Monthly Archives: October 2014

Old man’s war

Things have gotten a little fantasy-centric lately, so I figured it’s time for some more sf.

Old man’s war / John Scalzi. First published 2011.

I don’t want to sound like a Scalzi obsessive, but I think he’s one of the best living authors of sf.

 

He’s also a super awesome hew-mon.

 

Anyways, Old man’s war.

 

Brief plot summary

Earth has begun to colonize outer space, but colonization is highly restricted: only those from third-world nations or who have completed military service are allowed to emigrate. The catch? The military only accepts people who are 75 years old as recruits. The Colonial Defense Force also highly restricts knowledge about the universe at large and a strict ban on advanced technology means that life on Earth has not significantly changed from the late 20th/early 21st century.

John Perry, retired ad writer, decides to enlist and ends up discovering that the universe is weirder and more dangerous than he ever expected.

Continue reading Old man’s war

Tigana

Tigana / Guy Gavriel Kay. First published 1990.

Tigana is an epic but low-magic fantasy novel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Set on a hand-shaped peninsula that is currently occupied by two competing occupying forces, each led by a powerful sorcerer. It’s a literary fantasy novel in that it’s more influenced by Italian history than Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s readily accessible by others and has a fairly wide appeal.

Brief plot summary

As I mentioned above, the Peninsula of the Palm has been partially conquered, from opposite ends, by two competing sorcerers. Tigana is the name of one of the provinces who initially resisted the invasion, but one of the sorcerers has used magic to remove even the idea of Tigana from people’s minds. Only those born in the province before the invasion remember of its existence.

The main plot follows a group of travelling musicians/revolutionaries and their attempts to overthrow both invaders and restore the memory of Tigana to its former glory.

Continue reading Tigana

Borders of infinity

The borders of infinity / Lois McMaster Bujold.

It’s been a while since I did a Vorkosigan review, so here’s another one.

Borders of infinity is a collection of three novellas bound together by a frame story. The novellas themselves have since been republished in the other omnibus editions of the Vorkosigan saga, but the frame story hasn’t. As a result, I kind of prefer this version.

Brief plot summary

Frame story: Miles is hospitalized, recovering from injuries incurred on a recent mission as well as surgery to have his fragile arm bones replaced with synthetics. Head of Impsec Simon Illyan interviews Miles regarding his recent expenses as his father is under suspicion of misusing imperial funds.

Mountains of mourning: set between The warrior’s apprentice and The Vor game, Mountains of mourning features a young Miles charged by his father with investigating the death of an infant in the backwards rural part of his holdings, where deep-seated prejudices against “mutants” are still strong.

Labyrinth: Taking place some time after Cetaganda, Labyrinth features Miles in his Admiral Naismith persona, charged with extricating a genetic engineer from the unscrupulous crime families of Jackson’s Whole. Unfortunately, the scientist refuses to leave unless Miles can also rescue his “samples”.

Borders of infinity: Miles is tasked with engineering a breakout in a prisoner of war camp.

Continue reading Borders of infinity

The company

The company / K.J. Parker. First published 2009.

The company is the second K.J. Parker book I’ve read, after Sharps. Like Sharps, it’s got a very Shakespearian feel. This time, the focus is on a group of old friends and their attempt to retire rather than the political intrigues of Sharps. The company fits firmly into the mold of 18th-century island books while retaining a modern writing style and classic themes.

Brief plot summary

Five embittered war veterans, led by their former commanding officer Kunessin, attempt to make their wartime retirement fantasies come true by creating an intentional community on an abandoned island. Kunessin has managed to assemble the necessary supplies, and the five men quickly find five women willing to marry them and come live on the island.

Continue reading The company

Books I couldn’t finish, part 2

In my last post about unfinished novels, I discussed books that I just couldn’t quite get in to. Last time, I wrote about books that I started but just didn’t enjoy. This time, it’s a little different: these are books that I enjoyed, but for some reason or another have never managed to actually finish.

The wind-up bird chronicle / Haruki Murakami

I really enjoyed this book – I just can’t seem to finish it. Every time I start it I end up getting distracted partway through. It’s the story of a man who aimlessly wanders around looking for his lost cat. He also makes pasta and listens to jazz music. Part of the issue is I own it, and I prioritize library books over books I own. This book is my go-to “I don’t have anything to read right now” book because I do really want to finish it. The problem is once I start I realize I need to plan a book to read after it, end up going to the library, and read those books instead of this one. I’ve made it about 3/4 of the way through all told. It’s a great book and one I’ll definitely write a standalone post for once I manage to finish this one.

