Books I Bought in 2008
I've commented on every book I bought this year. It's not quite a list
of every book I've read this year; I borrow a few, I re-read many,
and some books I bought this year didn't get read until after New
Year's. But, it's close.
I acquired 106 books in 2008.
Conclusion of epic fantasy about junkie magician trying to save the
world and, if possible, avoid being ground to oatmeal between a
three-way civil war, an apocalyptic religious movement, a lost
civilization of notably unforgiving elves, and his relatives. I liked
this a lot -- it puts our hero through the wringer politically,
personally, and many levels in between.
- Berg, Carol
- Breath and Bone
Beginning of a trilogy about a stranded starship and the quasi-medieval
culture that has grown up inside it. Nanotech stands in for magic,
angels, and fantastickal beasties. Bear never writes bad novels
but this one felt too fairy-tale to me. The SF setting did not
reflect up to make the story more interesting than a straight
fantasy telling would have been.
- Bear, Elizabeth
Short stories. I liked many of them. They had a higher hit ratio for me
than Mieville's novels have had.
- Mieville, China
- Looking for Jake
Picture Wright's "Golden Age" trilogy without the overwrought diction
or the eventual collapse into Randsturbation. Okay, without the
colossal ambition either, but it's still good fun. A guy is revived
by aliens from a long-lost backup copy, and tries to figure out what
happened to the galaxy in the N-thousand years he's been gone. I liked
the various neural architectures and how they played into the plot.
This is a strictly non-FTL setting, which is also well-worked out,
as long as you buy civilizations lasting thousands of years while our
heroes transmit themselves around. (This only bothered me in a few
- Williams, Sean
- Saturn Returns
Booklet for a museum exhibit. I grabbed this for the pictures.
- Galluzzi, Paolo
- The Art of Invention: Leonardo and Renaissance Engineers
Big fantasy about a village boy who goes off to find his destiny.
Start of a trilogy. This volume never got to the interesting part,
assuming there is one.
- Kirkpatrick, Russell
- Across the Face of the World
Urban-fantasy detective stuff. The details have faded. Not terrible
but I was not moved to pick up the sequel.
- Del Franco, Mark
- Unshapely Things
Harry Dresden continues to dodge vampires, suspicious wizards, etc etc.
The stakes (no pun) have continued to rise throughout the series.
I wouldn't mind the series wrapping up, though.
- Butcher, Jim
- White Night
Wordless graphic novel about an immigrant to a land which might be New
York City rendered as the Codex Seraphinianus. SFnal cultural
deep-plunge stands in for the immigrant experience. (Made it real to
me -- I speak as an American who has this experience a century up my
family history.) And it's a sweet and charming story too.
- Tan, Shaun
- The Arrival
Cold War in Space, only it's the Chinese versus the Aztecs. I didn't
find the setup particularly plausible -- Buckell did a better job of a
modern Aztec civilization with full-on sacrifice jones. The characters
all hovered between idiocy and following the script, so I can't
recommend it on that count either.
- Roberson, Chris
- The Dragon's Nine Sons
A slight story in a standard Jones line -- a kid keeps up with
a moderately whimsical magical reality which is far wilder than
the understated prose might lead you to imagine. Short, and there's
nothing wrong with it, but not the best of her stuff.
- Jones, Diana Wynne
- The Game
A sudden Sublimation left unenhanced humanity sitting around
scratching their heads and wondering where their economy went. Now
people are again experimenting with new neural architectures --
small group-minds. The protagonist is five teenagers. I wanted
to like this, but our hero spends the whole plot running away
from horrible adults; it felt like a lot of plot manipulation in
service of being a YA book.
- Melko, Paul
- Singularity Ring
Wolfe continues exploring what I like to call the "incompetent
narrator". Not a child, this time, but a somewhat didactic novice monk
who lectures, mentions things out of order, never stresses the
important things, can't foreshadow for crap... This was a terrific
- Wolfe, Gene
- Pirate Freedom
This was also a terrific book. Swanwick has finally hit the right balance
between narrative and narrative trickery. This ought to be the story
of a young man making his way across the elfpunk world of The Iron
Dragon's Daughter. But the tropes keep falling apart on him. I have
a brilliant theory on why our -- and the protagonist's -- expectations
keep being foiled, which is already on rec.arts.sf.written somewhere,
so I won't repeat it. The point is, the twistiness only makes the
book more compulsively readable (which was not true of TIDD for me).
- Swanwick, Michael
- The Dragons of Babel
Third in a series about street-waif turned mage-queen. This concludes
the series, although I wasn't actually sure of that until I checked
the author's web site; it's not as tight as the first volume. We
get a decent amount of wrap-up but not much explanation about the
larger world. That's for the author's next trilogy, I guess.
