The Fortunate Fall Rothdas book review RSS
3.4 Stars

A book that fit what I was looking for. I've been wanting to read some Jack Womack, but the internet has been letting me down, and this book filled the want nicely. The Fortunate Fall is a mid-90's cyber punk story, set 250 years in the future. A Doll House situation has been reached where people can CRUD into other people's minds, and this has led to global disasters and horrors before finally an unstable peace is reached. Society maintains itself through PostCops (a "cop" wet-ware that is downloaded into people's minds to get them to behave as temporary cops when needed. It is like a fast and involuntary and potentially homicidal jury duty.) and Weavers (NSA like figures that constantly scour the internet to prevent and contain any mind-viruses or taboo information that might spread and infect people like in the bad old days). I don't want to say too much about the story in order to avoid spoilers, but there is a cetacean, there is a wAIfu, there are dominionist concentration camps, there is a police state vs individualists, there is a fluidity about identity and trust. The entire thing is somewhat dark, somewhat cynical, well written, and enjoyable.

A Gentleman of Leisure, by P.G. Wodehouse
2.6 Stars

A lesser Wodehouse. There are some sensible chuckles, but it is definitely inferior to PGW's more famous books.

Bring up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
2.6 Stars

I can confidently say that this is a fine book to listen to while laying down caulk. They switched narrators for this one, and while the new narrator is not as outstanding as the old he is still perfectly serviceable to listen to while you watch the silicone flow. The sequel picks up where Wolf Hall left off, with Cromwell's rise to pre-eminence and the death of Thomas Moore. It then covers the political maneuvering during Anne Boleyn's reign, and the replacement of Anne Boleyn with wife number 3. As before, there is a great deal of competence porn, and Cromwell being in charge and taking care of things and people. In this case though the events have a darker tone. It is less Cromwell rationalizing the nation's finances and more Cromwell murdering his political enemies and fully embracing the courtier/Game of Thrones life style. There is also a bit of the Peter Principal at work here, as it is not at all clear that Cromwell can swim in high level political waters as well as he can take care of financial and legal matters. Near the end of the book he says that he is ready for next political knife fight that is surely coming, but I don't see any evidence of it, or indication that Cromwell has some way of handling his enemies or Henry's fickleness over the long term.

So, that is the basic idea. Spunky kid makes good, rises to high office, and is gradually corrupted by it. I'm not sure that this is a story that needs 1200+ pages to tell, but again it is fine for listening to while you do house repairs. Still, listening to this story and Wolf Hall, I kept being reminded of a bit from one of Naomi Novik's books, like book #4 in her dragon waifu series, where the dragons start telling stories to each other. The dragons are not like the hypothetical lion, where even if he could speak we could not understand him. Rather the dragon's story making process is recognizably human, of taking very basic desires and then building elaborate and intricate shells of events and words around them. It's just that the dragons have moderately different basic desires then humans do, so their stories are focused on different ideas and values. In the case of Wolf Hall/Bring up the Bodies, Henry the 8th's desire that generates all these words is very plain, and it can't help but feel a little silly reading so very many words built up around such a simple and mechanical impulse. I can't say that there is a lot to learn from the experience, and so I am retroactively taking away .1 stars from Wolf Hall. Take that, Booker Prize committee.

A City Dreaming, by Daniel Polansky
3.6 Stars

420 Blaze it up like Merlin! That is what I would say if I was at all into drug-wizard culture(1), which I am not, but the book is. The book is also into a general hipsterism and cool-struggle(2), and sexing many people causally(3), and New York(4), all of which I'm also not into. So the book starts off with a lot of strikes against it, and initially I bounced off the thing after ~30 pages. However! After returning to it and reading further, I started to like the book more and more. Part of it is that the initial stories are some of the poorer ones, with the best ones being further on in. Part of it is also that the narrator grew on me, with his apathy and confused morality and crab like way of moving through the world. The stories are bite sized, which I like, and they rely more on deception and surprise, which I also like. The magic was neat (in particular some of the Outsider or Infernal zones), the writing was well written, and even the flawed stories have 2 or 3 interesting things going on in them. It is a testament to the author's skill that I ended up liking the thing despite not liking most of its constituent parts. :) I would love to see more writing from him, after he's matured a bit and moved out of New York.

