Books I Bought in 2010

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 107 books in 2010.

Left Over From 2009

de Pierres, Marianne
Dark Space
The prologue has an asteroid miner discovering a weakly godlike space entity; also lots of wacky far-future tech-jargon of the sort that I enjoy. I bought the book on those strengths, and was rapidly disappointed by the story, which pushes the entity entirely offstage in favor of a bunch of Italian aristocrats squabbling over a mining colony. It's one of those "spoiled aristo gets life lesson in misery and shreds of compassion" novels, which I hate. (Imputations about my own social stratum are left as an exercise.) Also the POV keeps cutting to the (now-rich, erstwhile-) asteroid miner, in a series of plot asides that I'm pretty sure make no sense whatsoever. He's a spoiled jerk too.

Keck, David
In a Time of Treason
Sequel to crunchy Old-European-Medieval tournament story with ghosts. This time it's war with ghosts. I like the portrayal of a land where buried sins can literally fester just beneath the skin of the world. However, the author works a little too hard to keep the lord's wife (hero's illicit love interest) tagging along to all the crises.

January 2010

Orzel, Chad
How To Teach Physics To Your Dog
Nice introduction to quantum physics, with a down-to-earth attitude which clarified some stuff for me (and I've read a lot of introductions to quantum physics). Warning: this book is a conversation magnet. Be prepared to tell complete strangers why teaching physics to a dog is a good idea.

Duncan, Dave
Ill Met in the Arena
Twisty political thriller in a world where a zillion little principalities are breeding for psychic powers through regular arena combat. Duncan inevitably spins a vast ream of weird political and cultural institutions, crossed with details about various magical abilities, all of which wind up being (a) vital to the plot and (b) not a chore to read at all, because the plot is so bouncy. Not my all-time favorite Duncan, but he's still got it.

Berg, Carol
The Spirit Lens
A sort of Musketeer-y intrigue story, with royal assassination plots and secret cabals of wizardry. The secret magic didn't seem to hang together very well, though -- I felt like the author was switching ontological tracks whenever the plot required it. The plot itself was fine, though.

Brust, Steven
Vlad learns there ain't no justice. The Empress commiserates.

Scalzi, John
The God Engines
Nasty little story about caged deities running starships. Tightly built, which means the author couldn't have avoided the grim ending if he'd wanted too, which I bet he didn't.

Martin, George R. R.
Starlady; Fast-Friend
Two medium-future short stories, each with bite. I miss GRRM-the-SF-writer.

Ashbless, William
Pilot Light
A reprint of Ashbless's longest published short story (still pretty short) -- not updated, due to obscure intellectual property issues, but vitriolically footnoted by Ashbless (with Powers and Blaylock chiming in at the margins). One day the truth will be known, but only if the authors get tired of the joke.

Perry, Steve
Light SF thriller. Too much reliance on awesome sex as a character motivator.

Ronald, Margaret
Wild Hunt
Speaking of Tim Powers, this series continues to get the urban fantasy right. The Hound of Boston comes up against a raft of canine and other hunting-ish mythologies.

Williams, Walter Jon
This is Not a Game
I avoided this for a while because I liked Halting State and didn't want to step on it. Naturally this was silly of me. The setting is essentially not SF at all -- only a few comments about alcohol-fuelled laptops and China decoupling from the dollar (which I think is happening in real life anyhow). Imagine that alternate-reality gaming were a slightly larger slice of the computer game industry, and this plot wouldn't even be speculative. Which is to say, Williams knows his stuff and knows how to tell it.

Bujold, Lois McMaster
Horizon (The Sharing Knife, 4)
This book doesn't have a plot. That is, the "Wide Green World" series has a broad plot arc, and this book has some plots in it, but none of them run from one end of the book to the other. Plus I didn't like the "climactic" one much. It's fine, it's a good read, but I feel like the whole series needed to be torn apart and rebuilt in a different number of books.

February 2010

Okrent, Arika
In the Land of Invented Languages [borrowed book]
A survey of constructed languages, from the medieval philosophers (trying to generate or classify all true knowledge) to Esperanto and Lojban (trying to unite all human cultures) to Klingon (ditto, with fricatives). Very easy reading; the author finds the interesting history behind everything.

Richardson, Kat
This is the second book in the Greywalker series, and I give up. Clunky, unbalanced, coincidence-happy plotting.

Griffin, Kate
A Madness of Angels
My favorite urban fantasy of the year so far, and that's "urban" as in "London" as in "you can practically feel the Underground schmutz coming out of your nose". An apprentice wizard comes back from the dead with serious pronoun troubles. Then more troubles show up; then everyone starts taking sides.

