Books I Bought in 2008

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 106 books in 2008.

Left Over From 2007

Berg, Carol
Breath and Bone
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.

Bear, Elizabeth
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.

Mieville, China
Looking for Jake
Short stories. I liked many of them. They had a higher hit ratio for me than Mieville's novels have had.

Williams, Sean
Saturn Returns
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 spots.)

January 2008

Galluzzi, Paolo
The Art of Invention: Leonardo and Renaissance Engineers
Booklet for a museum exhibit. I grabbed this for the pictures.

February 2008

Kirkpatrick, Russell
Across the Face of the World
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.

Del Franco, Mark
Unshapely Things
Urban-fantasy detective stuff. The details have faded. Not terrible but I was not moved to pick up the sequel.

Butcher, Jim
White Night
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.

Tan, Shaun
The Arrival
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.

Roberson, Chris
The Dragon's Nine Sons
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.

Jones, Diana Wynne
The Game
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.

Melko, Paul
Singularity Ring
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.

Wolfe, Gene
Pirate Freedom
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 book.

Swanwick, Michael
The Dragons of Babel
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).

Palmatier, Joshua
The Vacant Throne
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.

Wilson, F. Paul
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.

Banks, Iain M.
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 stupid.)

March 2008

Wilson, F. Paul
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.

Castro, Adam-Troy
Emissaries From the Dead
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. Recommended.

Duncan, Dave
The Alchemist's Code
Second book about young smartass in Renaissance Venice. Gang fights, necromancy, schemes, lies, politics.

April 2008

Wilson, F. Paul
All the Rage
More Jack.

Valente, Catherynne M.
In the Cities of Coin and Spice
Conclusion to insane spiral story amalgamation. I didn't even try to keep track of what was going on.

Watts, Peter
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.

Landy, Derek
Skulduggery Pleasant
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.

Kibuishi, Kazu
Graphic novel: kids discover a passage to an alternately charming and creepy underground world.

Aiken, Joan
Black Hearts in Battersea
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, painters, brats.

McLoughlin, John
Toolmaker Koan
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 Eon.

Wilson, F. Paul
More Jack. Jack's family continues to become a larger part of the storyline. This is not necessarily good news for him or them.

May 2008

Williams, Sean
Earth Ascendant
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.

Rosenblum, Mary
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?)

McDonald, Sandra
The Outback Stars
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.

Smith, Sherwood
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 earlier).

Wilson, F. Paul
The Haunted Air
More Jack.

Landy, Derek
Skulduggery Pleasant: Playing with Fire
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.)

Huff, Tanya
The Heart of Valor
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.

Pagliassotti, Dru
Clockwork Heart
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.

June 2008

Hodgman, John
The Areas of My Expertise
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 Daisy Spacing?)

Butler, Octavia
Have not yet read.

Nesbit, E.
Five Children and It; The Phoenix and the Carpet; The Story of the Amulet
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.

Buckell, Tobias S.
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 the way.

Sanderson, Brandon
The Well of Ascension
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.

Jones, Diana Wynne
House of Many Ways
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.

Finlay, Alex; Sharples, Ray; Moskowitz, Denis
One Hundred Year Star-Diary
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!)

Wilson, F. Paul
More Jack. Not many more before I have to start waiting for new ones.

Bryan, Kathleen
The Serpent and the Rose
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).

Morgan, Richard K.
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.

Wilson, Robert Charles
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.

Edelman, Davis Louis
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.

July 2008

Green, Simon R.
The Man with the Golden Torc
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 entertainment.

Brust, Steven
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 lot.

Bamman, Henry; Odell, William; Whitehead, Robert
Milky Way
Ice Men of Rime
Space Pirate
Bone People
City Beneath the Sea
The Lost Uranium Mine
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.)

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.

Lebbon, Tim
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.

Walton, Jo
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.

Bear, Elizabeth
Ink and Steel (The Stratford Man, vol 1)
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.

August 2008

Roberson, Jennifer
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.

Wilson, F. Paul
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.

Williams, Walter Jon
Implied Spaces
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 impact.

Caine, Rachel
Gale Force (Weather Warden, book 7)
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.

Bear, Elizabeth
New Amsterdam
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!

Wilson, F. Paul
The Tomb
Already read this. Bought this thinking it was The Keep. It wasn't.

Pratchett, Terry; Stewart, Ian; Cohen, Jack
The Science of Discworld 3: Darwin's Watch
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.

Landon, Kristin
The Hidden Worlds
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 affair".

Schroeder, Karl
Pirate Sun (Virga, book 3)
More air pirates on rocket bicycles. We start to learn more about the universe outside Virga.

Welch, Michelle M.
Confidence Game
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 instead.

Asher, Neal
Prador Moon
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.

Barron, Laird
The Imago Sequence
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.

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)
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.

Bear, Elizabeth
Hell and Earth (The Stratford Man, vol 2)
Conclusion of what the author has referred to as "Will and Kit's Bogus Journey".

Scalzi, John
The Last Colony
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.

Donaldson, Stephen
Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, book 2)
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.)

(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.

McKillip, Patricia A.
The Bell at Sealey Head
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 for everything.

September 2008

Laws, Robin D.
The Esoterrorists
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.

Carey, Mike
The Devil You Know
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. Satisfying.

October 2008

Zahn, Timothy
The Third Lynx
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.

Thurman, Rob
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.

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.

Pratchett, Terry
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.

Sagara, Michelle
Cast in Fury
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.

Abercrombie, Joe
The Blade Itself
"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.

Chui, Janet; Lundberg, Jason Erik (ed.)
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
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.

Wilson, F. Paul
More Jack. The shadow war gets even more seriously personal.

Gilman, Felix
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.

Brennan, Marie
Midnight Never Come
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.)

Wilson, F. Paul
More Jack, faster and faster now. We finally start learning more about the other allies of the Ally.

Serafini, Luigi; Motta, Federico
Luna-Pac Serafini
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.

Bear, Elizabeth
All the Windwracked Stars
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".

Mander, Jerry; Dippel, George; Gossage, Howard
The Great International Paper Airplane Book
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.

Nix, Garth
Superior Saturday
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.

November 2008

Wilson, F. Paul
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?

Bear, Elizabeth
The Chains That You Refuse
Many short stories (including one that mutated into Windwracked). I am going through these slowly, but not because I dislike them.

Reeve, Laura E.
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.

Frost, Gregory
Lord Tophet
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.

Zelenetz, Alan; Pierard, John
Steven Brust's Jhereg
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.

December 2008

Thurman, Rob
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.

Wilson, F. Paul
The Keep
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.

Gaiman, Neil
The Graveyard Book
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.

Melko, Paul
Ten Sigmas & Other Unlikelihoods
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.

Massey, Misty
Mad Kestrel
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.

Thurman, Rob
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.

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.

Books I own

Comments on books I bought in: 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014

Zarfhome (map) (down)