  1. visual novels are my anti-drug
  2. distracts from the important things in life, see (1)
  3. missionary for purpose of procreation, as God intended
  4. the general formula is: (A) I am good/correct (B) I am paying enormous amounts of money to live in a rat-infested closet in NY -> therefore there must be something special and ineffable about this closet since otherwise (A) would be violated. This formula is then carried out millions of times, resulting in all the bullshit about NY that gets written.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
3.8 Stars

Before anything, there are 2 notes for this book. One is that I listened to it via audio book, and it benefited from an amazing narrator. The narrator has several great accents and is not afraid to use them. His Bishop Woosley is immensely self satisfied, his HRE ambassador is wonderfully weaselly, and his Thomas Moore is delightfully snide and vehement. So, kudos to the narrator for making listening a continually enjoyable experience. The second note is that the book is *long*. I was listening to the thing on a daily basis for literally a month, and checked how to see how close the ending was. It had to be close, right? Nope, I was 45% of the way through. The combination of the ~700 pages and the narrator's languorous delivery make this a long term listen.

So, what is the book about? It is mostly competence and social-competence porn, about Cromwell and all the ways he is useful to people during his life. Imagine Kvothe from the _Name of the Wind_, but he is older and his polarity towards authority has been reversed. Instead of constantly rebelling and having to get the last word in, Cromwell takes his talents and turns them towards profit-making, efficiency, management, and serving nobles with just the right flavors of obsequiousness. This isn't as bad as it sounds; he is generally a force for reason, modernization, order, and mercy in a rather cruel and benighted age. He sees to his family and their futures, tries to not execute anyone who does not really need it, and is just generally a cool-dude in matters administrative and political. It is all fine, if a little stretched out. The author has nice patches of description and memory and dialog, and there are countless jaunts out into food, architecture, friends, associates, clothing, books, children, wives, religion, and a dozen other subjects. This does mean however that the words-to-plot ratio is low. Again, I enjoyed the slow ride due to the narrator, but I could easily see having the opposite reaction if I had actually read the book and was in a hurry. Also, due to the sheer length of the book the effect of the plot is attenuated; Cromwell gets his revenge on a person or two near the end of the book, but by that time the injuries Cromwell had suffered from them are a month ago in real time. And my reaction was like, "oh, yes, I vaguely remember that." In any case, it is not a particularly plot heavy book, it is more about a slow journey through an interesting fictional character's life.

Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch
3.6 Stars

Unlike most fantasy series, this one has been steadily getting better as it goes. The third entry is my favorite one yet, and it avoids/ameliorates some of the problems that I had with the first two entries. The schemes are a bit less bad, and in some ways the entire thing is just less dire and more fun than the previous entries. The main focus is on a contested election in a republic, where the election itself is just a game played by the city's real rulers, the mages. So in many ways the stakes are less than life and death, and more about social and economic competition and deception. In other ways the stakes are higher, as you find out more about the larger world building, the previously mysterious mages, and the more cosmic factors at play. The author also introduces more of his magic system, which is often neat and intricate and interesting. I feel like the more the author gets away from standard stories and tropes and into his own creations the better he does. There was even a neat moment when I thought he was going to explain away the success of some of Locke's past harebrained schemes by saying that it was, literally, magic. That is to say, it was not just authorial fiat which explains why Locke was so convincing, but a sort of sub-conscious magic that was playing out and resulting in his success. Sort of how in the Star Wars movies you have The Force as a stand in for what the author wants to happen. The author didn't end up going that way, but it was still a neat possibility.

Oh, and it would not be a review of a Scott Lynch book if I didn't find something to complain about. This time the (marginally less annoying) fly in the ointment is the romance between Locke and Sabetha. This has to be one of the most extended and badly waged and romances I have read, and you really just want to shake either/both of them and tell them to stop wasting time and to find someone who they are actually attracted to and fit with. I feel like CJ Cherryh or your average fan-fic writer would have known how to fix the situation; make them gay. That's not a suggestion that I make often, but in this case Locke/Jean really is a better connection than Locke/Sabetha. Ok Scott Lynch, you know who to send the royalty checks to for your big reveal in book 4!