- Palmatier, Joshua
- The Vacant Throne
Repairman Jack returns after a gap of several years (author-years, not
story-years). Apparently Wilson has developed a big cosmic-battle
setting that Jack now gets to live in. I haven't read those other books,
but the elements that pop up are acceptably suggestive.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Long time no Culture. This gives great travelogue but seemed to be
lacking the nested epicycles of conspiracy and black op that really
make the Culture universe fun. (Plenty of schemes, but most of them
didn't amount of anything. As far as I could tell. Maybe I'm just
- Banks, Iain M.
More Jack. I think it's about this point in the series (but I read
them all fast, so the flow isn't divided in my head) that we see the
dynamic change from "badass deals with episodic shit" to "badass wants
to get out of the hard life, as the world tries to drag him in
deeper". Which is a good change.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Thoroughly engaging first novel about a company fix-it lady in a
not-very-nice universe. She is not very nice, either. In fact she's a
thoroughgoing grouch and misanthrope; but the author does this with
such sympathy -- both for the protagonist and for all the screwed-up
people she's investigating -- that I could not dislike her. Or rather,
I had to respect her. (Contrast the worthless ratfink protagonist in
Tim Pratt's Blood Engines.) Plus a bouncing SF mystery story.
- Castro, Adam-Troy
- Emissaries From the Dead
Second book about young smartass in Renaissance Venice. Gang fights,
necromancy, schemes, lies, politics.
- Duncan, Dave
- The Alchemist's Code
- Wilson, F. Paul
- All the Rage
Conclusion to insane spiral story amalgamation. I didn't even try to
keep track of what was going on.
- Valente, Catherynne M.
- In the Cities of Coin and Spice
I heard this was depressing. Why yes. A bunch of social edge-cases --
autist, multiple personality, cyborg, vampire -- head off for First
Contact at the edge of the solar system. The humans and aliens then
spend the book competing for the title of "least pleasant to be
around". As storyline relief we get flashbacks of the (semi-)autistic
guy's miserable relationship breaking up. Fortunately for me, the
author predicates the entire book on the notion of zombies -- ie,
let's pretend that Searle's Chinese Room is not drivel -- so none of
it was all that convincing in the end.
- Watts, Peter
A teenage girl discovers that there are wizards running around behind
the scenes, and the Dark Lord is returning. Okay, it's clearly
post-Rowling, but it's still enjoyable. Stephanie winds up as sidekick
to the titular Skulduggery Pleasant, a back-alley wizard detective
type who happens to be a walking skeleton (ask him about his curse)
but makes up for it with a truly stylish trenchcoat and a great car.
The author manages to keep the pair balanced -- half the time it
feels like Skulduggery is Stephanie's sidekick, despite his necessary
role as mentor and explainer-of-plot -- and the story remains fun
on top of some genuinely creepy dark magic and monster scenes.
- Landy, Derek
- Skulduggery Pleasant
Graphic novel: kids discover a passage to an alternately charming and
creepy underground world.
- Kibuishi, Kazu
Part of a long-established series of alternate-history England which
I somehow never got around to reading. Now I will have to find them
all. Old-fashioned alley-and-mansion adventure -- Dukes, anarchists,
- Aiken, Joan
- Black Hearts in Battersea
Odd first-contact story, heavy on the ideas and rather vague on the
any serious plot going on. In a set with Rendezvous with Rama and
- McLoughlin, John
- Toolmaker Koan
More Jack. Jack's family continues to become a larger part of the
storyline. This is not necessarily good news for him or them.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Sequel to big-galaxy story about post- and latter-day humans. Our hero
is now trying to hold a revived human empire together with his bare
hands and his slightly tattered status as a religious icon. But the
elements that knocked over civilization's blocks the first time have
not gone away. The setting is feeling more strained -- the galactic
population seems to consist of five people and a crowd scene -- but if
you liked the first book, you'll like this one.
- Williams, Sean
- Earth Ascendant
Political dynasties slug it out against a backdrop of rebellious
orbital city-habitats. I was set to like the politics, which are quite
solid on the personal level -- rumor, Net innuendo, and the power of
local organizing playing out against each other. However, the larger
political scale turned out to be stupid, with the big plot set in
motion by a pointless boogeyman/strawman group. The biology was stupid
too -- magical wonderkids evolve in zero gravity. (Bonus points for
constantly using them as a plot touchstone: good guys love them, bad
guys hate them. Baby Sue?)