Ellis, Warren
Global Frequency: Planet Ablaze
Short, highly episodic series about the secret organization that deals with the scary shit. (I did wind up owning the full graphic-novel set, although I didn't seem to record buying the second part.) Some horror, some giant monsters, some willpower porn. Good stuff. I wish they'd done the TV series with Michelle Forbes.

Kibuishi, Kazu
The Stonekeeper's Curse (Amulet 2)
Second part of graphic-novel fairy tale with teenagers, elves, talking animals, and giant adorable walking houses. The "parents in YA-genre-fantasy" elements could use more depth, but maybe that's part 3.

Meding, Kelly
Three Days to Dead
Best opening ever. Rest of book not quite up to it. More "oh god bubbling hormones" as the only motivation behind the character arcs; too much wallowing in lust/angst/PTSD. At least they notice the PTSD. Also, don't telegraph your deus ex machina ending in advance; it ruins the effect.

Wolfe, Gene
An Evil Guest
I didn't understand this book. I mean, I understood some of it -- it's about humans dealing with higher forms of life, lower forms of life, and those who force their way through the boundaries. But I don't get why any of this book was the way it was, from the weird White House opening scene to the dark-and-angsty romance tropes to Cthulhu.

Lloyd, Tom
The Stormcaller (The Twilight Reign, book 1)
Don't remember a damn thing about this one. (Goes to find it.) Oh, right. Whiteeyes are children born to lead -- the gods give them straight 18s, the rest of their lives is up to them. Well, intelligence is the dump stat, it turns out. Also they have berserker temperaments. Not necessarily a good deal. Anyway, this is a decent premise, but the author throws in gods and dragons and demons and magic armor and I think mysterious wizards show up, maybe werewolves... Oh, right, vampires. At any rate, it's too much.

Bellairs, John; Fitschen, Marilyn
The Pedant and the Shuffly
A picture-book story, which I already had in the recent NESFA edition, but when I saw an original edition I grabbed it. A logician lurks in the woods, trapping people and proving they don't exist. A kindly old sorcerer tangles with him, and triumphs, with the aid of a shuffly. I really don't see what else you're waiting to hear, but I'll quote anyway: "Have you ever thought that you might not exist?" "Yes, I have thought so, but when I do, I throw myself down stairwells till the feeling goes away."

March 2010

Bear, Elizabeth
Second part of stranded-in-space-with-nanotech trilogy. This is the tourism part of the fantasy plot: I'm sure stuff happened, but what I remember is the baby mammoth.

Elliott, Kate
Traitors' Gate
Third part of giant fantasy politics trilogy. I fell off this series after the first book -- couldn't remember most of the characters in the second, and the problem hasn't improved. I think probably the good guys win.

Hodgell, P. C.
Bound in Blood
Second part of "Jame hits military school". It really would have worked better as a single volume with To Ride a Rathorn, but I suppose the wait would have killed us all. With that understanding, this is terrific; it wraps up the Tentir storylines and advances the series arcs (Tori, Kindrie, the Merikit). We have strong hints that Jame will be off to the north in the next story.

Nix, Garth
Lord Sunday
Conclusion of, no kidding, seven-part kids' fantasy series. (Like Rowling, the author was structurally restricted from slopping over to eight. Unlike Rowling, he kept the books nice and tight. You could probably read the entire series in a weekend.) Anyway, it wraps up with a fairly satisfying whoosh, although I sense that Nix has had this ending packed in a box since 2003 and let it get slightly stale.

Butcher, Jim
Turn Coat (Dresden Files, 11)
A traitor in the White Council! If you don't figure out who within two sentences of the character's appearance, there's no help for you, but that's not the point. Plotting, spying, magical ambushes, and all of Butcher's colorful and semi-insane wizarding community at each others' throats. Will Harry survive, dispose of his enemies, and maintain a emotionally healthy and stable romantic relationship? Yeah, you can probably figure that one out too.

Shiga, Jason
Very glorious Choose-Your-Own-Adventure graphic novel. I am mostly not a fan of the CYOA form (insufficiently interactive for me) -- but this thing pulls it off, through very tight marriage of form and content. A boy discovers a mad scientist's laboratory containing a time machine, a telepathy helmet, and a box that destroys all life on Earth. You therefore wind up exploring many recursive paths (timelines, memory-tracks) while sometimes accidentally destroying all life on Earth. The ability to see adjacent story-paths crossing the page adds to the experience too.

Bear, Elizabeth
Seven for a Secret
Odd little book: Abby Irene and vampire friend meet World War 2 (alt.) Recall that Abby Irene is about 80 at this point. Manages to avoid being entirely grim and regretful.

