue -- I entirely understand why Rowling wrote it, and once it was written it wouldn't have any value kept in her sock-drawer. (The value, obviously, was to comprehensively break the knees of any requests to write the Harry Potter Age 20 novel, or 30, or any such.) (Rowling is perhaps taking for granted that nobody wants to read Harry Potter Age 50.) It still needed a lot more sense of time passing and life changing.

August 2007

Sagara, Michelle
Cast in Shadow
Cast in Courtlight
Someone commented that this series (by established fantasy author Michelle Sagara-and/or-West) was the least romance-ish of the Luna fantastic-romance publication line. I haven't read enough Luna stuff to agree with that (I mean, I'd have to read all of them, right?) but these are straight-up fantasy to my eye. Girl is a rookie cop in a multi-species city -- elves, cat-people, hawk-people, others -- with plenty of mysterious wizard lords and such to spice up the mix. Plus she's a healer. Many a fantasy series has collapsed into sappy woo-woo with such a premise, but this one is pleasantly hard-headed: magical healing powers mean nobody ever lets you get a decent night's sleep.

Anyway, there's politics and ancient magic and an angry teenager banging the boundaries of her life into an acceptable shape, and it's all solidly written. It doesn't dig deeply into the meaning of law enforcement in fantasyland -- that's pretty much as written in our world, gruff sargeants and all. (Re-read Point of Hopes and Point of Dreams if you want deconstruction of the cliches.) But I'll keep reading these as long as the politics and ancient magic are interesting.

Hofstadter, Douglas
I Am A Strange Loop
Hofstadter writes more Hofstadter. I'm okay with that; it's been a while. He gets back to the ideas about consciousness that were presented in GEB, without all the mathematical and artistic digression along the way. (If you liked the digressions, well, that's what GEB was for.) Like Le Ton beau..., this book is about his personal life -- in particular the loss of his wife -- as much as about philosophy. This may seem strange, but all the way back to GEB, Hofstadter has been the most personal of theorists. I don't agree with everything in Strange Loop, but whatever it is, I am interested that Hofstadter thinks so.

Wilce, Ysabeau S.
Flora Segunda
"Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog." That's the subtitle, and now you know whether you need to read it.

Rowse, A. L.
Bosworth Field & The Wars of the Roses
Resource for the Dragon Waiting concordance that I put online in September. You read my concordance, right?

Schroeder, Karl
Queen of Candesce
Second book about a ginormous habitat filled with mobile nations and jet pirates. This one focusses on the evil overlady from Sun of Suns, last seen falling across the sky. She plots, she schemes, she bullies, she makes julienne fries of anyone who gets in her way. Satisfying, but I want more about the big picture.

Lynch, Scott
Red Seas Under Red Skies
Con men masquerading as pirates! Could not be better. Well, actually it could, a bit; this was about one-and-a-half plots worth of book, and the con got short-changed. Nonetheless, pure entertainment. Begins with a bald-faced cliff-hanger of a flash-forward, and finishes with a bald-faced cliff-hanger of an ending -- I can't remember the last author I found who was so gleeful about his storytelling. (Mind you, when we got to the flash-forward point for the second time and Lynch repeated the cliffhanger gimmick, he tripped over his clown shoes. No doughnut for that page.)

Abraham, Daniel
A Betrayal in Winter
Sequel to fantasy epic about civilization based on, and undermined by, extraordinarily untrustworthy demons. I loved the first book but found this one merely acceptable. Not sure why. Two more are coming, and I guess I'll read them.

September 2007

Smith, Sherwood
The Fox
More pirates! Yes, pirates! are the theme of 2007. Although this series is really all politics -- four or five different threads developing across the continent, all in more or less complete ignorance of each other, as the reader covers his eyes and waits for the oncoming landslide. (Hopefully next book -- if the series goes on any longer I won't be able to keep track of it all.) Good stuff.

Monette, Sarah
The Mirador
Third in four-book sequence with the best narrator voices in current fantasy. This one adds the acerbic actress to the aw-shucks thief and arrogant prick wizard. Like book one, book three sets up much but resolves little; I presume I'm reading a duology in four volumes.

Rawn, Melanie
You were wondering what I have against romance novels? Books like this, that's what I have against romance novels. (Mind you, this one is from Tor, not Luna.) Fabulously beautiful, successful, and wealthy authoress meets honest, humble Irish cop. But wait! She is also a member of the circle of white witches who guard the world from evil with their crystals and herbal candles! (Pause for careful detailing of which minerals and which aromatic oils go into each spell.) But wait! The nearly-as-successful but jealous evil authoress tries to break them up, in between her S&M sex rituals and stomping kittens! If only they could see the truth! Every single person and plot element is festooned with these authorial sticky notes so that you know what to think. Unreadable. PS: I made up the kittens, though.