- Rosenblum, Mary
The classic genre of "young, slightly naive military officer is
assigned to an old, slightly corrupt vessel". For a pleasant change,
it's not a warship and there is no alien invasion. It's more like a
mobile town, operated by the military but with a mix of military,
merchant-marine, and civilian inhabitants. Not to mention street gangs
and petty graft. Which rings a lot truer than the usual spit-shine
milSF job. Anyhow, the story thunks along with some terrorism and some
mysterious alien artifacts and a lot of trying to survive between
thugs and old lovers and recalcitrant commanders and PTSD from, hm,
did we mention the terrorism? The romance plot thread was labored,
though, and overall I'm not going for the sequel.
- McDonald, Sandra
- The Outback Stars
Smith is one of those authors who has had an epic fantasy history
playing out in her head since age eight -- Inda and The Fox belong
to this cycle. Senrid is a tiny-press edition of some stories she
wrote when she was fifteen. (The imprint line is named "YA Angst",
which was actually most of the reason I bought it.) They do not
remotely compare to Smith's current writing skills, and the teenage
concerns of the author are pinned on her sleeve. A bunch of teenage
wizard-princesses, armed with Peter-Pan magic and chocolate pie, no
adults and no stupid boys to tell them what to do... Despite all
that, the stories are readable stuff, and cast a certain amount
of light on the Inda books (which are set hundreds of years
- Smith, Sherwood
- Wilson, F. Paul
- The Haunted Air
More Stephanie (now armed with a self-chosen and far more awesome
monicker) and the entirely-awesome-enough Skulduggery Pleasant.
Assassins, bounty hunters, monsters, and vampires that are not sparkly
at all. Also, Stephanie starts to learn some magic. (I confess I
would have preferred if she kept kicking ass via brains and pure
teenage awesomeness. But I guess the author didn't agree.)
- Landy, Derek
- Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire
This would be other way around -- old and crafty sergeant assigned to
young and naive cadre of officers. A training platoon, actually, for a
completely routine basic-training course, and the supervising
officer is recuperating from an injury -- I can't even remember the
excuse for this blatant bit of plot-setting-up, but naturally
everything goes straight to puddleglum and only the craftiest of
sergeantry can save the day. These will never be not fun. But am I
buying them in hardcover? Sir no sir.
- Huff, Tanya
- The Heart of Valor
As far as I'm concerned, this is bait to get romance readers hooked on
clear-quill SF/fantasy. Up-front Austenite plot -- young woman of no
particular birth meets two brothers, the blond charming flirtatious
aristrocratic one and the ironic prickly withdrawn
socially-out-of-favor one who wears black all the time. Behind that is
a startlingly well-drawn fantasy world, with many threads (Victorian
forms, weighty but not completely rigid caste system, fantasy-clockpunk
hacker geeks, nation-cities trying to manage advancing technology)
woven into a distinctive whole -- and still, I judge, plenty
accessible to the SF-naive reader. Also a tidy police procedural with
great action scenes. I think the ending is slightly weak (maybe the
author couldn't bear to make the obvious villain really villainous)
but I want her to write a lot more.
- Pagliassotti, Dru
- Clockwork Heart
This is the sort of ironic, cod-educational writing that I loved
finding when I was young. St. Fidgeta and Other Parodies? The
Snouters? Dragons: The Modern Infestation? No? Jeez, did you miss
out. However, this one fell kind of flat for me. Maybe Dave Eggers has
used up our generation's supply of deadpan. There are some good bits,
however, mostly when the author lets odd connections glimmer through
between unrelated topics. Oh well. (No, really, you never read Legal
- Hodgman, John
- The Areas of My Expertise
Have not yet read.
- Butler, Octavia
Read these many years ago. They hold up very well, if you allow for
a century-out-of-date sensibility about South Seas cannibals and
Indians (both kinds). Nesbit's dry ironies concerning childhood
are not out-of-date by a whit.
- Nesbit, E.
- Five Children and It; The Phoenix and the Carpet; The Story of the Amulet
Sequel to Caribbean-Aztec land war with nanotech and lost spaceships.
This one wasn't as awesome as the first one. It starts in space, in
the subjugated human civilization that Nanagada was cut off from in
book one. The main character is kickass, but lacks the family, town,
and civilizational ties that made John deBrun so sympathetic. We
eventually get back to John, his son, his friends and his planet,
but that's halfway into Ragamuffin and I thought the momentum
was lost. On the other hand, there are some terrific scenes along
- Buckell, Tobias S.
Sanderson cements his reputation as the twistiest fantasy writer
around today. You can accuse him of being over-intellectual, and he's
certainly in love with his own rule-systems, but as a creator of
puzzle-box plots one must accord him the grand title of "you
bastard." I saw two of the twists coming in this book, and I am
very smug about it. On the flip side, the emotional and motivational
depths of his characters are -- well, they're all over-intellectual.