April 2010

Thurman, Rob
New story (non-arcful) in saga of teenage monster and his big brother. They are off on the trail of an ancient Gypsy maledight. Road trip! With werewolf pals. Nothing deep, just good fun.

Jemisin, N. K.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Young princess from an outlying barbarian tribe is summoned to Court to be named heir. None of the cliches you're now imagining apply -- or rather, the story lets you hold onto each one just long enough to get oriented and then replaces it with something better. Great narrator; great collection of cranky and devious gods (or, as Brust would say, demons; or andaat, or... yeah, it's been a theme the past few years). Comes to a very definite end, although other books will follow in the same setting.

Duane, Diane
A Wizard of Mars
New Kit and Nita book! It's been too long. A fat satisfactory tangle with ancient lost Martians. The characters, and thus the books, have grown past the point where they need to have a showdown with the Lost Power in the last chapter; instead, life is complicated. This is good (perhaps overdue). The "boyfriend" word also crops up, which (maybe this is just me) is nearly as disconcerting to me as it is to our wizard heroes. Also, Carmela is threatening to upstage the entire series. Rock on, Carmela.

Caine, Rachel
Unknown (Outcast Season, book 2)
Ex-djinn attempts to deal with evil magical threat, with the aid of the entire human magical community. They're not winning yet. Fireworks, earthworks, and... er... waterworks.

Jones, Diana Wynne
Enchanted Glass
Lightweight but still charming story in Jones's usual vein. A young magician inherits the house and duties of his grandfather. These include boarders, boundaries, groundkeepers, and giant vegetables.

Miles, Lawrence (ed.)
The Book of the War
A lexicon novel from a spinoff Doctor Who storyline. (It does not directly involve any canonical Who characters, and the terminology is painted over.) The history-spanning, insular, weakly godlike civilization has run into an unnamed Enemy. This is a dictionary of factions, technologies, personages, and adjunct factors from the War's early years (for certain agreed-upon values of "year"). Lexicon entries are threaded together in several ways to form several implied narratives -- of which some are interesting and some are dull. Nonetheless the book is a worthwhile example of a bunch of crazy people writing something impossible.

Turner, Megan Whalen
A Conspiracy of Kings
Fourth in the Thief of Eddis series. This one concerns Sounis. Gen is offstage for a lot of the book, which makes me sad, because I read these pretty much for Gen to mess with my head. But it's still a good book (and Gen still gets some licks in).

Hanover, M. L. N.
Darker Angels [e-book purchase]
Behold as I wet my feet in the sea of electronic books (Bay of iPad, iBooks Cove). Comfortable so far. Anyhow, this is the second book about chick with annoyingly diacritical name and her team of demon-hunting buddies. As promised, the pneumo-epidemiology gets more interesting, and we start getting some unsubtle hints about Jayne's own situation. I hope the author winds up taking the extra step, though I suspect he won't. This series stays on my "would buy in ebook but not paperback" list.

May 2010

Dunning, Stephen; Lueders, Edward; Smith, Hugh
Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
Collection of modern verse, aimed at showing kids what the stuff is like. Also what Optima Italic is like. I got this to replace my original copy, which was bookplated "E. BLONG", which was unnerving and wonderful to a young Pinkwater fan. But the poems are nice, too.

Leiber, Fritz
Swords Against Death
Second in 1995 reprint series of all the Fahfrd and Grey Mouser stories. It turns out I haven't read many of these. The editors put them in chronological order, possibly filing the edges to fit, and this must be a loss -- the opening story in this volume introduces the duo to Sheelba and Ningauble, but it can't have been written that early. That complaint aside, this is a delightful assemblage of evil priests, demon-possessed architecture, ghosts, and other not-yet-cliches-and-anyhow-Leiber-did-them-better. The range of styles and modes is surprisingly broad.

Carey, Mike
Dead Men's Boots [e-book purchase]
Exorcist, take three. Felix and succubus sometime-partner (not that way) are tracking down a serial killer who refuses to stay dead. Separately (ha ha), somebody wants custody of Felix's demon-possessed best friend. The questions of why the ghosts started coming back, and what else might turn up in the near future, begin to arise.

Leiber, Fritz
Swords and Deviltry
First volume (1995 reprint series). Still miscellaneous, although we get some origin stories.

Erikson, Steven
Crack'd Pot Trail
A Canterbury-Tales setup done with Erikson's usual grace, subtlety, elegance, and understated optimism. By which I mean, he comes right out and says that art is masturbation, fans and critics like are cannibals, and fantasy is all shit. Play them off, necromancer cats.

Calder, Richard
The Twist
I really wish I'd liked this. The American West has dissolved into a million-mile long psychogeographical corridor to Venus, the planet of literal femme fatales? Stagecoaches full of interplanetary spies rumbling through a Tombstone inhabited by louche cowboys in goth makeup? Best setup ever! But this book is boring. The protagonist is an annoying ten-year-old girl. Stuff maybe happens and then I think everything explodes.

