curgoth: (Default)
( Oct. 11th, 2012 09:26 pm)
Waargh, let this go too long without posting it again.
26. The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
More Laundry! Not nearly so bleak and depressing as the previous installment. I enjoyed it, but found the ending a tad abrupt. I was expecting more epilogue than there was. I am starting to get more of a feeling that there's a larger story with an actual ending going on behind the books here. So, I think it's possible that we may eventually get a book title CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN that ends the series.
27. John Dies At The End by David Wong
This is not the right book to read while camping. There is a lot of bug-related body horror going on. That said, it was a nice, solid creepy horror novel that play with Lovecraft's toys in a manner quite different than Stross.
28. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This was a decent book, and I get why it's gotten so much attention. It was, very obviously, written to be turned into a movie.

Not that there's anything wrong with the story, but it's got all the biases of a Hollywood movie. A straight white teen-aged male who's smarter than everyone else overcomes adversity by being smart and brave, with the help of his friends who aren't white, straight or male enough to be heroes. The significant female character is the love interest, who has a relatively minor flaw that the protag can overlook, showing how deep and pure his love is when he gets the girl as part of his reward. Which makes it sound like I didn't like it. I have just come to expect a bit more of my literature in terms of trope awareness. I'm sure the movie will do well. Michael Bay could direct!

The other aspect of the book that's interesting is the 80s nerd culture fixation. Again, it's pretty specifically the nerd culture of the straight white kid who grew up middle classed in the 80s. It's extremely detailed, and makes it pretty clear that the book is not only fantasy for a certain kind of dudenerd, but a dudenerd of a certain age. I'm pretty close to the target demographic myself. It's this element that has gotten the book so much attention, I think. It aims itself directly at the classic SF audience. I assume the details will be sanded off for the movie version to make it more accessible to today's teens.
29. Colder War by Ian Tregillis
I confess, when I read book one of the Milkweed Triptych, I didn't realise that it was part of a trilogy. Which made the state of the end of book one rather bleak and miserable. Book two is, well, overall pretty bleak and miserable, but there are shards of hope glimmering here and there. Set 20 years after book one, Colder War does marvelous things with the terrible remains of book one. There's not too much I can say without spoiling one of the two books, but I was very happy with the way the character development was handled. I want book 3 now.
30. Distrust That Particular Flavour by William Gibson
A collection of William Gibson's non-fiction essays spanning the length of his career. It's interesting seeing the various ways he, as an author who hasn't done all that much non-fiction, has influenced the memetic atmosphere. It's more interesting when he analyzes that impact and mentions that he didn't really know what he was talking about at the time.

Which is of course, the other reason to read the book - Gibson is a fantastic writer, whose style makes everything interesting, even when it wouldn't otherwise be.
31. vN by Madeleine Ashby
Living, self-reproducing robots created as helpmeets for those left behind after the Rapture (which didn't occur).

These are the vN (von Neumann machines), a human created rival sapient species on Earth. Ashby does a fantastic job extrapolating from her premise, and builds out from Asimov's three laws, Blade Runner's Replicants and the various androids of SF's past.

There's a lot of pondering on the nature of Free Will, Humanity, etc. Also, killer androids on the loose! I loved the heck out of this book, and really hope there's more forthcoming.
32. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
The elevator pitch: standard D&D party fantasy novel, but! it's all set in a fantasy version of the Baghdad of 1001 Arabian Knights. Smart, rich fantasy that doesn't need a white dude to hang the reader's viewpoint off of.

Ahmed passed my most important test for good characterization - those moments where I say to myself, "Oh, Doctor Adoulla!" because the character has done something endearing or touching that is so very consistent with the traits that character has shown so far.

[ profile] mycrazyhair, you can read this one; the characters suffer, but none are actually broken.
33. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
And, without planning it, here's another non-white, non-Eurocentric fantasy where I can almost hear the dice rolling in the background.

The setting really knocked me for a loop at first - the trick with the skies took some time to wrap my head around. And I still have questions about how the moons work.

Because this is Bear, though, it wasn't overly distracting, because Bear's strength is her amazing characters and their living dialogue. I fell for Timur (our !Mongol warrior prince) and Samarkand (Our !Tibetan(I think) wizard and former princess), and Dumpling the horse, and the refreshingly titless tiger woman Hrahima. As always with Bear, the characters felt like real people, and people I'd like were I to meet them.

Plot-wise, there's some standard questiness and a sinister evil in the form of someone whose the head of a cult that borrows a lot from the story of Hassan-i Sabbah and Alamut. There's some interesting plot nuggets of various amounts of obviousness placed throughout - enough for me to enjoy playing my game of trying to figure out if X is foreshadowing what I think it's foreshadowing.