Kind of like me. Anyway, I enjoyed it.
- Sanderson, Brandon
- The Well of Ascension
Billed as "the" (but actually "a") sequel to Howl's Moving Castle.
Teenage girl with a lousy temper has to take care of her
uncle-the-wizard's house in a kingdom neighboring Ingary. Magic
happens. Halfway in Howl and Sophie show up, toting their two-year-old
child, and they rather steal the show (which I rather regretted). This
was high-quality Jones; my impulse to say "she's done better" is
unfair, given that not every book can be Archer's Goon or Homeward
Bounders, and I was a lot younger when I read those.
- Jones, Diana Wynne
- House of Many Ways
Self-published project containing every interesting astronomical event
(of Earth's skies) for the next hundred years. I have this because
my friend Denis got to design the astronomical symbols for the book --
there being no standard astrological symbol for "transit of Venus"
or "Perseid meteor storm". (Until now!)
- Finlay, Alex; Sharples, Ray; Moskowitz, Denis
- One Hundred Year Star-Diary
More Jack. Not many more before I have to start waiting for new ones.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Copyright page tells me this is Judith Tarr, whom I used to enjoy.
This one is enjoyable too. A Europe-analogue (in which the
Christianity-analogue is magic-positive, for once) is threatened
by a tyrant king. Various orders of mage-monks attempt to deal
with this. The language is sensuous and the medieval detail
resonates (as you'd expect from Tarr).
- Bryan, Kathleen
- The Serpent and the Rose
I continue to love Morgan's thriller-plotting -- this starts with a
serial killer on a Mars-Earth sleeper ship, and slowly works its way
around about 540 degrees of plot twist. However, it's set on a base
of gender and genetic essentialism which is downright painful to read.
When the characters start lecturing each other about how feminized
modern society is, and how everything important comes down to brain
wiring, it's hard to remember that the non-didactic parts of the book
had some merits. The SF gimmickry -- gene-engineered
more-alpha-than-thou males and fuck-toy "bonobo" females -- are
supposed to highlight the lectures, which is a shame, because they
make perfectly adequate SF gimmickry while the plot is going on.
- Morgan, Richard K.
Some kind of a followup to Spin, but I remember a lot more about
Spin than I do about Axis. There was nothing wrong with it, but I
guess I didn't need to read it.
- Wilson, Robert Charles
Painfully unfocussed character study of an insanely obsessive
programmer. I don't, you know, have anything against insanely
obsessive programmers (he said ironically). But Edelman seems very keen
to tell you all about his character's life, starting with his
character's mother's life, and nothing drives the actual book forward.
Also, the guy is kind of an asshat.
- Edelman, Davis Louis
Green does the spy thriller, James Bond-oid in a secret-history world
full of magical monsters and so on. Exactly as clunky as every other
Simon Green novel. If you're willing to grant the narration all the
sense of wonder that it can't carry off, completely adequate fantasy
- Green, Simon R.
- The Man with the Golden Torc
And about time, too. Vlad visits the East. (This is set early in the
series chronology, just after he breaks up with Cawti and bails out of
Adrilankha.) He does not save the world; he does not discover secrets of
cosmology lost to anyone younger than Sethra; he does not acquire
shakingly powerful magical artifacts. He gets mixed up in some local
political and criminal crap, and deals with it. I liked this one a whole
- Brust, Steven
My re-acquisition of some of the earliest SF I can remember reading.
Earliest that I read, I mean, not the earliest-written. I'm pretty sure
I was five when I read these. (They're aimed at eight-year-old readers.)
- Bamman, Henry; Odell, William; Whitehead, Robert
- Milky Way
- Ice Men of Rime
- Space Pirate
- Bone People
- City Beneath the Sea
- The Lost Uranium Mine
The writing is simplistic, as I expected, and very Seventies, as I had
forgotten -- women and minorities very pointedly in the starship crews,
but no real attention to subverting gender stereotypes beyond that. Oh
well. Things have improved. As to the stories, they're quite effective;
more SFnal and complex than the notional eight-year-old audience might
lead you to expect. I think the authors paid more mind to dialing down
their vocabulary and sentence structure than they did to simplifying the
plots. All to my benefit, I'm sure. Some genuinely clever bits, some
genuinely creepy (to a kid) bits.
Outdoors New Weird, I think, which is hard to find examples of. (New
Crobuzon has nailed the category to city limits, hasn't it?) And the
"impossibly huge cliff" category as well. An exploration tale in a
society which has turned the Age of Exploration into a cultural
institution. Decently populated with wonders, but they tend to be sticky
and dirty and involve illness. I wasn't particularly rooting for anybody
in this book, and I'm not moved to find more.