Huff, Tanya
The Fire's Stone
Wow, this is early Huff. Early genre; it was written in 1990 but feels like 1980. A thief, a fighter, and a wizard go hunting for a lost magic talisman. If I told you why the talisman was important you'd just laugh, so I won't. As it happens, the writing is good, nobody is stupid (except the idiots who built their capital city on the lip of a talisman-restrained volcano, whoops, did that slip out? But that was a long time ago) and characters are buckets of fun. (The wizard is a teenage girl. She will kick your ass.)

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
The Shadow of the Wind
The story of a boy growing up in postwar Barcelona, who discovers (among many growing-up-like affairs) the books of obscure author Julian Carax. Over the years he searches for Carax, and winds up in a tangled mess of stories that you could call a spy novel (if there were any politics at all) or a mystery (if you consider the destruction of an author's work a crime). Very European, very recursive, mostly tragic, not particularly fantasy. I liked it even though it's not the kind of thing I like.

Sinclair, Alison
This is another divided-city book. The Darkborn catch fire if they touch sunlight (or equivalently bright magical light); the Lightborn melt if they leave it. Our hero is a Darkborn physician. His flatmate (across the opaque wall) is a Lightborn court agent. One evening a woman shows up, pregnant with twins who turn out -- perhaps -- to be of neither race... Politics, magic, assassinations, and all manner of entertainments promptly arise. The plot is breakneck and alternates between several characters, all of whom I enjoyed.

June 2010

Huff, Tanya
The Enchantment Emporium
Huff at the other end of the timescale. Er, that is, it's a recent fantasy. The Gales are a clan of manipulative horny incestuous witches who keep the world safe from etc etc. This is an attempt to recapture (or retread) Summon the Keeper, but it doesn't succeed, both because the parallels are too close and because the characters are less charming. Mind-control pies are more icky than funny.

Thurman, Rob
Okay, we get it, Thurman has a thing for big-brother-little-brother stories. This is the Cal-and-Niko story, except the point of view is the protective older brother (although he's still the slob), and instead of a half-demon, the younger one is a genetically enhanced psychic assassin. Also they're scions of the Russian mob. There's nothing wrong with this book, it rollicks appropriately, but I don't know how many more of these I want to read.

Reynolds, Alastair
House of Suns
Far-future space opera. The Gentian clone-clan circles the galaxy, picking up stories and playing with their seriously incalculably powerful tech-toys, with occasional (every 200,000 years?) reunions to catch up. Then someone booby-traps one of their reunions. The few survivors get to try to figure out why. The setting is fantastic but the plot is kind of thin. I mean, there's plenty of plot and plotting and secret conspiracies and mysteries and all that. With a gosh-wow ending. But the mysteries aren't particularly deep, and while all of the plot elements have their place in the plot, they don't fit together in the plot. Everything is important once. Nothing is revelatory. Too bad.

Pitts, J. A.
Black Blade Blues [e-book purchase]
A blacksmith SCA chick discovers Siegfried's dragon-slaying sword at a yard sale. Or somewhere. I have serious problems with this fantasy: all of the fantasy elements are unconvincing. Dwarves, magic swords, runes, dragons, a blatantly-lanterned Odin in a dumpster -- the protagonist and everybody else reacts to them with exactly the wrong amount of amazement and wonder. Thus, so do I. Worse: all of the mundane elements (the protagonist's job, her other job, her love life, her friends) are all terrific -- the author gets that stuff rock-solid. It was just, every time I got back to the dragon-slaying parts, I fell out of the book again. Frustrating.

July 2010

Mieville, China
The City and the City
The cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma exist on the same physical territory, held apart by their inhabitants' rigid refusal to acknowledge each other. When a body turns up in Beszel, and the weary police inspector suspects that it might be from Ul Qoma... All the discussion about this book seems to be whether it's SF or not. Okay: it is. It's the "...where the science is social science" category. Would people behave like this? No, except that if they did it wouldn't be unusual at all; people do weirder things. But that's not my point. A friend read the back cover and says "Oh, a metaphor for Jerusalem," and that's wrong: the author couldn't give less of a damn about metaphor. (The narrator explicitly disclaims Jerusalem and Cold War Berlin at one point: his home city isn't split, only a foreigner would make that mistake.) This book offers its setup as a reality, and lets the similes fall where they like. That's why it's SF. ...But if you don't care about that, then read a perfectly entertaining police-procedural that goes political.

