2034 Rothdas book review RSS
1.0 Stars

(Book #1 of my "Spring" into the Apocalypse reading list.)
Really dumb, really bad. I had heard some noise that this was a fun book, sort of an updated Red Storm Rising, but: A) a few decades of left-wing reading have completely ruined these stories for me, e.g. there's a part early on in the book about a fighter pilot and his ultimate peak joy of flying a combat aircraft and my continual response is a sort of "oh great, I'm so glad we could spend $500 million of our tax dollars getting you off rather than having health care", and then B) it's not even that competent? Like, having some mustache twirling Communist villains and some stout hearted American vets and and techno-combat shit should not be that hard to write, but this author team fails to do so in anything but the most basic fashion. When I have the reaction that "I could probably write something this good..." you know you've fucked up.

Stopped after a couple of chapters, would not recommend.

In the Dream House
2.0 Stars

The beatings will continue until the writing improves

An uneven book that has occasional excellent chapters. The conceit of the book is that each of its ~200 chapters is told in a different style, as the narrator (Maria) outlines her relationship with an attractive but emotionally abusive girlfriend. The book has been in the news recently, since a local school board had complaints about a few of the sex scenes, leading to the book being removed from the high school reading list. This is a shame, since A) there are only a few prurient chapters, and it would be the easiest thing in the world to just excise that 2% of the book while leaving the artistic message basically untouched, and B) young people are really the best audience for the book, since they're the ones who need a primer on avoiding these sorts of red flags. The narrator is recounting events from her early 20's, and how an unhappy Maria let herself get too wrapped up in a more conventionally pretty and credentialed & exciting lady, which in turn led to Maria not dumping the girlfriend when she turned mean. There's plenty of other things going on in the book, thoughts about sexism, thoughts about patriarchy, thoughts about how these are translated into same sex relationships, etc. etc. It's not all bad: some of it is powerful, and some of it is intelligent. Too many of the chapters though come across as someone who has been through an MFA program and hasn't found their own voice yet, e.g. it is trying to be poetic or affecting but comes across more as trite and in a boringly familiar way. I would like to read the author 10 years from now, when she has more practice and confidence and is more involved in creating her own fiction rather than recounting things that happened to her. I would also to like to read the abusive-ex's memoir? Like maybe Maria snored when she slept or something, I feel like we might not have the complete story.

The Expanse, audiobooks 1 & 2 & 3
3.0 Stars

Satisfactory and extremely long. Years ago, I liked the first Expanse book that I read, but I did not think it was anything too great & so I decided to not read any more of these door-stopper novels. Then the TV series came out, and year by year my affection for the series and its characters gradually increased. And so when it came time to queue up some new audio books, I decided to listen to these next. As above, they are consistently OK. The real star of the books is the world building, for which the best adjective I can come up with is "solid". The books are set a few centuries in the future as humans have colonized the solar system, and they don't really rely on any extraordinary new technology. The one conceit is that people have discovered an extremely low-fuel drive which allows them to perform low G burns basically indefinitely. With this efficient drive, Mars is a few days away, while Jupiter and the like are a matter of weeks or months. Other than that change the author sticks to technology that is entirely within our current trajectory and does not require any great leaps. (if anything this is a bit unrealistic, since you would expect changes in AI/bio-tech to significantly upend things. However does make the rest of the reasoning easier if you assume these techs make incremental rather than revolutionary developments.) So despite taking place in space, the series feels very grounded, as basically everything that occurs in space would be understandable by an ISS veteran or the like. And the author does a ton of exploration of what it would mean to live and work in space when you don't have Star Trek levels of technology. E.g: gravity is a big deal; it's intelligently worked into how the ships are designed, it changes how people look and develop & their cultures, it affects everything about life on board a ship depending the ship is at 0G, .3G, 1G, or 5G, or 15G. The authors try to think about all the little things in life, like the sound of the hand-vac that you use to clean up the blood spheres that form after an accident in 0G, the plants and filters needed for life support, the difficulty of developing genuine food growth and eco-system webs outside of earth & the logistical and strategic implications thereof, etc etc. There's just a ton of work done by the authors to present reasonable and interesting solar-politics and strategy and logistics and culture and bio-systems. It's not genius stuff like Banks would make, and there are holes if you decide to poke too hard at it, but despite those minor quibbles The Expanse is the most well-realized version of the 2300's that I've seen.