I'm looking forward to the next book.
34. The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlusson (translated by Jean I. Young)
I had never actually read this before. The translation I was reading was from the 50s, and the translator made some weird choices - in some places the beverage of the gods is translated to mead, in others, wine. The Jotnar are referred to as "frost ogres" instead of "frost giants". There are a lot of lists of names of things and places, and the translator frequently uses footnotes to explain the literal translation of about half of them, with no explanation of why those are translated and others aren't. So, not the best translation.

As far as the content goes, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of work Sturluson had to do to place the Norse myths into a contemporary (for him) context - I'd never run into the bit about placing the Aesir as wayward Trojans from an era when, after the Flood, man had somehow forgotten the Christian God (except for a desert tribe in the Middle East, naturally). The amount of mental gymnastics going on is impressive, but given that he was writing only a couple hundred years after Iceland converted to Christianity, he had to walk on fairly thin ice to get away with writing it at all.

The stories themselves I had already read elsewhere, in more coherent and internally consistent adaptations, and I'm left with an urge to do more research - it seems to me that we've got at least a little more references for Norse myth than I ran into here.

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it, or get anything out of it.
35. Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
I went into this book braced for the sort of clever, winking, self-aware sort of superhero deconstruction of Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible or Minister Faust's From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain. What I actually found was a fairly decent first novel that took a straight shot at the superhero genre. No smirking deconstruction required.

The basic setup is that Tony (whose name was derived from the Pixies song), finds himself with superpowers one day, in a fictional not-LA where the last superhero team battle frequently and inconclusively with the last supervillain. There's a couple deleted scenes at the end that I think really shouldn't have been deleted - certain bits of skulduggery fall through the cracks without one of them, and an important character change doesn't make any sense without another.

On the whole, I think the character development is on the weak side - I didn't see enough to understand why people were doing things, so a lot of character action seemed random. Things seemed pretty clearly set up for sequels, and I did enjoy it enough to read the next book at least.
36. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
A British secret society tasked with recruiting super-powered people, and using them to combat supernatural threats to the nation! Our protagonist, one Mwfanwy Thomas, comes to covered in bruises, surrounded by dead people in latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or how she got there.

So, superpowers, White-Wolfian secret societies, and Identity Horror?


O'Malley did not disappoint me. This book was fantastic and wonderful, and hit so many of my literary kinks that I am still sad that it ended. On his blog, O'Malley states his intention to write more books, some in this world, some not.
Which saddens me only in the implication that there aren't more waiting in the publication queue already.
curgoth: (Default)
( Aug. 22nd, 2010 08:51 pm)

24. Dzur by Steven Brust

Foodie Vlad is a foodie. Also, there's something in there about him interfering in Cawti's life again, allowing him to save her while being a douche. But the primary focus of the novel is clearly dinner at Valabar's.

25. Jhegaala by Steven Brust

Ass-kicked Vlad is ass-kicked. Vlad gets beat up a lot in this book. It's like someone pointed out that Vlad seems to get away with risky stuff without consequence too often to be believable, and this book was the answer to said criticism. Even by the end, when things are resolved, it's not really cathartic.

26. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Book one of the epic, ten book long "Malazan, Book of the Fallen" series. This grew out of a shared RPG setting that Erikson and his co-GM wrote years ago, first for D&D and then for GURPS. As often happens with GMs who love world building, they realised that players would never explore the setting satisfactorily, and became authors. I myself have a strong urge in this direction. So, there was a decent chance of me enjoying this book on those grounds. My coworker had been urging me to read it for some time, as he's a big fan of the series.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like it. It feels too much like an RPG setting in a lot of places - the place names and character names and randomly looted from real world sounding names. Kruppe (who I assume pronounces his name like a German) lives in Darujistan, where one of the major noble families has a French last name.

The other, more distracting issue I had with it is that it felt like being in a 90s comic book. Like being trapped in Wolverine's sideburns. *Everything* is grim, gritty, dark and dire. People only smile blackly, ironically or cruelly. I keep imagining the characters as drawn by Rob Liefeld, making that 90s Liefeld shouty-face. There are multiple obese wizards whose movement is surprisingly graceful for their bulk. I prefer my miserable fiction to at least have some humour and self-awareness in it. This is nearly as bleak as China Mieville, but without the awareness and genius that he puts into his books.

Also, the world has drow. And I hate drow.

On the plus side, the world is very racially diverse, and you can't pick out good or bad guys by the colour of their skin, or even their race. It even passes the Bechdel test, though it might be a technicality based on one of the conversants being possessed by a male diety at the time. Women in the setting are free to be damned by their terrible choices and ground into powder by the relentless misery that is existence.

