Books I Bought in 2009

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 91 books in 2009.

January 2009

Schuette, Kim R.
The Book of Adventure Games
The Book of Adventure Games II
Two collections of maps and walkthroughs for 80s text adventure games. The first volume is bigger and has all the best games up through 1983. The second volume is slightly barrel-scrapy -- but I cannot possibly object, because it has a map and walkthrough of a game I wrote. My first professional recognition! My life followed directly.

Green, Simon R.
The Unnatural Inquirer
There's no point distinguishing Green fantasy novels. This is a Nightside one, in which Nightside stuff happens.

Bujold, Lois McMaster
Passage (The Sharing Knife, 3)
First half of second story in the Lakewalker universe. Low-key; people save the world in these books, but they're not about saving the world. This one is about being on boats. And having teenage kids.

February 2009

Sawyer, Robert J.
Silly, unless I pretend I'm 16 and reading Analog, and then it's all too familiar. Only it came out when I was 26 and not reading Analog any more. Whoops. Giant multispecies starship (a la Brin), incursions from the Eschaton (a la Bear), long arguments about shadow matter (a la Baen Books and it's 1985 forever), you get the idea.

Caine, Rachel
Undone (Outcast Season, book 1)
Spinoff trilogy from the Weather Fluffer series. Damn, I wish my brain hadn't generated that term, because I'm never going to get rid of it. Defrocked genie falls to Earth and learns the joys of fast motorcycles and designer shoes. I don't remember plot elements, but that's not going to stop me from reading the rest of the series.

Hanover, M. L. N.
Unclean Spirits
Is it Mary-Sueism when everybody loves and admires you, but that pisses off your boyfriend's ex? This seemed okay. I probably had more specific comments but they didn't stick.

Lukyanenko, Sergei
Last Watch
Fourth book in the increasingly misleadingly named... well, nobody ever said this was a trilogy. The movies stopped at two (except there might be a third). (Actually, this book contains a wry jab at how completely unrelated the movie continuity is.) Anyhow, this is a tidy little magical thriller, and we learn enough about the underlying nature of reality to bring the four-book series to a comfortable stopping point.

Walton, Jo
Cosy high fantasy about a village household halfway between East-of-the-Sun and West-of-the-Moon, or, if you like, a bunch of very normal people who don't know they're living in a game of Civilization. The narrator keeps house; this is her talent. The fact that she can see the past and the future all mixed together is not a talent, nor a curse either, which is an inimitable feat of writing and also keeps the reader seriously off-balance. Unfortunately the war and the trial scene put the storyline off-balance too; they are temporally mixed with, but never really blend with, the quiet (and occasionally histrionic) growing-up and grown-up depiction of family life. Worthwhile piecewise.

Walton, Jo
Sibyls & Spaceships
Poetry. I picked up the collection to remind myself, and wound up re-reading a lot of it. So it's got that. It's also got the span when John M. Ford left us and George W. Bush wouldn't go, which makes it a bit hard to re-read, even this little time later.

Zelazny, Roger
Manna From Heaven
Zelazny's latest -- that is, his last -- short stories. His beautiful shape of prose is still evident, but the stories don't quite draw blood. On the other hand, this includes five Amber fragments, set after the tenth book and clearly beginning to set up a brand-new storyline. Those are as gonzo-fun as Amber ever was. They might not have built up to a solid novel, but I'm sorry they're all we have.

Jarpe, Matthew
Radio Freefall
A stack of nice ideas in search of a novel. The novel they are in search of is a band story, and there's some AI hijinks too, and a Heinlein-riff orbital freehold. The music-industry material seemed solid, whereas the computer parts were not very convincing; I have a terrible fear that this is because I know lots about computers and nothing about the music industry. I remember the bad guy as being a ridiculous caricature of evil, but I might be mixing him up with the protagonist of Edelman's Infoquake.

Morrow, James
Shambling Towards Hiroshima
Wry-bitter short absurdity about the other WW2 superweapon project: giant radioactive lizards bred at Area 51 to stomp Tokyo into submission. Told from the point of view of a famous Hollywood man-in-the-monster-suit, roped into the project because -- because -- why should I tell this story? Morrow tells it much better.

Baugh, Benjamin; Hicks, Fred
Don't Lose Your Mind
Collection of 26 insanity/abilities for the Don't Rest Your Head RPG. (Ants crawling under your skin! Until you tell them to crawl out and eat somebody.) Each one details what you can do, what happens when you overdo it, and what happens when you completely lose your grip. I usually pass over RPG books that are just lists of things, but this is a delightful nightmare smorgasbord.