Anyway! I just generally like the characters and world and sort of low key adventures that happen. It is not great literature, but it is on average enjoyable.

Red Seas Under Red Skies, by Scott Lynch
3.4 Stars

Going into this book, my expectations were kind of low. I remembered the previous entry in the series as having high points, but also as being marred by being somewhat turgid writing and a somewhat generic thieves guild setting and silly plots and so on. But I started reading _Red_, and for at least the first 200 pages I was steadily surprised as I enjoyed the book more and more. The setting is much improved, and moves on to a sort of Dishonored 2 locale with complicated clockworks and dozens of different poisons and more interesting capers and politics. There wasn't any long origin story to slog through, it was just the characters in their prime doing neat things. So at 200 pages in, I was ready to love it. And then the book jumps the shark. It moves everything out to sea and switches to being a naval/pirate adventure story. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as the title is _Red Seas Under Red Skies_, and it does have a picture of a boat on the cover, but it still came as a disappointment and the quality of the book fell for the around 500 page of naval adventure that followed. Part of the problem is that by moving out to sea, the book sacrifices the momentum it had built up over the previous 200 pages. All of the main plots are put on the back burner, the characters have new "origin stories" as they learn the ways of the sea, and a completely new set of characters and locales are introduced. Also, the book suffers by comparison to the many, many, many high quality naval books that have been written before. Foremost in my mind are the Jack Aubrey/Steven Maturin stories, of which I have read 20, and which have basically conquered the genre for me. So the book loses its momentum, moves into an area that is already dominated by great writers, and generally becomes becalmed [Ed. you really should have started the naval puns earlier in the review]. The naval stories are ok, but they not great. And then the last 60 pages of the book wraps up all of the main plot points that were started in that first 200 pages.

This structure/framework of the book is unfortunate, as I think Scott Lynch has it in him to write some excellent stories. Just make them shorter Scott! Write a 260 page book that gleams, and not a 760 page book with all sorts of padding. Take a vacation, read some Isaac Babel. Also, work on your plotting. :) As with the first book, several of the plots just did not make sense. There is one character and his super power is supposed to be that he is supremely skilled at conning/convincing/out-planning people, but in the story it just does not work and often comes through as authorial fiat. Supposedly smart people continually fall for really dumb tricks, or come up with plots/justifications that make no sense at all. E.g. there is a banker/casino owner who stores the merchant prince's money. The military leader is at cold war with the merchant princes. The protagonist has a plan to steal *all* of the merchant prince's money. The protagonist falls into the hands of the military leader. At this point the military leader could just say "go ahead", as stealing the money would win him the contest. Instead, he puts everyone on a boat. :0

Not all of the plots are like this, but several of them are and they just do not work. Ok, now on to book three which is hopefully boat free.

Sharp Ends
3.0 Stars

A series of short stories that are set in Abercombie's universe and fill in the back story to his main characters or add a bit of detail and color to some of his tangential characters. I've always had trouble enjoying Abercombie, but I haven't been exactly sure why. It *seems* like I should enjoy his writing, but something has always been a bit off. After reading and thinking about these stories I believe the problem is that his characters are always so unhappy with their world. Generally speaking, people come to a an equilibrium with their circumstances (or flame out horribly). E.g. living in medieval times was in many ways worse than our present day circumstances, but I don't think that they were generally more unhappy than we are. Like us they would have good days and bad days, victories and defeats, and their happiness would fluctuate around a rough human or cultural average.

In Abercombie's world, everyone is just unhappy. The mercenaries are unhappy, the thieves are unhappy, the farmers are unhappy, the barbarians are unhappy. And I don't think it is justified! Like, if you've spent the majority of your life camping out and hiking through mud and wilderness, I don't think those things would (generally) make you upset. But his characters always are, as if they were modern day coddled Americans forced to do those things. And I think that this continual and unjustified level of complaining is one of the reasons I don't really connect with his stories.