Sagara, Michelle
Cast in Secret
Third in rookie cop fantasy series. Elf politics always have complications.

Caine, Rachel
Thin Air (Weather Warden, book 6)
Sixth (cripes) book about weather wizards and djinn. Our hero continues to gain elemental power, and she also has amnesia now. Both of which are really strong hints that the author needs to wrap the series up.

Mind you, I've never classed these books as real Mary-Sue-ism -- mostly because they make clear that the most powerful human wizard alive rates like an irate cricket when compared to some of the elemental powers that are currently pissed with humanity. On the other hand, I can't understand why she hasn't turned her creepy sociopath human stalker into meat paste. Twice.

Pratchett, Terry
Making Money
Satisfying but not electrifying sequel to Going Postal. Further adventures of Moist von Lipwig, petty criminal whose notion of self-interest keeps being enlightened by the Patrician. We gain more hints of Vetinari's plan for Ankh-Morpork (which has been in play since at least Thud) and which I really hope gets completed, given the recent rotten no-good very bad news about Pratchett's health.

October 2007

Novik, Naomi
Empire of Ivory
Dragons-and-Napoleon book four: boy and dragon visit Africa. I'd say this is a pedal-churning series extension, except that it ends with an even bigger cliffhanger than it begins with. Overall plot arc is happening. Needs more Iskierka, though.

Bear, Elizabeth
Bear continues to write books faster than I can read half of them. This one has a human colony on an aquatic world, with some odd professions (quantum luck wrangler) and some odd indigenes (the Froggies, used as cheap labor, who are -- wait for it -- More Than They Appear...) The story unabashedly takes fantasy tropes (curses, geases, magical natives, the finitely-delayed wrath of the gods) into a science-fictional setting. It's the Corporation, not the Dark Lord, whom you have to watch out for -- and yes, that's a real distinction; it behaves like big corporations everywhere. Including wanting to own your soul. And when the metaphysical shit, or quantum caca if you like, hits the fan, it's appropriately kaleidoscopic.

Pratt, T. A.
Blood Engines
Urban fantasy which fails in ways that are more interesting to me than the book itself. The protagonist would be the Evil Overlady in any other book. She is power-hungry, selfish, vengeful; she secretly rules Nameless East-Coast City(*) with an iron claw; she mind-rapes mundanes without a hint of restraint (she's proud to have the entire Nameless City police force as her puppets); she never lifts a finger for anyone (including her allies and servants) unless she's bored or feels like convincing herself that she's the good guy. This would be a fantastic setup, except that I don't think Pratt knows his character is a monster. I think she's supposed to come off as bitchy-but-charming. Certainly the book doesn't hint that she's got any justice coming to her.

Anyhow, someone is challenging Miss Tyrant for control of Nameless City. She cannot allow this ("You don't care about my city the way I do," she tells her challenger, in the most unintentionally hilarious line of the month) and so she stomps into San Francisco looking for power-ups. This brings us to the second failure, which is that she has years and years of backstory, all of which we have to be told about, none of which is relevant to the book. We get not one page set in Nameless City (the ostensible driving force of the plot). We meet the protagonist's servant and get the paragraph precis of all the crap he's been through because of her. We learn about her Cursed Cloak of Ass-kicking (the Curse of which is, in practice, a mild headache for a few minutes after she uses it). We don't care about any of it. I imagine that Pratt has written all of these stories, and maybe they're even published somewhere, but in this novel they're concrete galoshes.

All that said, there is a lot of running around mystical underground San Francisco and kicking mystical ass. These scenes are not badly written. There are funny bits (intentional ones). It's possible to enjoy this book; it's just not possible to do it without wanting to yell at the author.

(* Actually, it has a name, but it's fictional and I can't remember it now.)

Eggers, Dave
What is the What
Did not read is the read.

Elliott, Kate
Spirit Gate
I seem to have read only the earliest Kate Elliott and the latest -- Jaran and Spirit Gate. (*) I really liked both of them, which leaves me wondering why I haven't filled in the middle. Maybe in 2008. Anyhow, here is the start of a big fat fantasy series with politics, various civilizations invading each other, nations slowly slipping into chaos, hints of lost gods... Just what I like, as long as it's narrated by a bunch of vivid and memorable voices, and by damn this is. Will read sequel.

(* As a matter of fact, I did read The Labyrinth Gate, but I didn't like it much, so it doesn't fit into my little narrative here. Cope.)

Buckell, Tobias S.
Crystal Rain
I kept hearing that Buckell was the new awesome. Turns out he is. A human colony is beset by war, an Aztec-model blood-hungry religion coming over the Wicked High Mountains. (That's what they're really called, and I pretty much bought the book right there.) We quickly run into hints of an alien invasion, centuries ago, which was blocked when the human starship captains intentionally fried most of the tech in the system, including the wormhole gate. The surviving Caribbean-paradise civilization is warped around the remaining aliens (playing gods) and the few old-timer humans whose nanotech is still ticking. The aliens are winning, but there might be a surviving starship... Good old-fashioned lost-starship chase plus land war with alien demon-gods. Read it.