- Lebbon, Tim
Second "Small Change" book. Flighty actress and compromisedly queer
police detective stumble across a plot to assassinate Hitler, in an
England uncomfortably -- but ever less uncomfortably -- at peace with a
triumphant Third Reich. People slide into monstrosity with an absent
distraction which is not shocking in the slightest; and then other
people slide into fighting monstrosity in exactly the same way. Somehow
it doesn't turn them into the good guys.
- Walton, Jo
A new entry in Bear's Promethean series. You don't have to have read
Blood and Iron or Whiskey and Water, as this one is set in
Elizabethan times, but you will want to have the conclusion Hell and
Earth at hand. Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe get mixed up in Faerie
politics. (They were already mixed up in English politics, right?)
Elusive, allusive, and damnably easy to read for all of that.
- Bear, Elizabeth
- Ink and Steel (The Stratford Man, vol 1)
Odd variant of the "mysterious forest elves" trope. A small town gets
uprooted when the local Dark Forest gets up and starts shifting to new
territory -- I don't mean just the trees, either. (Bit of a Perimel
Darkling riff, really.) The not-elves are apparently tied into all of
that, but they remain thoroughly obscure about how and why. I don't mind
the idea of a book-length exercise in not explaining what's going on,
but to do it when one of the not-elves is a primary viewpoint
character turns an exercise into a gimmick. I'd like to know what's
going on, but not if the author is going to be like that about it.
- Roberson, Jennifer
It's hard to keep the Repairman Jack books separate when you read one
every few weeks. Google says this is the one where he takes on a
weakly-repainted Scientologoid cult. Plot moves forward.
- Wilson, F. Paul
WJW unapologetically does Zelazny, but it's minor Zelazny and minor WJW.
A future civilization is built on a technology of creating pocket
dimensions for fun and profit and, eventually, for runaway
mind-controlling AI. Somehow fails to bring a sense of scope despite
literally universe-spanning battles. Aristoi did it all better, except
for the universe-creation gimmick, and that never has much thematic
- Williams, Walter Jon
- Implied Spaces
Getting near the end, I hope, of series about ass-kicking weather witch
and her djinn studmuffin. For what it's worth, the plot does move
forward on these things, although the whole series could probably have
been cut down to a (better) trilogy if the author had been willing to
put in the extra effort.
- Caine, Rachel
- Gale Force (Weather Warden, book 7)
Cycle of short stories about a detective and a vampire in the Colonies
in the 1890s. Politics and black magic and, oh yes, the detective is
irrascable. What's not to love? Bonus: airships!
- Bear, Elizabeth
- New Amsterdam
Already read this. Bought this thinking it was The Keep. It wasn't.
- Wilson, F. Paul
- The Tomb
The vein is getting a little overworked, but hey, it's Pratchett -- half
of it, anyhow -- and the rest is a typically enthusiastic explanation of
evolution and how immundane it is when you think about it. I've read
this explanation before, but that's not the book's fault.
- Pratchett, Terry; Stewart, Ian; Cohen, Jack
- The Science of Discworld 3: Darwin's Watch
They're "hidden" because the runaway mind-controlling AIs are out there,
having eaten Earth and most of the galaxy (or something). Only these few
colonies remain. I didn't care much about or for this, and therefore
don't really remember why, but it was probably a mix of "absurdly rigid
and evil aristocracy of starship pilots" and "absurdly awful things
happen to all the characters for the whole book" and "absurd love
- Landon, Kristin
- The Hidden Worlds
More air pirates on rocket bicycles. We start to learn more about the
universe outside Virga.
- Schroeder, Karl
- Pirate Sun (Virga, book 3)
Dreary spy story. Real intelligence work is this dreary, I'm sure,
which is why spy stories are supposed to be about the made-up stuff
- Welch, Michelle M.
- Confidence Game
My last try at reading Asher. Great if you want to read about the
bad-assest of the bad-asses. The bad comes streaming right out of their
asses, I swear. To play with, Asher gives them a race of crab bastards
bent on conquering the known universe. I forget how it ends.
- Asher, Neal
- Prador Moon
Recommended to me as the modern Lovecraft tradition (as opposed to the
modern Lovecraft-imitation tradition, a much easier species to find).
However, after a standout opening story, this collection is mostly the
surreal-verging-into-fever-dream sort of horror; too subjective to grab
me. I only read about half the stories.
- Barron, Laird
- The Imago Sequence
While I was looking the other way, Girl Genius turned into a webcomic
and a permanent RASFW discussion topic. I thought I'd better catch up.