These stories are some of his better ones though, and they have sort of an action-movie/Tarantino vibe to them. These aren't trying to be "real" or organic; they all have a slickness or artistry to them. Some of the better ones are a knock-down drag out fight in an abandoned old west town, the earlier Shev/Javre stories about a slight thief and a Zarya like bruiser, the hagiography/propaganda written about a mercenary commander by his aide-de-camp, and the story of rescuing an artifact from a barbarian tribe. I think all of these would have been better if I had read their parent stories more recently, but even as stand-alones they were acceptable-to-fine. Anyway, Abercombie, would it kill you to smile occasionally?

Five Women Who Loved Love
3.2 Stars

On second thought, let’s not go to Japan. ‘Tis a silly place.

A series of 5 short and silly stories about love and folly in feudal Japan. Some characteristic events are: a young married woman accidentally gets in what looks like a compromising situation with a 70 year old married man, and the old man's wife starts harassing the younger woman. Incensed, the younger lady goes on and actually has an affair with the 70 year old. Or, there is an ugly man who has his heart set on a beautiful girl, and he hires a crone to set them up. The crone arranges for the girl to take a trip to various shrines, so that the man can join the girl along the way and make advances. However, when the time comes the girl catches the eye of another man and he also joins the trip, and the two men sabotage each other as the three of them visit sacred shrines. Or a person is making devout prayers to the Buddha, only to see a handsome man walk by. The prayer and then throws their piety to the wind to chase after the handsome man. And so forth.

The stories are amusing, and are notable for being written in the early 1600's. The stories have aged very well, and/or the translator has done a good job of updating them, and you could see any of the stories being a plot line in a modern anime or an episode of Always Sunny in Philadelphia. They have an almost Vancian mockery of idealism and the stories that we tell ourselves. One concession the author does make to the mores of the time is that basically all of the stories end in tragedy. The meat of each story is an absurdist love comedy, but then at the very end of each tale the author goes "oh, but they violated the strict social laws, and so everyone involved is executed/commits suicide/becomes a nun." I never placed much weight on this aspect of the stories, and enjoyed them for what seemed like their core.

Judge Dee, The Chinese Gold Murders
3.4 Stars

A quietly enjoyable and complex mystery novel set in pre-modern China. The protagonists are good without being overbearing, and the chapters have a nice variety as they switch between the abstract/intellectual focused Judge Dee, and his lieutenants who are more rough and tumble and handle physical challenges. It reminds me a bit of the Ars Magica RPG in that way. The novel is fairly short (150 pgs), but covers several mysteries and several dozen characters. I enjoyed the social graph it laid out and thinking about the mysteries, most of which I was completely lost on. At least that is until the book started introducing meta-fictional elements. Then I'm like "Ha! I can solve this. I know my way around a plot structure." I didn't quite solve the final problem, as the central crime of the novel isn't really one that makes sense in the modern day, but I was at least close. Overall the novel was pleasant, complex, enjoyable, humorous, and humane (well, for its time; I'm grading on a curve here).

Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe
3.4 Stars

A short and likable novel that does several neat things but ultimately does not rise to greatness. The first thing you notice about it is the cover art, which is just about perfect. The next thing is that the story is a re-interpretation and re-exploration of Lovecraft's _The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath_. It is a sort of Beowulf/Grendel situation. This time the a story is based on the outlook and experiences of one of the natives of the Dream as she ventures across her world, seeking a woman who has traveled to the waking world. I liked these parts of exploration and travel, as the author fills in tons of tiny and more quotidian details to HP's antediluvian world. More generally, I just like these types of stories and enjoy these fan-fiction type efforts to explore/expand/re-imagine earlier works from different view points.

So! That is the meat of the book, and it is good. The negatives are that Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath was never my favorite HP work; and I wish she had re-interpreted one of his stories that I am less luke-warm about. Also, the ending is perhaps not perfect, and just kind of pleasantly fades out. And finally, I thought that there was a bit too much beating of the cyclopean, undead horse of HP's sexism. A little kicking would have been fine, but the sustained drubbing it receives isn't really why I read novels.