Morgan, Richard K.
The Steel Remains
Morgan's writing is inevitably associated with the word "gritty". It's an unfortunately broad term. In this case it means that if your D&D campaign background includes a big war against the lizardfolk ten years ago, it wouldn't be unrealistic to have some homeless veterans in your gutters with PTSD and alcohol problems. Of course the D&D-style setup is a ploy for fantasy expectations, and although there are horse nomads and more-or-less-elves, the stockness is neatly pared away piece by piece as the book goes on. (N. K. Jemisin pulled this trick recently; I wonder if it's becoming a thing.) Anyhow, the characters are all compulsively human -- including the half-elf -- and I have a soft spot for a god who introduces himself by saying "Listen, I was the thief of fire once, you goat-shagging thug.... Ah, fuck it, never mind."

Duncan, Dave
Speak to the Devil
Somewhat hit-and-miss story of a medieval fantasyland in which some people hear voices and can ask them for miracles. The Church is not big with this. The book starts out with the theme that magic costs (see below) but that turns out to be lies-to-children; the theme goes off in a weirder direction that I didn't fully get. Maybe this will get explained in a sequel. Maybe I'll read it.

Stross, Charles
The Fuller Memorandum
Nth "Laundry" book, and if you're into this series you've already devoured it. Bob Howard is sent off to exorcise some historic WW2 airplanes, and -- because this is a Laundry book -- lands in deep, deep hoodoo doodoo. Poor guy has every right to spend the next book and a half quivering in a posttraumatic heap, but I suspect he won't get that luxury.

Monk, Devon
Magic to the Bone
Very few books cut to what should be the most immediate metaphor of magic: magic costs. Oh, sure, we get lots of aesthetically pleasing fatigue and maybe even fainting, but that's it. Not in this one. Magic costs, and while the cost is temporary, it gets you by the short hairs: blindness, stomach cramps, fever, bruising. The best you can do is cast a secondary spell to pick your poison. The worst you can do is cast a spell to dump your side effects on somebody else, and that's seriously illegal without notarized consent documents. Our hero is the kind of lowlife PI who goes after the kind of lowlife who does that. It's a nice setup, commendably forthright about magic as a valued energy source with toxic waste products. Unfortunately, by the end we're off in the land of soul-balanced lovers who are so perfectly matched that the cost evaporates. Sigh.

Benson, Amber
Death's Daughter
Cute. Works the snarky-twenty-something narrative voice for all it's worth, and then works it until it's kind of annoying. Also, heavy on the hormones. Despite that, this is a reasonably well-told story about -- well, you figure it out. The author has a good eye for vivid magical otherworlds.

Lord, Karen
Redemption In Indigo
A thoroughly personable little modern-folk tale, based on a tale from Senegal (according to this back-cover blurb). A story of people, gods, spirits, and cooking dinner.

Irvine, Alexander C.
Pictures from an Expedition
All I remember about this collection is that Irvine is a depressing writer.

Beagle, Peter S.
We Never Talk About My Brother
Peter Beagle is not a depressing writer. He is a brilliant writer, still, at age seventy or whatever he is now. All the stories in this collection are great.

Fox, Daniel
Jade Man's Skin
I have this problem with books where N characters are spread out over N plot threads and they almost never meet. Unlike the Kate Elliott series, I did eventually get back into the swing of things, but it took almost half the book. The prose is still a constant joy.

Tchaikovsky, Adrian
Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, book 1)
In a fantasy world where human ethnicities are derived from insect totems, the Wasp Empire is about to conquer the continent. (Wasps look human, but they can fly and zap sting-fire from their hands. Ants are telepathic, Beetles are good at tinkering -- it goes on like that.) (There are giant beetles and so on, but they're domesticated animals.) This is not a war novel; this is the Great-Game-ish espionage that precedes the war. Plenty of swordfights. I had forgotten the joy of a book where people break into some damn swashbuckling every couple of chapters.

August 2010

Duane, Diane
Omnitopia Dawn
The first non-sequel book I've seen from Duane in a long, long time. (Fine; since 2002. That's a long time.) A slightly-future online-game company... what? You've read two such books this year already? Look, MMOs are a thing. People write books about them. It used to be spaceships. Let me continue. A slightly-future online-game company comes under corporate attack, and Things Are Happening Online.

The charm and weakness of this book (trilogy, I expect) is that it's about a future that doesn't suck. (Have you read two books like that this year? Sorry, that's James Nicoll's rant, not mine.) People are investing in solid progressive politics and environmentally friendly development, all over the country, because it's a good idea. Our hero is the CEO of a game company who wants everybody to play, have a great time, learn to build their own in-game worlds, and get a cut of the profit. The company is awesome to work for, too. Okay, I want that, but you'll notice I'm not in charge of a multi-million-dollar MMO company. The antagonist is an old rival whose company is ascribed all the bile ever devoted to Microsoft, Farmville, and WoW. (To be fair, he gets a little more interesting towards the end, but there's still a lot of spittle-flecking.) I am very nearly partisan enough on these issues to swallow the lot... and I do recommend the book; I just don't find anything in it challenging.