And I did, but then I didn't start reading the web version, so I'm
behind again. So I'm still not reading those discussion threads. Anyway,
over-the-top mad-European clockwork with monsters in. Frequent hilarity.
I enjoy reading these in chunks of several books at a time; I recommend
it to the exactly nobody but me who isn't following the web version.
- Foglio, Phil; Foglio, Kaja
- Agatha Heterodyne and the Circus of Dreams (Girl Genius, book 4)
- Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess (Girl Genius, book 5)
- Agatha Heterodyne and the Golden Trilobite (Girl Genius, book 6)
- Agatha Heterodyne and the Voice of the Castle (Girl Genius, book 7)
Conclusion of what the author has referred to as "Will and Kit's Bogus
- Bear, Elizabeth
- Hell and Earth (The Stratford Man, vol 2)
Conclusion of what the author has referred to as "paying the mortgage".
No, this is unfair -- I didn't start to think that until I realized that
Scalzi's next book (not yet read) was this one written over again. And
that's also unfair, because I don't expect it to be bad. This one was
fine too. However, the broader look at Scalzi's galactic milieu turns
out not to be a lot more convincing than the peephole grunt's-eye-view
of Old Man's War. Don't think farther back than a couple hundred
years, and enjoy the easy political thrills.
- Scalzi, John
- The Last Colony
I have finally become convinced that Donaldson has a private bet on: how
lame a name can he foist on his readers and still pretend that it's
supposed to be dead serious? I swallowed "Saltheart Foamfollower" and
"High Lord Kevin" when I was young; I'll put up with a tormented man
named "Mahrtiir" and a plague of worms called "skurj"; but a
world-swallowing corruption called "Kevin's Dirt" is just one damn step
too far. (A monster called "Nom" only squeaks by because Donaldson
invented him two and a half decades before the Internet meme.)
- Donaldson, Stephen
- Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, book 2)
(In any case, Donaldson's feeble attempts are crushed by the lame-naming
behemoth that is Steven Erikson. Anomander Rake! Nom nom nom... rake...
dirt... hang on, maybe they're collaborating.)
All snark aside, Donaldson is -- I swear -- telling a solid story here.
He's got imagery, he's got theme, he's got terrifying moments and
exalted ones. He does a good job of balancing the vivid elements called
back from his earlier trilogies with new discoveries and revelations.
His stylistic quirks are... well, I can't say they're under control, but
they're adequately curbed. And the plot feels like it's going somewhere
-- maybe forcedly, but that's way better than the aimless mud-slog that
was the Second Chronicles. I say this is respectable fantasy.
Oh, Patricia McKillip, you can write little gorgeous hardcovers for me
forever. This one has ghost bells, inns, books and writers and stories,
and the door that opens unexpectedly into a fantasy world. But not as
you might expect. I could object that the theme of stories doesn't
cohere the way I'd like, but any one of McKillip's sentences makes up
- McKillip, Patricia A.
- The Bell at Sealey Head
Tiny RPG which introduces his "Gumshoe System", which I understand is
the underpinning of the latest Call of Cthulhu edition. However, the
introduction doesn't work. I read the thing and I still don't understand
the trigger/clue/narration system. Maybe it's too simple and I'm staring
at the trees, but if so, I need a better-spelled-out example.
- Laws, Robin D.
- The Esoterrorists
An exorcist tries to make rent in an alternate London where the ghosts
all came back one day. (I think it was one day, I've forgotten the exact
scenario.) The secrets of dead people turn out to be squalid, dark,
morally unfocussed, or -- in a word -- noir, which makes this a great
setup for a Harry-Dresden-style investigative paranormal series.
- Carey, Mike
- The Devil You Know
Sequel to Night Train to Rigel; an agent runs around a bureaucratic
galaxy (on rails), fighting an invasion of mind-controlling beasties.
Not brilliant work, but decent.
- Zahn, Timothy
- The Third Lynx
Teenager in NYC on the run from elves. Not Tolkien elves, or enthralling
Celtic types either, but nasty Froud illustrations with half a million
teeth. For an added bonus, our hero is half-elf himself. Because
teenagers need more self-esteem problems. Oh, and his emotionally
abusive mother named him "Caliban". See above.
- Thurman, Rob
This is first-person-snarky and a half (teenager, right?) but it works,
mostly because of the relationship between Cal and his (all-human)
half-brother Nico, who is the best bad-ass big brother ever. It's
paranormal romance except there's no romance (or sex); the relationship
porn is all siblingry. (I will give about 90% odds that the author is in
"Supernatural" fandom. The TV show, that is.) (No, this book does not go
in the incest direction. Get your mind out of the creepy. There is a
love interest for Caliban, actually, but she's barely in the book.