Many Worlds of Magnus Ridolph
3.2 Stars

This is Sherlock Holmes by way of Jack Vance. The novel contains ~8 short stories, each of which involves the clever Magnus being roped into solving one mystery or another on a different world. Magnus will investigate and solve the case, avenge himself on anyone who insulted his dignity, and retire with his profits. Which he then loses to start the next adventure.

It probably doesn't need to be said at this point, but Vance is always delightfully inventive and is just fine as a sci-fi author creating new cultures, species, and worlds. The numbers and science and precise world building are never really the point, it is more he lays out one interesting landscape or setup or set of cultural mores after another. And he keeps the usual Vancian attitudes of low key amorality and deception. I particularly liked the Sardines story, the murder on the space station with its multiple alien interviews, and the syzgy story (which prefigures at least some of the scenes from the Three Body Problem).

John Dies in the End, by David Wong
3.4 Stars

On the book jacket there is a review blurb comparing this to a combination of "Douglas Adams and Stephen King", and that is almost a perfect description. I would substitute Laird Barron rather than Stephen King, since the horror elements in this story are more along his lines of cosmic threat. And the author isn't quite Douglas Adams, there is less mature whimsy and more school yard puerility. Overall I liked the stories though. Wong is a talented author and I enjoy his voice. He is creative with characters and monsters and monster life cycles, and constantly mixes in humor, 4th wall elements, unreliable narrators, reversals, and just generally draws the narration in a scraggly line all over the paper. This was also a bit of a flaw; the stories were a little bit too scatter-shot, and tried to incorporate a few too many stylistic elements. It is a bit like someone putting together a workable 4 color deck in Magic: The Gathering; yes it is impressive, but maybe you could do even better if you limited yourself to 1 or 2 colors? I think I would rather see Wong go all out with either horror or humor and write a more directed tale. He has the talent for it and could be one of the princes of the Horror ghetto if he wanted it.

The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis
1.4 Stars

I tried this audio-book out, as I was looking for something to listen to on my walks and Metafilter had recommended the John Cleese recording. It was a disappointment. I made it ~30% of the way through before getting tired of the epicycles and quitting, before becoming bored with walking/house work and listening to another 30%, quitting, and then repeated the process one more time to finish the book off. Apparently everyone who has ever lived or voted differently than Mr Lewis has done so because they are controlled by demons. And of course all those people he disagreed with will suffer in hell for all eternity. If nothing else you have to admire the chutzpah of the man.

Edit: After further reflection, I am bumping up the score by 0.2. Half of that is for the ending, where a person is sent directly from an explosion into heaven, and I like how it parallels later Islamic writing by suicide bombers. The other 0.1 is for the point he makes about just because something bad happens, that does not make it the truth or reality of life that was hidden. E.g. a community is a nice place for 20 years, and then is riven by violence, that does not make the violence the truth of the place. If anything the longer lasting peace could be said to be the more accurate description of the place. This is a point that I think is both correct and not said enough.