Additionally, the setting is very detailed, and I'm told that even small details in the first book are still having impacts by the tenth. The series also really does actually end in the 10th book, though Erikson and the other guy who writes in the world have other books in the same world on the go. So, it avoids the Wheel Of Time problem and the Song of Fire and Ice problem - the series does have a solid end, and book ten is written if not yet published.

Which is to say, I can see why the books are popular, and why some people enjoy the, I just don't think that I will ever be one of those people.

27. Misframing Men by Michael Kimmel

The basic theme of this collection of essays is that feminism is good for men, too, and that we should be allies for the feminist cause. Kimmel examines various social constructions of masculinity, and looks at how they're breaking down, how thier at odds with how a lot of men are living thier lives, and how they constrain and cripple us. This includes looking at the sense of entitlement that is a part of traditional masculinity, and the reactions that are drawn from that. This was a fascinating book, and I spent a lot of my time reading through it saying "Ooh, yeah, that, that exactly!" to myself. I can't really do justice to the content in a review this short, but I stronlgy recommend it to my feminist and feminist ally friends. [ profile] northbard, lemme know if you want to borrow it; I'm giving you first dibs.

28. For The Win by Cory Doctorow (ebook)

Doctorow did a really fantastic job here. The book is, essentially, a near future YA book about MMPORG enconomies and global labour. It avoids the "What These People Need Is a Honky" trope while having well-developed characters from multiple countries. Also, I really like that the global gamer union got called the IWWWW, aka the Webblies. Doctorow's growing as a writer in just the right ways for me - there's an ever-increasing realism to his optimism, and his charcter continue to be better and better developed. It'd make an interesting counterpoint against Stross' Halting State, in some ways, if anyone knows kids looking for books to do essays on.

29. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Neuromancer, grown up and moved to Thailand. I'm working my way through the Hugo nominees, starting here. TWG is set in a nearish future where peak oil has come and gone, global warming has raised the sea levels, and GMO food products and custom plagues have wiped out the world's food supply. The only food crops are those purchased annually from the big food corporations. Except in Thailand... Bacigalupi paints a believable and unsettling future, with the kind of accelerating future shock that reminds me of William Gibson. It's not a cheerful book, but it is wonderfully written.

Cory Doctorow coming to Toronto this Friday

I am not sure if I'm going to go to this. My Friday's more or less open at this point, though, so it's a definite possibility.
curgoth: (Default)
( Apr. 29th, 2010 10:07 am)

8. Chill by Elizabeth Bear

Probably my favourite Bear setting. Nanotech! A decadent aristocracy fighting back form the brink of annihilation! In spaaaaace! I had forgotten how much influence this had on the Nano-Victorian Future setting. I want a basilisk.

9. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Steampunk! Zombies! Airships! Believable characters! Boneshaker's up for a Hugo, and it deserves to be.

10. The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

*This* is the book on science and superheroes I wanted. Kakalios clearly loves comics in a way that Gresh and Weinberg (of "Science Of Superheroes") do not. His basic approach is to grant each superhero a single "miracle exception" - say, the Flash's ability to run really fast - and see how much of the portrayal of the character otherwise obeys the laws of physics. I have a better understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics after having read this book. AND it's an enjoyable read! I highly recommend this book to foolks with an interest in any of a) phsyics, b) superheroes, or c) education - the book comes from open lectures Kakalios gave at the university he teaches at.

11. Jhereg by Steven Brust

(reread) After the latest Vlad Taltos book came out, I realised that, since I'd read a number of them from the library and hadn't been logging them at the time, I had no idea which ones I had and had not read. So I'm starting over and re-reading all of the Draegara novels. I think, in total, there are something like 20 of them. Reviews will probably be brief and as spoiler-free as can be. For Jhereg; meet Vlad. Charming Vlad is charming.

12. Yendi by Steven Brust

Clever Vlad is clever.

13. Teckla by Steven Brust

Conflicted Vlad is conflicted!

14. Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Definitely the weirdest Cory book I've ever read. I found the politics felt a bit pasted on to what was an otherwise interesting novel. Not that there was anything deeply wrong with the poltical unwiring and dumpster diving parts, they just didn't really fit in with the rest of the stuff.