Imagine Dante's Beatrice, only sweeter.)
I enjoyed this a lot. The monsters are really scary and, okay, I fell
for the brother schtick. Plus the brothers acquire a sidekick who is a
lot of fun in his own right. The viewpoint maneuver in the latter half
of the book is brazen, but I think Thurman gets away with it.
Non-Discworld; alternate Earth history in a mild background way which I
liked. A boy is paddling back from the manhood ritual of his low-tech
islander tribe when a tidal wave erases his tribe from his island. The
same wave wrecks an English ship passing by, leaving a lone girl as a
survivor. Pratchett alternates between the points of view, each with
equal honesty and intelligence (despite the gap between their "levels of
civilization", if I may use a concept which the book so thoroughly
squashes). Thorough, lovely, devastating, and unsatisfying in the right
way -- Discworld may lean towards narrativium-enriched endings but this
book is more real. One of Pratchett's better works.
- Pratchett, Terry
Fourth book about cranky junior cop and healer in a fantasy city. It's
cat-people politics this time around. This is still entertaining, and
I'm not too worried about the series dragging on too long; as
I-forget-who noted, the author is running out of races to focus on.
- Sagara, Michelle
- Cast in Fury
"Gritty" epic fantasy, or a take-down of the epic fantasy genre, if you
like. I didn't like, because the grit (or take-down) involves making all
the characters either unlikeable or outright disgusting. Everybody is
treated with contempt. My favorite scene was the
exploring-ancient-magical-temple set piece. Which is to say, as soon as
the focus went back to the characters, I stopped enjoying the book
again. There are two sequels, but I will be happier imagining that the
orcs destroy civilization and then rocks fall.
- Abercrombie, Joe
- The Blade Itself
I got this to pair with The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to
Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. Similar concept, although it's
thinner (and not from the same people). The imaginary plant species
range from peculiar to fantastical; the descriptions, from whimsical to
comical to haunting.
- Chui, Janet; Lundberg, Jason Erik (ed.)
- A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
More Jack. The shadow war gets even more seriously personal.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Odd -- no, I've overused that one. A fantasy set in a god-ridden city
which may be infinite (or fractal, it's never clearly defined) and
revolutionaries are trying to publish an Atlas. Follows several threads
which only loosely braid together; several of the thread protagonists
spent a lot of the book crazy. Quite a lot is not clearly defined, come
to think of it. I am not predisposed to like that sort of book, but I
found myself drawn into this one.
- Gilman, Felix
Elizabethan politics! Faerie politics! Not by Elizabeth Bear! The
protagonists of this one are not historical characters, but they run
with the same crowd as Will and Kit. A notably creepy evocation of fay
magic, with its mix of petty rule-nickering and reality dropping out
underfoot. (Although vampire novels have long since fed me up with the
unexplored privileging of the accidents of Christianity.)
- Brennan, Marie
- Midnight Never Come
More Jack, faster and faster now. We finally start learning more about
the other allies of the Ally.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Art book of a 2007 Milan exhibition of Serafinian art. Apparently he
does paintings, sculptures, and even dioramas. Appropriately, I could
read nothing of the book's text, since it was in Italian.
- Serafini, Luigi; Motta, Federico
- Luna-Pac Serafini
Ragnarok part two! And a half! With an iron pony! By Elizabeth Bear!
Midgard is long since lost, and the gods with it; as this begins, the
valkyries are losing the fight for the next world. One survives, and
then has two thousand years to wait as the mortal race -- not realizing
that their world has ended -- invent technology, and technomancy, and
then fuck up what's left. This is not a cheery book. Elusive and
allusive and I've used those before, too, haven't I? Bear can pull story
elements out of the air in clumps -- the World-Tree, animal underpeople,
Fenris Wolf, university students -- each half a paragraph before it hits
the page, for all I know -- and make them all fit in the same story.
Successfully. It is my utter shallowness which makes me remember the
title as "The Farting Suns".
- Bear, Elizabeth
- All the Windwracked Stars
I had a copy of this when I was a kid, and wanted to replace it. Designs
for a set of exotic paper airplanes, plus paper airplane marginalia.
- Mander, Jerry; Dippel, George; Gossage, Howard
- The Great International Paper Airplane Book
Sixth in a set of fluffy-but-amusing faintly Victorian YA fantasy. I
suspect this series would read better all in a big chunk, not separated
by eighteen-month gaps. It's not like each one is that long.
- Nix, Garth
- Superior Saturday
And I finally reach the last volume that's out in paperback. The shit
creeps closer to the fan. Although the afterword says that there will be
about seven more mainline Jack novels before the big kablooie? How
long does Wilson expect to live?