Davidson, Avram
Adventures in Unhistory
Collection of essays on the possible factual origins of myths: the phoenix, Hyperborea, mermaids, Prester John... All fished out of Davidson's flabbergasting storehouse of historical erudition, and told in an indescribably vocal voice; it's impossible to read without hearing the guy harrumphing and waggling his eyebrows and littering the room with quotations. Reading this book is like meeting the man, and I can only imagine that meeting him was like meeting three of anyone else.

Note: reading this explained a joke in The Dragon Waiting. Must update concordance.

Stross, Charles
Halting State
Stross thumps out books nearly as fast as Bear; unlike Bear, most of Stross's are in hardback, and I finally said "Dude, gotta start waiting for the paperbacks here." (Except for Bob Howard stories, of course.) Then I learned that Halting State was written in second person, and I caved. It's my turf, man, I have to keep an eye on.

This is a fast-running novel of gamers gone bad in near-future Glasgow. As usual, Stross can write technobabble for the techies -- his picture of distributed virtual worlds, used for everything from RPGs and LARPs to police work, is entirely convincing -- even when an odd sort of crime sets both the gamers and the cops digging into the programmers, development houses, and venture capital firms that make it all go. Where it all goes, unsurprisingly, is to hell in a handbasket.

The second-person storytelling did not bother me. (Mind you, as I said, I'm used to that sort of thing; it may bother you more.) There are several narrators, but they're distinct enough that the trick rapidly became transparent. Stross uses it essentially the same as first-person prose. I don't think it would be a very different novel if it were in first person. In other words, it's just a style thing, and it works for me.

Spencer, Wen
Wolf Who Rules
I did wait for the paperback on this one, but not because Spencer has become prolific; it's because I thought Tinker sucked. This one kinda sucks too. It's elf politics done big and sloppy. The plot steers like a barge; the Pittsburgh landmarks are not interesting. The protagonist continues to go through crap that would give any real person screaming shell-shock, but she doesn't show any other qualities of being a person either, so it's okay.

I liked Spencer's first two books; what happened? Maybe it's the editing. One more thing to blame Baen for.

November 2007

Scalzi, John
The Android's Dream
Funny science fiction. Why is that such a jolting combination these days? People used to do it all the time. This one starts with a man doing his best to fart up an interstellar war, and rapidly moves on to electric-blue sheep, the most ridiculous religion since Douglas Adams got out of the game, and the kind of book-long chase scene that can only end by facing down an entire planetary government. Sheckley and Laumer would have been proud.

Monette, Sarah
The Bone Key
Set of short stories about a socially short-circuited nerd working in a museum. Ghosts, demons, and the rest of the pulp-horror panoply occur. This is Lovecraft pastiche (and pastiche of the rest of that period); it works because it digs into the neurosis/trauma/sexual wellspring that the original pulp writers couldn't name out loud.

MacLeod, Ken
Newton's Wake
Accidental re-read -- I forgot I owned the hardcover. (Sorry, Ken.) Amusing, though not world-changing, first-contact story in a galaxy littered with posthuman remnant tech, being scavenged and used by everyone in sight. Including the contactors and the contactees, in non-identical ways. Details of politics, fashion, and culture (folk-singers! Bad folk-singers!) ring true in the presence of life extension and mind-storage. Also, not part of a series, which I appreciate.

Moore, Alan; O'Neill, Kevin
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Graphic novel follows the conceit of the first two -- pulling together zillions of old story premises into a patchwork history -- but drawing from the early to mid-20th century. Orwell, Wolfe, pulp adventure, James Bond, and a vast array of others. Most of it was lost on me; I was a lot better at the original League books (Stoker, Stevenson, Verne) than on pre-war British comic strips. You may wish to seek out a hint book. The strikes that I did register were clever.

December 2007

Valente, Catherynne M.
In the Night Garden
Dizzying -- well, it's not a novel, it's a collection of -- no, it's not a collection of stories; it's not even a cycle of stories. (It's a tree of stories, says the inner geek.) A young outcast girl lives in the palace garden; she was born with stories tattooed across her face. A boy creeps outside to listen to her. She tells a story about a prince, who meets a witch, who tells the story of her grandmother, who once learned a story... and so on. It's nested, not an infinite regress; we jump up and down, over and over again. Some stories span many pages, wrapped around the stories inside them; some are only a page or a paragraph. None are related, until the connections start to appear -- a familiar name here, a returning character there -- not always consistently.