A Better World
2.6 Stars

This sequel was mostly a disappointment. I had hoped for more originality; instead I received more plots taken from Season 2 of Alphas. I'm really not sure how the author will finish out the trilogy as Alphas only aired for 2 seasons. In addition to not breaking any new ground plot wise, there were failures in basic competency in the sequel. This is a spoiler for the first 20 pages, but there is a terrorist group, and their plot is to interrupt food and goods delivery to 3 major US cities. They do this by a launching an attack on a score of delivery trucks during a single night. This makes it so that insurers won't cover trucks that are delivering to the cities, so that absolutely no food or goods are delivered to these cities for 4+ weeks. But couldn't you just run trucks without insurance you ask? Shush! Couldn't the government just step in as an insurer of last resort? Quiet! Couldn't companies/wild catters just head in with supplies and charge a premium, like happens after a hurricane? Nope! Couldn't the government just pay outrageous fees to get contractors and drivers, like they do in war zones? Impossible! Ugh. The plotting has so, so many problems. And I could overlook this boneheaded plotting if it just came up once and then was accepted/forgotten, but the author keeps bringing it up again and again throughout the story, and each time it is a fresh annoyance. Oh no, this character's baby is starving, if only there was some way, some possible way, that we could get food into this city. Over and over again. There were other smaller annoyances: in this book the US President is an African-American man with a history degree from Harvard & a calm and intellectual speaking voice, which seems like Obama with the serial numbers rubbed off. And the book constantly describes him as weak and indecisive. It's like author, man, I'm sorry that it has been 8 years and Obama hasn't embroiled us in any pointless wars, that must really make you feel emasculated. But please don't bring that disappointment into your novel and insult my POTUS-waifu. And then there is the treatment of the Academies for the gifted, which admittedly were not great, but which did not seem significantly worse than your average US high school. I'm not sure that working as a staff member there should deserve a death sentence. But again, I'm too much of an Order person, sorry not sorry.

On the bright side, there are parts of the story which read just fine as sort of James Bond/Tom Clancy (JBTC) like adventure. It is a bit like an avocado that is going bad; there are black and rotted areas, but there are still some parts which are perfectly healthy and tasty. And I'm cautiously hopeful that it represents a trend, that perfectly boring and forgettable JBTC stories are being enlivened by being combined with super powers, Mythos beings, magical girls, etc etc. It won't always produce something good, but I feel like it will at least produce more interesting stories than these same authors would have produced 20 years ago.

3.4 Stars

A fast paced and competently written action novel about a version of the modern world where a small percentage of people have developed super powers. Think James Bond or Tom Clancy but with powers. The powers aren't explicitly super powers in that they all have a natural explanation and are based around the idea of superior brain functioning in one particular area (e.g. a super-human ability to read markets, or to read micro-facial expressions, or to handle strategy and tactics, or to do science, etc. etc.). Functionally though it works out to about the same thing as super powers. Overall I liked the book! My enjoyment was hip-checked at several points though because this novel overlaps with other, similar works that I was exposed to earlier. The largest instance of this was a cheesy but ultimately lovable SyFy show called _Alphas_, which was released ~2 years before this novel (I suspect both Alphas and Brilliance draws on Heroes and other shared progenitors, rather than one was explicitly copying the other). In any case, there is a huge amount of plot and setting overlap between Alphas and Brilliance, so much so that I could not tell if one was the novelization/TV adaptation of the other until about 300 pages in where the plots finally start to diverge. A second and more minor collision happens with the works of Carre. There is a fair amount of spy craft in Brilliance, but it is not necessarily that competent. E.g. If Smiley was working in the DAR, the story would have ended much more abruptly, as there are multiple Carre stories where the sorts of beginner tactics found in Brilliance are used to trap wayward agents. And in general, there are parts of the plot that don't make *that* much sense if you stop to think about them.

So! Despite all of those semi-criticisms, I certainly did read the book quickly enough. I read the last 80% of it in one night, which means that at some level I must have liked the book. Part of that was the 20 degree weather outside, which encourages huddling up around a book, but the author deserves credit too. The author isn't a beautiful writer like Vandermeer, but he does churn out consistently readable and interesting action adventure pages. I'm looking forward to what he does in the second book, and if he can take the series in more original directions now that it is diverging a bit more from Alphas and similar works.

Hell Spark
2.0 Stars

Not a terrible book, but not one that really grabbed me either. I liked the initial descriptions of the strange electric planet, and the writer is good at writing. I didn't really jive with the story though; the author gave the Mary Sue protagonist this one really niche power (encyclopedic knowledge of other cultures), and then kept finding unlikely ways for that power to be applicable. It reminded me a bit of this, or this. I quit about 100 pages in.

The Fifth Season
1.0 Stars

If the room's a rockin' it is because I am being oppressed.

A potentially neat fantasy setting based around earth benders, ruined by victim porn. So, so much victim porn. As far as I can tell it is all the book consists of. I made it maybe 25% of the way through the book before becoming terminally fed up with the protagonist.