Caine, Rachel
Total Eclipse (Weather Warden, book 9)
Yay, the series is over! Big-ass showdown with all the powers of nature and so on. The author Rowlings the epilogue to make sure we know this is it. Was it worth it? Eh, it could have been a trilogy, honestly. Conclusion: if you have a Gary Stu character, making him an NPC is a better storytelling model than making him the protagonist, but you're still going to leave the readers rolling their eyes a little.

Sagara, Michelle
Cast in Chaos
Police officer gets involved in immigration problems.

Tchaikovsky, Adrian
Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt, book 2)
The war begins, with a couple of city sieges. This is turning out to be another N-characters-with-separate-threads series, so it's a good thing I'm reading the first three all in a row. They're good characters, mind you.

Tchaikovsky, Adrian
Blood of the Mantis (Shadows of the Apt, book 3)
And the third. Politics and aerial dogfighting in the southern fringes of the Wasp empire.

Green, Simon R.
The Spy Who Haunted Me [e-book purchase]
I swore I wouldn't clutter up my bookshelves with any more Simon Green. Then I bought an iPad. Problem solved! (Specifically, the problem of being tempted by easily-readable fluff that will never be worth lending to anybody.) Anyway, this is another Drood sequel. Five preternatural badasses are invited to compete for a macguffin. Sorry, I should have started "In this special episode of..." The Nightside's Walker guest-stars.

Sniegoski, Thomas E.
Dancing on the Head of a Pin [e-book purchase]
Angel private eye gets on the trail of some demons trafficking in angel parts. This series is fun, if not all that memorable.

September 2010

Huff, Tanya
Valor's Trial [e-book purchase]
This would be the one where the badass sergeant is thrown into a prison camp and has to break out. It's an alien prison camp, mind you. This adds some bits to the backstory, but also (spoilers for the blurb of the sequel) Sgt. Kerr musters out at the end, so how can the next book be any fun at all?

Zahn, Timothy
The Domino Pattern
More secret agents on space trains. This is a locked-train mystery, but the train's rules make no sense whatsoever except to make various bits of the mystery work, so just sit back and watch the spies run around and beat each other up.

Brennan, Marie
A Star Shall Fall
The London elves have survived into Newton's lifetime. Now human scientists are trying to figure out faerie-land. The proximate threat is Halley's Comet, which is a threat because the elves made a serious mistake 75 years ago. (Nobody told them then that the thing was periodic.) This is a pretty cool rendition of the science-vs-magic dialectic, but I'm really just hanging on until the sequels reach WW2.

Morningstar, Jason
A mini-RPG based on the narrative model of a Cohn Brothers film: the players construct characters, construct a grand scheme (or schemes) to get what they want, and then roll on the "how does it all go to hell" table.

McDonald, Ian
River of Gods
Enormous, multi-threaded, sprawling novel set in a future India. I haven't read McDonald for decades, and I don't remember his old books very well. Turns out he's bloody well terrific. This has everything: artificial intelligence, soap opera, megacorporations, crime, marriage, politics, giant floating elephant-shaped palaces... I don't know if this book gives an accurate sense of India, but if it doesn't, it's good enough to make me believe.

Reed, Aaron A.
Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7
My long review of this is here. Short review: this is an excellent introduction to Inform 7, an IF programming language which is not like a lot of other programming languages. It's also an excellent introduction to why IF is an interesting art form; the author constructs a complete small game in front of your eyes, as both a programming tutorial and a design exercise.

Haley, Cameron
Mob Rules
Mob sorceror kicks ass in Los Angeles. (The old mob. The boss man is Sumerian.) For some reason -- probably the smallish-trade-paper format -- I thought this was a YA book. It's not, unless your young adult wants to start with a flensed corpse on page one. Pretty good ride. Also, I like that Domino Riley focusses her magic by saying apropos literary quotes, or sometimes by Googling.

Black, Holly
Teenager runs away and gets mixed up with elves. This is the YA book I thought the previous one was. Has that classic 80s-Minneapolis faerie vibe, but I liked it.

Connolly, Harry
Game of Cages
Second book about hapless grunt working for a society of the most terrifyingly ruthless sorcerors imaginable. They're the good guys. This starts to get back to our "hero"'s backstory, and also the Society's backstory; but mostly it's about chasing a pretty blue dog. Dog monster. These are good books.