March 2009

Thurman, Rob
I said last year that I expected this to be a long-haul series. Wrong; this (fourth) book mops up the major plotline, as our hero's unpleasant relatives try to turn the human race into canapes once and for all. The wrap-up is a little strained, but better to do it while the characters still have their charm.

West, Michelle
The Hidden City
Grumpy old thief (tomb raider, not burglar) takes in street waif. Street waif learns to trust him; also shows alarming propensity to adopt more strays. This is an odd remix of the tropes of the author's Cast In... series (city with hidden magics; politics and petty nobility; orphans) with the Gang Of Girls Don't Need No Boys Here that more than one author has concealed in her trunk of teenage first novels. (Sherwood Smith even published hers.) I'm not sure whether this is indulging in juvenilia, subverting it, or re-imagining it with an adult perspective. It works, so far. Not sure where sequels will go.

Duncan, Dave
The Alchemist's Pursuit
Third book about apprentice wizard/student/detective in Renaissance Venice. Courtesans are turning up dead; traps, politics, disguises, chases ensue. Still fun.

Butcher, Jim
Small Favor
I-don't-even-know-how-manyth book about sassy Chicago wizard. The plot has gotten pretty dense at this point; the author's writing skills are keeping up. I still wouldn't mind some sort of series conclusion, though.

Montfort, Nick; Bogost, Ian
Racing the Beam
Study of the history and technology of the Atari VCS ("Atari 2600"). In particular, discusses how the hardware -- intended to support the full range of games from Pong to Slight Variations Of Pong -- was brutally hacked by clever game designers, enabling them to write every game you remember that isn't Pong. Why are all the rooms and mazes in Adventure horizontally symmetrical? This book explains.

Martin, George R. R.; Dozois, Gardner; Abraham, Daniel
Hunter's Run
The authors' afterword takes pains to point out that this is not two elder statesmen of the field collaboring with a rising young star. It's two young stars of the 70s tossing a novel idea back and forth, getting bogged down, putting it in a trunk, and then (twenty years later) offering it to a new young star to finish. Weird, but less one-sided than it seems at first.

Anyhow, this is an entertaining bit of frontier adventure SF. Think "third-world company-bent mining town" frontier, not "square-jawed American cowboys". The authors (I'm not going to try to sort them out, except for a vivid touch of Martin's alien lifeforms) do a nice job of presenting a mean, self-centered cuss of a protagonist whom I didn't like, but rooted for anyway. (Which turns into its own set of problems; you'll see.) Also, nice to have an SF protagonist who, when lectured by aliens about the central macguffin of the plot, doesn't respond "Fascinating!" or "That's incredible!" but rather "...You are a lying whore with breath like a Russian's asshole!"

Fox, Daniel
Dragon in Chains
Lovely Chinese fantasy novel. I realize that this is a mixed compliment about a book written by a white guy (pseudonym of British author Chaz Brenchley). But it is utterly lovely, and its created world is firmly set in Chinese tradition -- someone more historically knowledgeable than me could probably pick out a date. It's got emperors, it's got dragons, it's got fishermen, and jade is a magical substance of immense power. Skips back and forth between several characters and story threads, all deft and human. I want more.

Valente, Catherynne M.
Dream-y, exquisite stream of prose that I didn't care about much. The central metaphor, or image -- is it a metaphor if you just declare it to be a magical law of reality? -- rubs me the wrong way, and I won't pretend the reasons aren't petty and personal. If you like wildly polyvalent female figures of power, the Orphan's Tales will do just as well as this.

April 2009

Castro, Adam-Troy
The Third Claw of God
Second book about Andrea Cort, political troubleshooter and draftee in a number of wars, some of them invisible. As with Emissaries From the Dead, this is a formal murder mystery -- a classic bottled-up-with-all-the-suspects setup -- which is also a powerful character story and a political thriller. The series plot-arc bumps along more steps than you might expect, too. Is it hyperbolic to give Adam-Troy Castro as the answer to "who is the new Bujold?" Maybe, but I'll stand behind it.

Rothfuss, Patrick
The Name of the Wind
Darling breakout fantasy novel of the year. I got there late, and... this is a whole lot of fun. But you gotta admit: it's a fun, well-done, engaging, hell of a Gary Stu. Destiny, red hair, tragic adolescence, unprecedented magical power -- the lot. I'd have been hooked even without the buckets of unresolved hinted plot threads.