- Wilson, F. Paul
Many short stories (including one that mutated into Windwracked). I am
going through these slowly, but not because I dislike them.
- Bear, Elizabeth
- The Chains That You Refuse
Someone said "write what you know", and apparently Reeve knows nuclear
disarmament treaty protocols. In the book it's two starfaring human
civilizations (I never did figure out whether or how they derive from
our history), with temporal-distortion weapons that blow up suns.
Probably. Several years after an Incident, both sides are drawing down.
Our protagonist is a ragged prospecting pilot, only she's actually an
undercover military agent checking into a series of covered-up murders.
Also, the next target. Also, a drunk. Also, involved in the Incident, it
turns out -- which is where the book springs a leak, because her
character arc seems to mostly involve not giving a crap. The back cover
says she's wracked with guilt, but in fact: no. Maybe the author forgot
to write that part in. Then the bad guys are shorthanded with wanton
sexual habits, for further eye-rolling practice. There's some good
spying and space-station disaster antics, but overall I wasn't thrilled.
- Reeve, Laura E.
The cover says "a Shadowbridge novel". I knew there was an earlier book
called Shadowbridge, but I had the notion this wasn't a direct sequel,
so I read it first. Now I have no idea whether it's a direct sequel or a
very deadpan in medias opening. It works, either way. The world is
large and entirely made of bridges, city-bridges, with occasional divine
intervention. One such intervention struck down the theater district,
years ago, and then another heals it just as the daughter of the fabled
puppet-storyteller returns to take up her father's work... And the book
really is that random, with internal stories stitched into the patchwork
and no trope that heads in any familiar direction. But the characters
are entirely lively enough to keep you hooked.
- Frost, Gregory
- Lord Tophet
A graphic-novel adaptation which I had no idea existed. Intensely
compressed -- in under fifty pages, it manages to introduce all the
story elements of the novel, but some of them are lucky to get one
panel. (Sethra appears in two.) I wasn't thrilled by the art, either.
(Who knew that the Left Hand of the Jhereg were bright blue and went
topless except for small seashells?) I am impressed that the adaptation
isn't a total failure, but that's the best I can say.
- Zelenetz, Alan; Pierard, John
- Steven Brust's Jhereg
Second novel about half-monster teenager -- no, wait, the third. I
didn't realize I'd skipped a book until about three chapters in. (The
author is clearly going for a long-haul series, as the world isn't
changing dramatically from book to book.) Put aside while I looked for
the second book.
- Thurman, Rob
Successfully avoided buying The Tomb a third time. This is the origin
of the series that Repairman Jack was later retrofitted into. (Or maybe
it was retrofitted into him, seeing as there are about a dozen Jack
novels now, and the non-Jack ones are all out of print pending a
rewrite.) Nazis attempt to set up camp at a Romanian castle which turns
out to have monsters. More monsters. This is unrefined Wilson (not like
Wilson gets very refined): lots of blood, lots of Nazis bastards,
cartoonish characterization, and the sole female character is introduced
by her breasts. Nonetheless, it reads fast, and it's good background for
the Jack universe. Except for the parts that need a rewrite.
- Wilson, F. Paul
- The Keep
A boy named Nobody is adopted by ghosts. Charming and light. Gaiman is
pastiching many familiar stories here -- sometimes from chapter to
chapter, which makes the book feel more uneven than it could have been
-- but the allusions don't overpower the story. Put this with Nation
and you have an excellent year for young fantasy readers.
- Gaiman, Neil
- The Graveyard Book
A collection of short stories, many of which are chapters in his novel
Singularity Ring. Mostly the stories have a tragic slice-of-life
quality that I find dull, even when they're about posthuman entities or
parallel universes or what have you.
- Melko, Paul
- Ten Sigmas & Other Unlikelihoods
Pirates! Sadly, not very awesome pirates. There's no point in doing
pirates if they're not going to be awesome. Most of the plot wouldn't
exist if the heroine had the Mysterious Stranger thrown overboard at any
of several opportunities; but no, she has the swooning hot-pants for
him, and thus repeatedly dithers. Not awesome.
- Massey, Misty
- Mad Kestrel
Second novel about half-monster teenager in New York. His Beatrice is
kidnapped; plot ensues. The team of Little Brother, Big Brother, and
Puck is firmly set up now (although there are other regular characters).
They're each a different style of smartass. I appreciate that.
- Thurman, Rob
Third book (Madhouse), once I returned to it: more of same. We learn
more about the preternatural communities of the city, which is nifty,
although you really need to not think hard about how many
anthropophagous critters inhabit one island. (Heck, one Central Park.)
Last updated January 25, 2009.
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