 

A confederacy of dunces / John Kennedy Toole

This is another classic novel that people keep telling me to read that I just can’t seem to finish. A confederacy of dunces is about a variety of obnoxious characters, centering around a stand-in for the author and his mother, engaging in an increasingly absurd series of misadventures. Like The wind-up bird chronicle above it’s one that I own and so break out when I’m running out of other stuff to read. I have a weird little pocket-sized hardback edition of this one, so it’s more portable than the full-size trade Murakami and thus I tend to use it as a “commuting” book. It’s clever and more than a little self-deprecating, but it doesn’t hold my attention long enough for me to finish it. I’ll probably come back to it some day, but it just wasn’t grabbing me. Something about the utter lack of characters that weren’t, well, dunces, prevented me from really getting engrossed. It’s up there with Crime and punishment in terms of how effectively it portrays a specific place, but something about it just doesn’t grab me. I don’t think I’ve made it even halfway through this one, and while I’d like to finish it at some point it’s not very high on my priority list.

 

Dhalgren / Samuel R. Delany

Urgh… Dhalgren is a difficult book to read partially because it hits a little too close to home for me. It’s about an unnamed wanderer known only as “the kid”  who finds himself in the pseudo-post-apocalyptic city of Bellonna, traveling its (possibly shifting, possibly fictional) streets and having a series of run-ins with its inhabitants. It reminds me of Blood meridian, in that it’s a highly acclaimed novel written in a style that makes it torturous to actually read the whole thing. I read the first two or three hundred pages of Dhalgren and I don’t feel motivated to finish it. I understand more or less where Delany is going with this book, but I feel like he’s already said it well enough that the next few hundred pages are just going to become variations on the same thing. It’s possible I’m wrong, but learning that both Dick and Heinlein were unable to finish it makes me feel a little better. It’s a book I feel obligated to come back to at some point, and I really would like to finish it, I just have to be in the right headspace. Like A scanner darkly, it’s massively emotionally taxing for me to read, for personal reasons that probably speak to the strength of the book but do serve as an impediment to actually finishing it.

 

Blood meridian / Cormac McCarthy

Blood meridian is the only Cormac McCarthy book I’ve attempted. It’s the story of an unnamed wanderer known only as “the kid” who finds himself on the border between Texas and Mexico, traveling back and forth between the two countries and having an increasingly violent series of run-ins with their inhabitants. It reminds me of Dhalgren, in that it’s a highly acclaimed novel written in a style that makes it torturous to actually read the whole thing. Everything is lowercase (which I can actually handle, ask my spouse about my rants about the pointlessness of capitalization) and there is a definite lack of punctuation, which makes discerning between dialogue and narration somewhat tricky. It’s a take on the Western more in line with Unforgiven or Preacher, but I didn’t feel like it was worth the effort to finish it.

 

The hero of ages / Brandon Sanderson

The third book of the original Mistborn trilogy, it’s taken me over a year and I still haven’t managed to finish it. I’ve probably beaten my issues with Sanderson into the ground, and the trilogy itself will deifnitely be the subject of a future post, so I’ll summarize my issues here:

Each book in the trilogy comes a little bit closer to the Orson Scott Card school of writing-as-missionary work where the author, perhaps unintentionally, starts to write the books as a paean to the virtues of the author’s religious and social views. It’s nowhere close to the extremes seen in the Sword of truth books, and I’d probably enjoy it if I shared the author’s views, but I don’t so I don’t. It’s too bad because the story is great otherwise.

 

The curse of Chalion / Lois McMaster Bujold

A fantasy novel by the author of the Vorkosigan saga, I started reading it but ended up leaving it in the back seat of my car for quite a while and so ended up totally forgetting where I was. Definitely going to come back and finish this one eventually.

 

Le cercueil vide [The empty coffin] / Pierre Souvestre & Marcel Allain

Like the above, this one ended up in the drawer underneath one of the seats in my car and thus it’s been so long since I started it I’m going to have to start again from the beginning. It’s currently in my stack of “to be read” books.

Bonus post : I can’t believe this conversation is necessary

Taking off my librarian hat for a moment to address this.

After spending a couple of days away from the whole #gamergate thing, I come back to find that the whole situation has somehow gotten worse.

 

This is a serious issue, and it’s escalated to the point where I feel obligated to speak out about it, partially because this new development hits on multiple levels.