Elliott, Kate
Shadow Gate
I really liked Spirit Gate, but I somehow lost the thread when trying to read this one. Probably would have been fine if I'd read them back to back, but the broad spread of characters were fuzzy in my memory, insufficiently reintroduced, and their stories were too separate for me to get back into. Also, if you have a bunch of people who are distinguished only by the unique colors of their cloaks -- and they insist on going nameless, for magical reasons -- is it fair to put one in a scene without mentioning the cloak color? Really?

Monette, Sarah
Conclusion of the Melusine series. I don't think I'm satisfied with Monette's pacing. She tends to have stretches of desperate action and stretches of "actually, we're doing pretty well for ourselves", alternating in ways that don't make for good individual novels. In this case, the first half of the book is a flight into exile, and the second half is... weirdly congenial and low-momentum. Yeah, sheep are dying somewhere, and everybody's got various kinds of trauma going on, but it's not tense. Oh, well, the characters (old and new) are brilliant and lively and I need something to complain about. Worth it anyhow for the pissy academics of magic.

Sperring, Kari
Living With Ghosts
Magical intrigue in a vaguely Three-Musketeerine city with bonus fog, ghosts, and angst. Too much angst for me, and then the author killed off most of the lower-class neighborhoods (plague, for a start) to raise the stakes for our heroes. It felt cheap.

Dahlquist, Gordon
The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters: Volume One
Best title I've seen in a year. The book was okay. The opening scene was promising: a young lady of quality (Victorian England) is politely but obscurely dumped by her fiance. She falls into hopeless despair for about half a page, and then is off furiously tracking him, bluffing her way onto a train and then into a masked ball of positively Goreyan decadence. If the narrative had stuck with her, I think I would have loved it, but it cycles around through a fusty doctor and a mercenary skullcracker, who aren't nearly as awesome. There's plenty of gaslamp gonzo science, conspiracy, and villains with Prussian accents, but I had a hard time staying interested. I might read volume two, or I might not.

Sniegoski, Thomas E.
A Kiss Before the Apocalypse
Reminds me a lot of Simon R. Green: titanic battles between primal powers, with pedestrian prose treading on all the good parts. And a fetish for the wincingly-lame phrase "so much more than that." (Really, I went to check that Sniegoski wasn't a pseudonym for Green. He's not. Or if he is, he's been writing about six books a year, and needs to be assassinated for the good of the industry.)

Anyhow, it's an angel slumming as a private investigator. It works pretty well, sentence-level construction aside. The most important trick with your typical unstoppable-divine-force protagonist is to give him some reason not to uncork the wings and flaming sword every time a vending machine eats his change. This book manages that, and also gives him convincing connections to the mortal world.

Kochan, Stephen G.
Programming in Objective-C 2.0
Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X
I read these and was able to start writing MacOS and iPhone apps. Yes, ObjC is a candy-ass language. One gets over it.

May 2009

Swann, S. Andrew
Prophets (Apotheosis, book 1)
Religious galactic empires go to war over lost colony. Rogue AI shows up, declares intent to devour the universe. Everybody becomes very sad. I don't actually remember much of this book, except for a vague notion that a military stalemate that depends on both sides pretending not to know about an asset isn't very stable. Also, for a universe-devouring AI to quote the Book of Revelation doesn't really make it any scarier.

Butcher, Jim; Green, Simon R.; Richardson, Kat; Sniegoski, Thomas E.
Mean Streets
Four novellas: Dresden Files, Nightside, Greywalker, and Remy Chandler (the angel PI, see above). All good. The Butcher story in particular is a good follow-on to Small Favor. Green's annoying tics are less annoying at short length, I liked the Richardson story much more than her first novel, and the Sniegoski was fine too. If you are familiar with all of these series, this is worth picking up; if none of them, this is a good introduction. Well marketed, Roc.

Nourse, Alan E.
Psi High and Others
Tiger by the Tail
A fixup and a story collection, both from the 60s, all classic Nourse. You know, SF really was blatantly sexist back then. It's the 60s in more ways than that: the Big Men of society are cigar-chomping Senators. And the doctors of the Hoffman Medical Center, because it's Nourse too. I think the stories hold up.

Moore, Alan; O'Neill, Kevin
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910
There is a certain ballsiness in publishing a musical in graphic-novel form. Alan Moore owns those balls. It's the Three-Penny Opera, of course. Entertaining as always, in that LoEG way.