15. The Supergirls by Mike Madrid

One of those non-fiction books with a really long subtitle that I am not typing out. Madrid attempts to cover the history of women in superhero comics with a feminist viewpoint. He certainly covers the range of women in comics, and clearly knows his underwear perverts, but I think the feminist angle could use more work, and the book as a whole could use a more vigorous editorial staff. To be fair, it is put out by a small press with a bit of an agenda, so I'm inclined to forgive a certain lack of polish. I found Madrid's language was quite casual - at times, I think, a little too casual for a feminist reader. I cautiously suggest that the book could use a little more jargon. There were places where the male gaze was sort of talked around, for example. I'm also a bit annoyed that Madrid used the old saw about a woman's sexuality being a sort of power over men without pausing to deconstruct it.

I'd say The Supergirls is a book about comics with some feminism in it, instead of a feminist book about comics. It's not awful, and I'm glad I read it, but I think it needed to be about twice as long with more editing to really give the subject matter a solid exploration.

16. Taltos by Steven Brust

Novice Vlad is a novice!

17. Phoenix by Steven Brust

Frustrated Vlad is frustrated.

Now I just need to get the next Vlad books back from [ profile] mycrazyhair, and wait for my Chapters order with the five after that to show up.
curgoth: (Default)
( Dec. 16th, 2009 11:59 am)
At Thanksgiving, I picked up three books without reading the back blurb or looking at the cover art. I picked them up because all three authors were folks who seem to be highly regarded by folks I like, and authors I had never read a novel by. Scalzi's Old Man's War was the first of the three.

29. Escapement by Jay Lake

I wanted to like this book. Steampunk! Submarines! Airships! It just didn't work for me, though. I found that I didn't connect with any of the characters. I didn't buy into the setting (a world where literal clockwork makes everything go, and a giant wall divides the north and south hemispheres concealing much of Earth's gears etc.). In some settings, magic gets turned into technology (Mieville's New Crobuzon, Brust's Dragaera, Butcher's Alera), and that really works for me. Here, Lake does the opposite - technology gets abstracted into magic (and not in a Clarke-ian way, either), and I found it irritating. The female characters spent what seemed like an unreasonable amount of time self-consciously examining the injustice of the patriarchy to a degree that felt anachronistic.

30. Bone Dance by Emma Bull

I think Emma Bull is getting adopted into my list of "My People" authors. She was already on the nomination list for her work on Shadow Unit, but I think Bone Dance may have cinched it. "My People" authors write characters who feel like people I could know and get along with, who react in a way that I expect people to react in. In the set of three new authors, Bull is the clear winner. I will be buying more of her books. And reading the rest of Shadow Unit S2 if I have to convert it to ebook format myself.

31. Spook by Mary Roach

Mary Roach, a skeptic, looks into spiritualism and evidence for life after death. I'll be honest - if Mary Roach wrote a book called "Toast", I would read it, and probably enjoy it. She's an indrebily engaging author. Spook wasn't quite as rivetting as Bonk, but it was still pretty good.

32. Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher

SQUEE. Book 5 in the Codex Alera. This round brings out a lot of the best stuff in the series. I am fighting to hold to my policy of not buying hardcovers. But book 5 came out in paperback the same day book 6 came out in hardcover. I am not sure how long I can wait to read book 6 (which ends the series).

33. Makers by Cory Doctorow (ebook)

Wow. While Cory's previous books didn't suck, this one shows some major technical skills. Makers solves some of the issues I had with previous Doctorow books - like Spider Robinson, a lot of Doctorow's work is just too fundamentally optimistic about the human condition. Makers is certianly not a a mope-fest, but the way the characters evolve and act feels a lot more real. The characters make mistakes, and sometimes they just can't fix things. Sometimes things that don't make sense happen, but they feel like the way things don't make sense in the real world. Unlike Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the Disney love in Makers didn't bug me. Defintely worth reading, and, in my opinon, Doctorow's best work so far.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jan. 18th, 2009 03:36 pm)
First list for 2009. Being sick for two weeks has meant lots of reading. I skipped over the next serious book because Becoming Batman in addition to being interesting, is likely to motivate me at the gym. Since I can't exercise right now, it seems a waste to read it before I recover.

1 Anathem by Neal Stephenson

The first quarter of the book slogs. I was getting ready to track down Stephenson and pummel him for making me push through all of his made up jargon. After a while, though, it all starts to make sense as the brain figures out where he's pulling references from, and for the most part, the plot overrides the annoying bits. The premise and science are interesting, and done in a way I don't think I've seen before, which is always nice. And, for a Stephenson book, it actually has a reasonably satisfying ending.

2 Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Mwa Ha Ha HA! *ahem* A solid deconstruction of the superhero vs. supervillian genre. More serious, but with less social commentary than From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain.

3 Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (eBook)

I got less out of this than some might - I have no nostalgic fondness for Disney, and I've never been to one of their theme parks. The whole whuffie idea is interesting, but I found I wasn't terribly emotionally invested in any of the characters.



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