For those of you not familiar with #gamergate, you are the lucky ones.

Continue reading Bonus post : I can’t believe this conversation is necessary

The thief of always

The thief of always / Clive Barker. First published 1992.

The thief of always is somewhat difficult to classify in that “unabridged fairy tale” kind of way. It’s a horror novel that features a ten year old protagonist, but it’s not exactly an “adult” book, nor is it really a children’s book. Originally published in 1992 and illustrated by the author, there was a graphic novel adaptation by IDW in the early 2000s. It’s one of the more well known books in a genre that’s surprisingly underpopulated. I’d guess that authors are hesitant to write straight-up horror geared towards both children are adults. It would be astoundly easy to write a book that is too “adult”, making it difficult to publish and market as well as inviting the outrage of upset parents, but it would be just as easy to write a book that’s not adult enough, that ends up too elementary for older readers. The thief of always walks that line very well.

Plot summary

Harvey Swick is the 10 year old spiritual descendent of Milo of The phantom tollbooth. Dissatisfied with his life, he dreams of being whisked away to somewhere more interesting. To his surprise, this happens when a thin man with an improbably large grin arrives to take him to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House, a paradise for children where Christmas happens every night. Harvey quickly realizes that all is not as it seems, and when he starts to become homesick discovers that returning home is harder than he expected.

Continue reading The thief of always

That demon Continuity

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds”

-Self reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson

I haven’t made a non-review post and my actual reviews seem to be getting increasingly ranty so here’s a rant without a specific title in mind.

As I’ve mentioned previously, while I’ve always been a huge fan of comics I’ve been inconsistent over the years when it comes to the superhero stuff.

In my review of Identity crisis I mentioned that it was one of the titles that got me reading superhero comics again after an extended period of consuming Vertigo and Dark Horse titles more or less exclusively. I’ve been reading a lot of comic sites lately, and it seems that one of the more common criticisms of Identity crisis is that it “tainted” the characters, especially their earlier appearances. More innocent adventures took on a sinister undertone after the revelations of Identity crisis.

This is the scourge of the demon Continuity.

People also complained about Identity crisis because they felt like the characterization was inconsistent with the way those heroes were portrayed in other titles.

This is the scourge of the demon Continuity.

Continue reading That demon Continuity

Under the jolly roger

Under the jolly roger / L.A. Meyer. First published 2005.

After my previous post I figured it was time to move on to something different. Under the jolly roger is the third book in the Bloody Jack series. It features a return to the naval novel-style adventures of the first book after the school story interlude of Curse of the blue tattoo.

Brief plot summary

Having made her way back to England aboard the Pequod, Jacky immediately attempts to track down her sweetheard Jaimy. After an encounter with his mother’s classism and a romantic comedy-esque Hilarious Misunderstanding, Jacky finds herself press-ganged into service on the HMS Wolverine.

Continue reading Under the jolly roger

The warded man

The warded man / Peter V. Brett. First published 2009.

Tired of implied racism and sexism in your fantasy novels? Why not read The warded man, which finally makes these age-old themes explicit!

Since I started to go on a  rant about this book in my previous post I figured I should probably just post a review of it.

The warded man (known as The painted man in the UK) is the first book of one of Orbit’s ubiquitous relatively disposable fantasy series. I’m somewhat conflicted about the novel as it is. There’s definitely some potential but the book is so massively problematic that in hindsight it’s almost impossible to call it a “good” book. Unfortunate.

This book made me cry.*

If I haven’t made it clear, this book features and so this post will deal with with issues of incest, sexual assault, child abuse, sexism, and religious/racial/ethnic stereotypes. If you don’t want to experience that then don’t read this post, and don’t read this book. All the objectionable content will be below the cut.

There will also be spoilers.

If you can handle the content but don’t want spoilers, I’ll add the following to the plot summary below: Brett peppers the book with brutal atrocities with little context and few to no repercussions, apparently with the goal of making the book “gritty” and “adult” but serving no purpose – not even in advancing the plot.

*Not difficult. I also cry at jewelry commercials, movie trailers, and couples taking pictures together in Daley plaza.

Plot summary

Arlen is a young boy in a cursed world: every night demons rise from the ground to kill anyone not sheltered by protective wards. Humans are in danger of extinction. Frustrated at the way the populace has passively accepted this fate, Arlen seeks to find some way to fight back against the demonic menace.

Continue reading The warded man