Sanderson, Brandon
The Hero of Ages
Suitably cataclysmic wrap-up to the Mistborn trilogy. (Cataclysmic because they've spent two books finding out how totally hosed they are, and you don't fix that by chucking a bit of jewelry down the loo.) This volume had fewer clever twists per hectopage than Sanderson sometimes manages, but it was satisfying.

Green, Simon R.
Daemons Are Forever
There's no point in distinguishing... sorry. This is a Drood book, not a Nightside one, which means a different set of hyperbolically- overpowered lunatics trying to assortedly destroy and defend reality. My new complaint about Green (without any trace of withdrawing the old ones) is that he gives absolutely no sense of power levels. Who is cosmically undefeatable, when doing what, and who is just a hardass with a line on some magical power? It varies from scene to scene, according to plot needs. How worried should the reader be, in any given scene? The author will now tell you. I guess this is why Green spends so much time tying adjectives into knots.

Reynolds, Alastair
The Prefect
Standalone novel set in the Glitter Band, some time before the biological disaster that sets up his original trilogy. In a system of a thousand orbiting polises, the only global authority are the people who enforce democracy: Thou Shalt Not Mess With The Polling Machines. Someone does, of course, and the conspiracy gets more complicated from there.

I remember his last novel (Pushing Ice) as having a great science-wowzer plot, wrapped around a character narrative which resembled two preadolescent girls sulking at each other for two hundred years. Reynolds is clearly maturing as a writer; the characters in this book are solidly adolescent. Even the rookie cop, who most nearly has an excuse, feels underage. All the rest fall off the credibility wagon when they fail to arrest the obvious bad guy for acting like an obvious bad guy in public. Oh, well. There's a plot, and things explode.

Sanderson, Brandon
Warbreaker [borrowed]
Stand-alone fantasy (although it leaves plot hooks for sequels). This is not nearly as cataclysmic as the Mistborn trilogy, but the fate of at least two countries is at stake, and there's some impressive fireworks. Sanderson does his usual job of inventing an absurdly detailed magical system and then leveraging it into a lot of nifty scenes and a decent plotline. In this case, a three-strand plotline of political skulduggery. I won't say Sanderson's character writing has gotten good, but it's gotten reliably entertaining; lots of boldly-drawn, colorful personalities, including the best dismal merceneries ever, and a sociopathic talking sword.

July 2009

MacIntyre, F. Gwynplaine
The Woman Between the Worlds
Gaslamp fantasy that starts in a Wellsian mode and veers towards the Lovecraftian. The owner of a tattoo parlor is visited by an invisible woman hoping for a pigment upgrade. She is, however, more than she appears -- har har -- and our heroes find themselves on the run from the sort of interdimensional terror that makes grandiose threats and laughs maniacally as it swirls around you. (Not very Lovecraftian, I know.) This could have been a good book, but the author drags most of it through a smelly bog of fin-de-siecle who's-who: Arthur Conan Doyle, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, and far, far too many more, parading through the plot in press-gangs. (Nor can you play it as a game, as in Moore's League stories.) When Aleister Crowley is drafted to be your sidekick, you know the author has some serious fanboying to get out of his system. Eventually the plot starts back up again, and comes to a reasonable conclusion, unless maniacal laughter annoys you.

Van Eekhout, Greg
Norse Code [borrowed]
It's California, twenty minutes into the future, and Ragnarok. A recently-recruited Valkyrie is sent out to run genetic assays for the blood of Odin, to track down more potential Valkyries; other Norse deities wander the landscape, etc. This had a few great scenes (Hugin and Munin grumping; the small Midwestern town of the dead) but mostly I found the tone off-kilter. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not weighty enough to be a story about the end of the world. Everything seemed to be either too distant or too small-scale to be Ragnarok. Bear's Windwracked Stars wouldn't know a laugh if one bit it on the ass, but at least it felt real.

Novik, Naomi
Victory of Eagles
Dragon And His Soldier Boy, book five. Our heroes' march to disgrace is interrupted by Napoleon's army. Everyone then gets to spend the book building up resources and plans for the big fight to throw the Frenchies out of London. The theme of dragon self-determination simmers under the surface of it all; Napoleon is promising freedom- equality-and-fraternity to all lizardfolk, whereas the British government is firmly reactionary. Will the pressures of war begin to break down social boundaries, or will that be the pressure of a pissed-off reptilian megafauna with a maximized sonic breath weapon? Coming soon: Australia.