It doesn't help that I appear to be too much of a Order/Empire person for these stories. If there are people with magical talents who can destroy a continent with a moment's anger, it does make sense that they would need to be tightly controlled. Sorry not sorry.

Don't Sleep, There are Snakes
4.2 Stars

A very interesting summary of 30 years spent with a small Amazonian tribe. Reality consistently does better than the creations of sci-fi and fantasy authors, and reading about the Piraha was fascinating. The book covers the language and culture of the Piraha, as well the author's experiences and anecdotes from his time there. In that spirit, let me just list some of the highlights of the book:

- the absolute folly of taking your family (including your young kids and 100 lb wife) out into the middle of the rain forest
- the author's self-awareness and self-depreciation
- a neat section on how the different sounds of speech are made
- several neat sections about information theory in relation to language
- the Piraha's perfect, 200 year history of having no conversions to Christianity, despite the best efforts of missionaries
- Piraha child raising, or lack thereof
- the numerous anecdotes about the Piraha, their happiness, how they live, how they talk, and how they conceive of the world. This is one of the things I love about anthropologist's efforts, how they give the lie to the idea that there is just one "natural" way of thinking or of being human. As a complete weirdo, I say the more outlier data points we have the better! =)

The Imago Sequence, by Laird Barron
3.2 Stars

God never closes a door without opening a hole.

If Robert Aickman is a bit too oblique in his strange tales, Laird Barron is perhaps not quite oblique enough in his working-class tales of Mythos-horror. Lovecraft and many of his successors turn away at the cusp of the un-nameable and indescribable, but Barron just keeps on trucking. This is a strength and a weakness in his stories. When it works, you get some genuinely disgusting/clever/memorable scenes of cascading terror. When it doesn't, the scenes come away as formulaic and repetitive and silly, and lose by the extended explication of something that should be alien and beyond us. It is even worse than the usual case where a villain explains their plot, Lovecraft readers are so finely attuned to working off of hints and suggestions rather than detailed plans. There is one point at the end of the first short story, when you think that the hints that have been given by the monster are all you are going to have to work off of. Nope! There are two more pages of explanation after that. And it is like, "Oh, ok, I guess I wasn't expecting a full diagram of what is going on, but sure, go for it."

Anyway! These are horror stories, and involve large amounts of blood, guts, mud, slime, body horror, terrible mutilation, and death. The main characters are thugs, soldiers, detectives, and good-old boy business men. On the one hand I do kind of like this different take on the Lovecraft protagonist; no limp-wristed philologists here! Instead, we have hard men with small minds medicating themselves to death. Seriously, there is a lot of drinking. Most the characters go through the stories in a haze of alcohol and pills; it is a bit like reading _Good Morning Midnight_ all over again. Zing! As an experiment, I went back to the penultimate story in the series, The Imago Sequence. Here are the number of times that a character takes a drink/drug, or talks about doing so:

Page 1: 1
Page 2: 4
Page 3: 8
Page 4: 1
Page 5: 2
Page 6: 1
Page 7: 6
Page 8: 4
Page 9: 8
Page 10: 4
Page 11: 1
Page 12: 0
Page 13: 1
Page 14: 0
Page 15: 2
Page 16: 0
Page 17: 4
Page 18: 4

This short-story is a bit drunker than average, but not by much. (Now we finally reach the other hand...) It gets annoying when your protagonist is completely soused through story after story, and just evaporates when moving from scene to scene.

One thing I did appreciate was that the stories are more interconnected than you usually get from the genre. The main connections are in Bulldozer, Hallucigenia, and Imago Sequence; they are also the best stories and I would read those first if you are wondering if you will like Laird Barron. The worst stories were Black Sloth and Proboscis, both of which left me feeling like I wasted my time. Honorable mentions go to Parallax, which is more melancholy than horror, and Hour of the Cyclops, where Barron takes the piss out of the other stories in the collection. Overall these were bloody and well written horror stories with a Lovecraftian tint; I'm just not sure I actually like such heavy and direct horror stories.

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