October 2010

Miller, Rand; Miller, Robyn; Wingrove, David
The Myst Reader [e-book purchase]
Have not yet read. I know, I'm supposed to be this big adventure-game fan, I have kilobytes of blog posts about Myst games, and I haven't read the Myst tie-in novels? Life is just weird that way. I grabbed this (e-book edition) so I'd have a (searchable) text for reference. I will read it eventually.

Black, Holly
This was written before Valiant. It's clumsier, but perfectly readable.

Pratchett, Terry
I Shall Wear Midnight
Tiffany Aching takes on something that really, really hates witches. Why are you waiting?

Elliott, Kate
Cold Magic
This is one of those alternate histories where the Americas aren't inhabited by human beings. Actually it might have been just South America. Just to warn you. Anyhow, the book starts out as Young Ladies in School, which was kind of painful, but rapidly turns into Young Lady's Adventure as an aristocracy of evil mages start chasing her across an Ice-Age-ridden Europe with evil and/or matrimony on their minds. There are also zeppelins. I like Ice Age mages and zeppelins.

Montfort, Nick
Riddle & Bind
A collection of riddles, constrained poems, and riddles in the form of constrained poems.

Kadrey, Richard
Kill the Dead
Badass sorceror, returned from Hell on his own recognizance, now kills vampires for lousy money and complains to his decapitated head of a roommate. (The head complains back.) If you don't find this description immediately compelling, you're probably not cut out for urban fantasy. Life is, at any rate, about to turn shitty for the man who wishes they wouldn't call him Sandman Slim. Banter with Lucifer is bonus.

Bujold, Lois McMaster
There is nobody in fandom whom I need to tell to read a new Vorkosigan book. You've decided to read it or to not read it. But, since you ask, this is minor Miles. It has a point, but the point is submerged in a lot of things happening around Miles rather than Miles happening to other people. (Which is why the protagonist is one of the other people, mostly.) The question at risk: how shall we relate to our dead?

Smith, Sherwood
Treason's Shore
Conclusion of an epic fantasy quadrilogy which deserves to become a standard-bearer of the genre. (Only the genre has become so enormous that it's hard for anybody to make a dent.) It's about people growing up, people's families, politics, battles, a war, and lurking horrors from the depths of time. It has many, many points of view -- and I mean that at both the personal, generational, and cultural levels. (And we get just enough of a view of the lurking horrors to realize that they have a point of view, which I love.)

And it's mostly full of people who, when they have terrible life-strangling romantic problems, sit down and talk sensibly about them. Eventually. Mostly. I admit that this book has an undue number of people who refuse to write to each other even when they're on unlimited texting plans.

Banks, Iain M.
Surface Detail
Best Culture novel since Look to Windward. (It would still be that without the epilogue, too.) The question at risk: how shall we interfere? Specifically, which "we"?

Kearney, Paul
This turns out to be a sequel, but the first book was apparently a barely-filed-down Anabasis. This one is about the mercenary who led his army home, only it's twenty years later and maybe he should think about staying home now? Instead of going out on campaign every year? Raise a few vegetables, have a lot more sex with his wife? Except this new warleader seems to be conquering Greece (I mean, not Greece, but it's Greek) and he's recruiting enthusiastically.

This is an interesting setting; there's no magic, except for a few hundred sets of impenetrable armor floating around as family heirlooms. There are bare hints that this is technology rather than magic. It's not part of the plot at all; the plot is about the army stomping its way through the city-states, and it's a fine plot with a whole lot of excellent characters. The fat asshole is the best.

Abnett, Dan
Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero
It is impossible to describe this book as anything other than Discworld fanfic. Competent fanfic, though. It's set in an alternate modern London, with medieval color and a lot of (Church-controlled) magical technology. Our hero (and Gloriana's) is lounging about, trying to avoid fame and fortune after a more-disastrous-than-is-commonly-known expedition to Discover Australia. Dastardly plots refuse to avoid him. The writing is entertaining enough to support all the sight gags (e.g., the Swiss army sword, you get the idea).

November 2010

Miller, Rand; Miller, Robyn; Wingrove, David
Myst: The Book of Atrus
See above. I had an opportunity to pick up a nice hardcover edition.

Lackey, Mercedes; Sagara, Michelle; Haley, Cameron
Harvest Moon
Mercedes who? This contains a young Kaylin Neya (Cast In...) story and a prequel Domino Riley (Mob Rules) story. Both are good. Thirteen-year-old Kaylin is not quite convincing -- she talks like fifteen, maybe -- but watching the police department meet her is delightful.