Carey, Mike
Vicious Circle
Second book about down-on-his-luck exorcist in ghost-ridden London. Demonic portents begin turning up, and everybody thinks Felix Castor knows a lot more than he actually does. Everybody is trying to stop him, too. As soon as he finds out what they're trying to stop him doing, he'll be delighted to help. I like this series a lot.

Stross, Charles
Saturn's Children
Stross does sexbots. Let me rephrase that. No, on second thought, let it stand.

Cute but fluff. I've heard a few chapters of this read by Stross at various cons, and that's how I recommend it -- he's having so much fun that it's contagious, but more so in person than on the page.

Smith, Sherwood
King's Shield
Book three of world-spanning prince-grows-up story. Inda is yanked home from exile, just as the long-threatened Venn invasion is about to start. Everyone then gets to spend the book building up resources and plans for the big fight. And I do mean "building up"; there's a big battle, but a lot more sending messengers around, preparing castles, sneaking soldiers around, and so on. Don't imagine that's dull stuff. (The invasion is down a narrow mountain pass from a beach landing, which gives plenty of opportunity for excitingly delaying actions.) In the meantime Inda is trying to get used to his home country, which he hasn't seen since age eleven; his king and his betrothed are trying to get used to having him home; everyone is trying to get used to Inda's outlander friends (pirates, mages, girlfriend ten years older than he is, oh my), and, oh yes, the Venn are secretly having a constitutional crisis. All these people, on both sides, are intensely real. The author even manages to get in a side plot about a group of eleven-year-old girls -- they are just as real as the adult warriors and princes, in a way that makes me regret my snide comments about Alistair Reynolds.

If I have a complaint about this book, it's that the plot bounces around somewhat unevenly. A lot of threads are packed in, and not all of them get equal weight. I assume a lot of stuff is being set up for the fourth and, I understand, final volume.

Williams, Liz
The Shadow Pavilion
A new Detective Inspector Chen story. Bollywood tiger demons! Need I say more? I like the badger teapot more than ever. The hapless movie-star agent too. If none of this makes any sense to you, you really need to jump back and find Snake Agent.

August 2009

Agner, Mary
The Doors of the Body
Small-press collection of poetry by a friend. Some fairy tale themes, some Greek history and mythology. Liked it.

Brennan, Marie
In Ashes Lie
Followup to Elizabethan elf story. This one is way too much of a history lesson; the author had to work in the Plague and the Fire and Cromwell's civil war, starting and ending, all notionally tied together with a faerie plotline. They don't fit.

Erikson, Steven
The Lees of Laughter's End
Third Korbal Broach novella. (These have been collected into one volume now, if you're interested.) Must not have been memorable.

Abraham, Daniel
An Autumn War
Third book in quartet about a civilization committing suicide via demon. I'm not sure where I got that idea, actually -- I haven't read the fourth yet -- but everything bad that's happened so far is part of the "long price" of holding the andat, and this book furthers that theme, shall we say. The second book didn't engage me but this one did: a big scheme, undertaken by the survivors of the first book's mistakes, and oh do they multiply. Very finely written.

Wilson, F. Paul
By the Sword
Repairman Jack sees the last few hoops come into view.

Kadrey, Richard
Sandman Slim
Punk wizard got thrown (alive) into Hell, by being an idiot and hanging around with other idiots. He has managed to escape. Revenge! I recall this is being one of the better examples of "nasty but still sympathetic noir".

Caine, Rachel
Cape Storm (Weather Warden, book 8)
This series can end any time. This volume has a lot of entertaining plot-bouncing but I can't remember if it advances the overall story any.

Beukes, Lauren
Near-future social if-this-goes-on-ism: megacorps, street vandalism as social protest, ebola as a riot-control agent, soft drink companies sponsoring medical research. This is original cyberpunk updated to the current year, and like the original cyberpunk, it's full of people that you don't like and the awful things that happen to all of them. Did not enjoy.

Bellairs, John
Magic Mirrors
Contains an obscure Bellairs satire of Catholicism (which I already had), a charming children's story, The Face in the Frost (already had), and -- the real reason this volume exists -- the pages that exist of The Dolphin Cross, which is the sequel to The Face in the Frost. (It feels like roughly the first two-thirds of a book, although some pages are lost from the middle as well.) Prospero -- not the famous one -- goes wandering around England, or countries of the English variety, in search of something very nasty. Imaginative, varied, often funny, extremely creepy, not entirely cohesive; maybe cohesive would have been a later draft.