Maybe this is what Hal Duncan was aiming at. If so, Valente gets it right. These are not fragments, but stories, each one sparkling, each with a teller and a beginning and an end (or as much of an end as some stories get). As with Ink, I had trouble keeping track of the overall structure. (In fact, I found it hard to read the volume in long takes; I broke it up with other books.) Unlike with Ink, this didn't hurt the reading a bit. Nothing is incomplete if you forget a name or a role. The inner geek wants to diagram and hyperlink the lot, and I imagine somebody's inner geek already has. But it's not necessary.

Imaginative; colorful; dense with unexpected words; full of tales from all over the map, fairy tales to Scheherazade to fanciful Roman zoology, all twisted into spirals and set loose on each other. A second volume has been published, which I will devour after another break.

Wilson, F. Paul
The Tomb
First of the Repairman Jack series about which I've been hearing for years. Man attempts to live outside society in New York, fixing injustices for cash (or exacting revenge for hire, depending on which side of the transaction you're on). He runs into other things that live outside society, namely a nest of millenia-old demons. This book predates the modern urban-fantasy-horror genre, and feels it -- Jack is not caught between the mundane world and the magical, but between his weird quasi-Batman world and the magical. (Or, to put the distinction more directly: he has exactly one friend -- his weapons dealer -- and not a network of cops and coroners and allied vampires. Mind you, Wilson restarted the series in the mid-90s, so maybe that changes.) Anyhow, it's a good read, and now I have to find more Wilson in original publication order.

Whittemore, Edward
Quin's Shanghai Circus
The only Whittemore novel I didn't already have. This meanders across pre-and-post-war Japan in the same way that the Sinai Quartet does the Middle East. I've already described Whittemore as "there is nothing else like him", and this remains true.

This was Whittemore's first novel, and it has a perceptibly different tone than the Quartet: darker, proffering human love and cruelty and compassion and madness in equal measure. (Not that the later books are free of cruelty and madness -- the atrocities at Smyrna are one pole of that narrative, as Nanjing is of this one -- but the Quartet is much more about love and compassion in the face of a world which includes cruelty and madness.)

Quin's Shanghai Circus is, nonetheless, full of wonderful things, wonderful people, drunks, pornography, saints, buddhas, a man with a wasabi habit, spies, circuses, mothers, and things shoved up people's butts, all in a wild tangle of storylines that cross decades. Nothing else is like this.

Francis, Diana Pharaoh
Path of Fate
Young healer is drawn into a war, gets magical telepathic bird companion. I was prepared to approve of this book for showing a society with healing as a non-mystical profession -- no magical healing, but a tradition of herb knowledge and antisepsis, with apprenticeships and social support for people with this valuable training. The magical animal companions are a separate thing. They come to people meant to handle law and justice, but it's still up to the humans to decide justice; they get no magical support other than a link to a potentially useful scout animal.

Anyway, I was all pleased about solidly human-centered magic-animal fantasy, and half a chapter later the protagonist gets magical healing abilities. At this point the floor drops out of the narrative. Her biggest problem turns out to be whether the Goddess will give her superpowers fast enough to deal with the ostensible crisis (a political kidnapping). Feh.

Reaves, Michael; Bohnhoff, Maya Kaathryn
Mr. Twilight
Oddly contrastable to Blood Engines. A dude with serious magical mojo and a closet full of backstory: years of training at a magical academy (Hogwarts it ain't), a sweetheart lost escaping the place, a mansion with secrets, powerful artifacts, an angel and a demon who drop by to offer inscrutable aid. But this time it all works, because all these elements fall into the plot, one at a time. Again, there may be a bunch of stories written about this stuff, but this one can be read as the start of a series.

Plus, it's in the fandom of pulp horror fandom; the story concerns the legacy of a writer, a (fictional) member of the Lovecraft/Derleth/Lin Carter/etc circle. The writers are clearly fond of All That Stuff, and it comes across.

Morningstar, Jason
The Shab-al-Hiri Roach
Small RPG: players are faculty in a Miskatonic-oid college, and half of them are infested by a mind-controlling cockroach from the depths of time. Everyone is tussling for status points, but you have to not be a roach slave at the end of the game. The catch is that the cockroach gives you a fat bonus on your status rolls.

The game is structured by a deck of cards, which everyone gets to draw from periodically. The free-willed draw opportunities to forward their schemes for tenure or revenge or whatever; the roach-ridden draw random maniacal commands. You can draw the roach, or the opportunity to free your mind (this costs, of course). The setup ensures that you don't have any real hope of long-term planning -- if you avoid the other schemers and the chaotic fallout of the roach commands, you're just as likely to be roached yourself. So, enjoy the free-for-all. Should be good for a session or two of evil hilarity.

Berg, Carol
Breath and Bone
Bear, Elizabeth
Mieville, China
Looking for Jake
Williams, Sean
Saturn Returns
Currently in my to-read pile. See? I meant it about the Berg.

Last updated January 6, 2008.

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