Jemisin, N. K.
The Broken Kingdoms
Follow-up book, though not a direct sequel, to the land of interestingly screwed-up deities. A blind painter finds a dying demigod in an alley, although his only demigodly power seems to be returning to life at dawn. Then more dead demigods start turning up who weren't so fortunate. Dastardly plots! I liked the rendering of a blind protagonist (who has some compensating magical talents, but it's not a "she can see anyway" situation).

Tchaikovsky, Adrian
Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt, book 4)
Satisfactory conclusion to this arc of the Wasp Invasion, although I see more books are forthcoming.

December 2010

Stross, Charles
A collection mostly of stories I'd read online, but I was happy to acquire hardcopy. I seem to have developed an anaphylactic reaction to Cory Doctorow, though.

Hoyt, Sarah A.
Darkship Thieves
Hello, libertopian space colony! I didn't miss you at all, you detritus of the 1980s. Sigh. Also, the author seems to have constructed her plot in order to justify the Baen cover (e.g., barely-dressed bazooms floating through space with a girl behind them). That said, this is a reasonably entertaining space adventure, with hovercycle chases and true love and everything.

Wilson, F. Paul
Ground Zero
Repairman Jack bounds onwards towards the end of the world (three books hence). This time he's dealing with the plot that took down the World Trade Center; the author handles it with his usual enthusiastic lack of grace, but we forgive him.

Bourdain, Anthony
Medium Raw
More essays from the charming grouch of the food world. Bourdain is a hell of a writer, actually. He personifies the "open a vein and bleed truth on the page" form. Much of this book is "I was such a young idiot when I wrote my first book" (Kitchen Confidential). Some of it is about where food is going, and that comes off like science fiction -- cooking way over my head. It's fascinating.

Alfeld, Beverly Ellen Schoonmaker
Pickles to Relish
Speaking of food. I haven't made anything from this yet, but I like pickling stuff. I made some terrific pickled blueberries last year.

Duncan, Dave
Pock's World
An odd little book from a small press. Having read it, I can see why it wasn't picked up by Duncan's usual publishers; it's not quite up to his standard. In a galactic sector dominated by the autocratic (but not particularly despotic) We-Own-The-FTL Company, somebody turns up evidence of human genetic engineering. The Company quickly assembles a crack team of civilians (the priest, the journalist, the industrialist, the politician) to check it out before they apply their usual penalty of sterilizing the planet. There's a lot of tossed-off social-biological assumptions (the engineered humanoid species must be destroyed, because two races cannot possibly coexist, even though it's explicit that every colony does some gene-fixing to make its members more comfortable on their planet) and then some vaguely creepy underage (consensual) sex. The author should have kept the priest character and written him a better novel.

Downum, Amanda
The Bone Palace
Necromancer stays home, discovers that politics are coming for her anyway. Also vampires. Once again I feel like Isyllt is a less interesting character than all of her sidekicks, friends, and enemies. (Not to mention the city and the magical scene-setting, which are practically characters on their own right.) But you can't say she's passive in this one.

Brown, Mike
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
Have not yet read.

Banks, Dakota
Dark Time [e-book purchase]
Have not yet read. Yeah, my book-buying got ahead of my book-reading this holiday.

Hanover, M. L. N.
Vicious Grace [e-book purchase]
Third book about girl and her demon-hunting team. The character arcs in this series are clearly written for the long scale (and, to be clear, we're talking about relationships between human beings, not demon-shagging.) Fluff plot points from the first book are now turning out to have been fluff on the backs of approaching sharks. Wool-sharks. Whatever. The point is, this series has upgraded from dullish to pretty darn sharp. The protagonist realizes something that the rest of us figured out in book 2, but there are more revelations that I didn't see coming at all. I am now optimistic that the "extra step" I've been imagining is in fact where the author is ultimately going.

Lukic, Branko; Katz, Barry M.
This is a book of imaginary and/or silly design -- sort of Great Moments in Architecture for designers. I find it tremendously funny. The extremely-seriously-philosophical-design talk only adds to the effect. (If the author means it seriously, so what?) The only problem is that it's hard to satirize reality: Lukic's "Behind the Scenes Camera" started shipping from Apple in June.

Ronald, Margaret
Soul Hunt
The girl with the nose attempts to get out of all the messes she's rolled in. It almost works. This series is still good, and better if you've visited Boston landmarks; full of creepiness and eccentric New England magic-folk.

(Bonus favorite line: "They said that you didn't truly die until everyone who remembered you was dead. Did it count if what they remembered was how good you tasted?")

Levene, Rebecca
Cold Warriors
Have not yet read.

McKillip, Patricia A.
The Bards of Bone Plain
Have not yet finished, but oh lordy I still love McKillip's writing.

Valente, Catherynne M.
The Habitation of the Blessed
Have not yet read.

Last updated January 11, 2011.

Books I own

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