Baker, Kage
The Hotel Under the Sand
A children's story; has the air of "the story the author made up for some actual kids", rather than an attempt to enter the Harry Potter sweepstakes. A girl is shipwrecked and discovers a buried hotel, with attendant ghosts, pirates, magic, etc, etc. Sweet in a (I swear) completely unironical way. The cook was awesome.

Goto, Hiromi
Half World
Another kids' book. Girl travels to fantasy world; but the story is rooted in Japanese culture, rather than the usual portal-fantasy wellspring of British folklore and history. (The author is Canadian but was born in Japan, I believe.) Vivid; the antagonist is about as nightmarish as I've seen, in the disgusting mode. My only complaint is that the teenage protagonist talks a bit too much like a life-experienced adult, particularly when observing grownups. But that's a tiny little complaint.

Sagara, Michelle
Cast in Silence
Police officer gets involved in... what was this one? Oh yes: the history of the fantasy city itself, particularly the Fiefs. The series has spent enough time working the protagonist up as a human being that it can now explore her magical specialness without coming off as twee. Well done.

Schroeder, Karl
The Sunless Countries (Virga, book 4)
We learn more about the greater world of Virga -- including what's outside it. Fun, except for the local political struggle that kicks off (and wraps up) the plot; that comes off as cartoon villains out to smear mud on the world.

Gilman, Greer
Cloud & Ashes
Have not yet read this. I know, I bought it at Worldcon. I need a lot of a particular kind of momentum before I tackle Gilman's prose.

Baker, Meguey
A Thousand and One Nights
The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo
Two additions to my collection of offbeat indie RPGs. The former is a very lightweight game, with the players all taking turns as GMs (effectively) as their characters tell Arabian-Nightsian stories, with a court-politics frame game. Cute; suitable for a one-afternoon game. The latter is essentially a explication of the author's 2006 fairy-tale RPG campaign, generalized into a full setting and a framework for other people to "do something like this". Verges on having too much setting and not enough interesting game mechanics, but still worth looking at.

Durham, David Anthony
Epic fantasy of the nations-in-conflict sort (subtype: princes and princesses have to cope with it). I failed to like this. The various nations, although nicely varied, all felt like thin stereotypes; their political motivations did too. Also the prose was vaguely clunky, and I kept losing track of which group of terrifyingly irresistable enemies was which.

Enge, James
Blood of Ambrose
Imagine if Merlin had stuck around England for all the centuries after Arthur, to make sure the kingdom ran okay. It's not actually Merlin or England (although enough names come from that tradition that I spent way too long trying to figure out if this was alt-history-fantasy or not). But you get the idea. Ambrosius is ancient, half-legendary, and possessed of an infinite amount of personal baggage. His sister is just the same, except she's not a drunk. Both of them are interested in protecting the young prince from the palace coup that's going down... Okay, I'll say it: this is the Belgariad done right (as if by S. Morganstern, maybe?) Cheerfully over-the-top.

Landy, Derek
Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones
Third book about young wizard and her skeleton detective buddy. Still good fun. The author is making some interesting gestures at the handwaves he used in book one to write about a teenager adventuring without destroying her normal family life. I'm hoping the story angles towards the protagonist growing up.

September 2009

Barlowe, Wayne
God's Demon
Yes, that Barlowe. (He's the artist who invented all the alien lifeforms in the current Avatar movie. Okay? Okay.) So, a while ago Barlowe published an art-book of paintings of Hell. Then, it seems, he decided to write a novel for which they were the art. It's not bad, but it's not as good as his paintings. Barlowe is (unsurprisingly) superb at describing sensory detail; Hell is vivid in all its meat-ridden inverse-glory. The plot and characters, not so vivid. There's a rebellion in Hell, and all the people (demons mostly) that he painted get shoehorned in. I liked the idea of a natural ecosystem of hell, complete with aborigines, from before the fallen angels fell in; but not much is done with it.

Downum, Amanda
The Drowning City
Necromancer stumbles (or leaps, since she's also a spy) into politics. This book throws an awful lot of names at you -- people, places, ethnic groups, political factions -- it's all well-built but it's a lot to grab hold of. I wound up liking the sidekicks and secondary characters more than the protagonist, who is supposed to be a badass but isn't really an interesting or active badass.

Thurman, Rob
Trick of the Light
Spinoff of the Cal Leandros "monsters in NYC" series. (But with new characters -- the other series doesn't cross over, except for a phone call to Robin Goodfellow, and a comment about why demons avoid New York.) This book is demons in Las Vegas. Enh. The narrator is unreliable (if you didn't guess from the title and her name being "Trixa") and while the author sets up some nicely multilayered sleight-of-narrative, it's at the cost of me really buying into the story. That is to say, I didn't.

Whiteland, David
The Knot-Shop Man
This is the one you haven't heard of (unless I commented on your blog about it). It's a self-published quartet of fairy tales about a city where you can go to tie down your fate -- to a person, to a goal. Is this a good idea? The answer is ambiguous, as four different people undertake four journeys, each under the tutelage of the proprietor of a shop that sells knots. (Not rope, mind you.) The stories vary from a sort of tragedy to a sort of triumph, and how you take the whole will depend on what order you read them in -- the books quite overtly leave this up to you. It's an interesting experiment, but the experiment is less important than the author's deft, wry, and eminently readable narration. Ordering this will cost you some cash (shipping costs to the US particularly bite) but I recommend it anyhow. Get together with three friends and you can all read it at the same time.

October 2009

Evans, Larry
Great Book of Lateral Logic Mazes
A Super-Sneaky Double-Crossing Up, Down, Round & Round Maze Book
Gorey Games
A set of puzzle books from the 1970s op-art maze master, Larry Evans. The first two have some regular mazes and some logic mazes, such as mazes with missing bits or visit-each-node-once rules. The Gorey book is a general puzzle collection done with licensed Edward Gorey artwork. (Gorey obviously had nothing to do with it aside from giving permission, but whatever. It is what it is.)

Connolly, Harry
Child of Fire
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series. There is magic out there; and it's a really bad idea. If your power doesn't come directly from the world-devouring extradimensional demons, it's liable to attract their attention. Therefore, the Twenty Palaces Society go out looking for nascent magicians -- and shut them down. Hard. They are not nice people. The protagonist in this book is not a wizard, although he has a couple of tricks; he's the henchman, or hench-stalking-horse, of a shit-scary Twenty Palaces operative. She's a sociopathic goal-obsessed magic hunter; he's a chauffeur with "expendable" tattooed on his forehead; they fight crime^H^H^H^H^H demons! This is a great start for a series; both the main characters and the small-town multi-sided old-bad-blood drama they stumble into get a lot of depth, and the demons (and other nasties) are satisfactorially awful. Yes, I'm including the scary wizard lady in with "nasties", and yet we see where she's coming from as well. I look forward to learning more about the Society.

Stephenson, Neal
Stephenson has finally done it; he has invented an entire planetary institution of people who spend their lives giving each other lectures, in order to justify all the lectures he wanted to put in his book. I enjoyed this, after being utterly bored by Quicksilver, after enjoying Cryptonomicon. I think it's purely a question of the subject matter. The storyline in Anathem is better-constructed than usual, with a genuine no-shit-there-it-is ending. On the other hand, the SF gimmicks were all utterly unconvincing to me, from the alt-matter oxygen that was only "sort of" breathable to the quantum-consciousness theories (I hate them, every one). Overall, fun, but it was aiming for "awesome" and missed by miles.

Banks, Iain M.
Ten marks out of ten for the opening paragraph. The rest of the book does not hold the pace. It's the kind of story whose fun is in holding lots and lots of unrelated pieces in your head, and then trying to fit them together. It does this adequately, but without any sense that I should be rooting for any of the characters. And, weirdly, there are no major revelations at the end (or anywhere else). I would have thought revelations were a genre convention, in jigsaw-puzzle plots.

Pratchett, Terry
Unseen Academicals
I wish it were possible to think about this book without thinking about Pratchett's illness, and how it might have affected the work. I can say that I liked this one better than Making Money, but not as much as Going Postal or Thud. Can I say that the plot felt a little too wandery? Maybe, but then I was looking for symptoms, and that's too easy to do when an author hasn't been formally diagnosed. Anyhow. A terrific batch of new characters, an acceptably evolved visit to the Unseen wizard crew -- some of them have actually moved on to new things -- and no, I don't care that the footy-ball has never been mentioned before in the series.

November 2009

Bear, Elizabeth
By the Mountain Bound
Prequel to emo Norse technofantasy series. This explains how the world got to the apocalyptic point where Windwracked Stars began. This was decent but just a little bit pat, and I'm not sure whether that's because it was set earlier (so I knew where it was going), or because the author had worked over the ideas so often, or just because it's a simpler book (both in storyline and in setting). So I think I will shift away from my usual "always read in publication order" stance, and say that By the Mountain Bound should not be read second in this trilogy. But should it be read first (chronological order) or third (the order that the author wrote them)? I'll let you know after I get my hands on The Sea Thy Mistress.

Zahn, Timothy
Odd Girl Out
Third in ongoing series of inter(-stellar-)national intrigue thrillers. A dame walksh into the protagonist's office, tries to hire him, and is found dead scant hours later. Is it a plot? Yes, it is a plot. I am starting to disbelieve that the alien menace is beatable -- it seems to be able to mobilize unlimited numbers of rich people to do its bidding, and what can threaten a large group of corrupt rich people? Don't try to answer that. This book brings in some interesting other factions, anyhow.

Peters, S. M.
Whitechapel Gods
Alien clockwork lifeforms have been sprouting in Victorian London; now they've conquered the Whitechapel district. Falls into the New Weird trap of having the main characters be jerks -- and also, the story takes way too much glee in having New and Weird things happen to the main characters. It's hard to stay engaged in the story when any given viewpoint character has no better than even odds of surviving his viewpoint chapter. Also, most of them are psychotic jerks.

Ronald, Margaret
Spiral Hunt
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series, only this one is set in Boston, which I appreciate. Once again, magic is bad for you (although not quite so likely to destroy the world); it's cast as addiction, and way better than Buffy did. The author gives good feel for Boston history, and ties the many currents of her magical world into that history in a way reminiscent of Tim Powers.

McCaffrey, Anne
I didn't buy this to read; I bought it so that Elizabeth Bear could sign it. Now I just need to get Sarah Monette to.

Leonardo da Vinci, Luca Pacioli
Il Codice Della Divina Perfezione
Not a book, but a collection of prints of Leonardo's illustrations of the Platonic solids. (And Archimedean solids, and some stellations too.)

Levitt, John
Dog Days
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series... this is a more conventional take. The gimmick is that our hero has a magic dog. Not a wolf, mind you, but a little mutt critter. It's cute, but the story didn't do much to differentiate itself from its genre, and coming down to a heavily-foreshadowed duel of magic at the end didn't score any points.

Wilson, F. Paul
The Touch
Re-release (presumably somewhat updated) of one of the background-setting books for the Repairman Jack series. This one is "current" (that is, it takes place right after Ground Zero) and concerns a doctor who is abruptly possessed of a miraculous healing touch; the price for each use is the rapid erosion of his mind. The story unfortunately fails to develop any tension whatsoever, because the setups are all gimmes: will the good-hearted doctor sacrifice himself to save the cute girl on dialysis? the cute autistic boy? the evil exploitative politician? No points for guessing right.

Wilson, F. Paul
This one works much better; it concerns the attempt of the big evil avatar to get himself incarnated circa 1968. It works because the characters are put into situations where there are genuinely no good answers; every choice is awful. That's horror.

December 2009

Bujold, Lois McMaster
The Hallowed Hunt
Re-read, but I happen to have not read it since the book came out (and that was a library copy, which is why I bought it for the revisit). I like this one a lot. It has the right level of choice, immanence, and revelation in a theology that we thought we knew pretty well. Also a multitude of awesome ancilliary characters -- Jokol and Fafa, Hallana and Oswin. However, the limits of the series become apparent when the author has to drop in a list of all the things that aren't going on, which are all the possibilities raised by the first two books. If she ever writes a fourth, the list will only get longer.

Doyle, Debra; MacDonald, James D.
The Confessions of Peter Crossman
Chapbook of short stories about the Templar super-secret agent (from The Apocalypse Door) and his rival-or-ally, the Fun Nun With the Gun. (I never get tired of quoting that.) The stories are each quite simple, a bit of action and a bit of magic and then it's done. I prefer the novel-length form, of which I hear a new one is coming out soon.

de Pierres, Marianne
Dark Space
Have not yet finished.

Green, Simon R.
Just Another Judgement Day
It's time to stop buying these. I've reached the point where I can skip half the text -- because I've read it before, or close enough to make no never-mind. Sometimes I've read it before in the same volume.

Keck, David
In a Time of Treason
Have not yet started.

Last updated January 1, 2010.

Books I own

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