Now for the downsides. The audio-book narrator is not doing these books any favors. He is for the most part very calm and neutral, when he should be doing emotions and silly voices. The books themselves are also too long. For the third book, the TV series just flat dropped the events from the last third of the story, and they were 100% correct to do so. Like the book's editor could have just excised 200 pages from the middle of the story and things would have been fine, nobody would have been disappointed. (*Edit*: wait, no, on re-watch the TV series *did* have these episodes, but I had skipped them in the TV show as well as the book since they were so un-needed & then scrubbed them from my memory. My bad!) There's also some weird narrative clunkiness and what I can only describe as plot elongation, where the chain of events and logic in the first book is stretched to absurd lengths (TENET syndrome). This sort of stuff only makes sense if the narrative was assembled from the emergent randomness of an RPG group rather than being designed and plotted out beforehand by a writer.

The Night Watch, Sarah Waters
5.0 Stars

My favorite Waters so far, and the first one I think where it consistently crosses the line from fan-fiction+++ over to genuine art. There are some standard Water's elements: an extremely strong sense of place, where the day-to-day tasks and costs of living are constantly reinforced. She would make a great GM, as she is continually mentioning the details of how people work, prepare food, live, travel, etc. etc. It might be ~10% excessive, but still it is a positive and characteristic part of her work. It helps that much of the story is set in London during the Blitz, which while terrible also created a lot of gothic beauty. There's also the standard Water's structural creativity; this time the structure is that there is a social graph, and the story covers a a segment of time for that social graph in 3 different periods. The first part of the story is set in 1947, then the second part in 1944, and then a final segment in 1941. It works surprisingly well, and acts as a sort of in media res that is both initially interesting and also resolves itself into meaningful connections. You can "see" the people and objects in front of you, but you do not know their full history and meaning, and so you are constantly thinking about and unraveling that history until the story arcs start to connect and complete. It also helps that each of the three segments of the book is about half the size of the previous segment, so that story elements resolve steadily more quickly as things go along. A final Water's touch: while the story as a whole is what you might call happy, there are also parts of it that are suuuuuper dark.

Other notes: this is the most modern setting of any of her books that I have read, which I think helped me connect with it. Also, bi-communists! They're coming to steal your women and your men.

American War, Omar El Akkad
1.0 Stars

A competently written book, however it it is focused on themes that I'm not particularly interested in & it has poor world building/is not really concerned with the consistency of its world. The basic idea is that the book explores the current violence, imperial and otherwise, in the Middle East through the lens of a Civil War in the America of 2074. So you have civil war, terrorism, insurgency and counter-insurgency, religious violence, refugee camps, meddling foreign powers, all those fun elements. However, enough of the technology & world building & material circumstance fell flat that I wasn't able to suspend disbelief & become really invested in his story (civil war in 2074? Really? That's optimistic. Also the civil war is over restrictions on carbon use, which I feel like will be mostly resolved one way or another by then). In the absence of a world and plot and characters that I was invested in, the writing/ideas weren't good enough to pull me along Anyway, the book wasn't particularly enjoyable or moving or well written & it did not teach me anything, so I can't recommend it.

The Paying Guests, Sarah Waters
4.0 Stars

An excellent book, and with just a few adjustments I think Sarah Waters could produce a truly great novel. Waters already does several things well; her writing is measured but of high quality, she does an excellent job of creating a sense of place and the rythms of life in a different time, and her lesbian romances are +++. All she really needs to do is jazz things up a bit. For instance, rather than setting the book in that worst of all islands, Britain, could she instead set it in space? Or maybe a wizarding boarding school/college? Could one of the characters be a dragon, or maybe a star-ship AI? With just a few small changes like this she could earn the coveted "5 star" rating for her next book.

Oh right, the plot. After WWI, downwardly mobile British lesbians find each other, slow romance, and due to economic anxiety they turn to Sweeney-Todding the guests at their rental house, selling off the items and assets of the murdered guests in order to make ends meet while trying to hide the murders from the police, a Mom, and a nosily investigative neighbor. It is a story as old as time.

The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
3.0 Stars

Raisins are Nature's candy

A well written PSA about the importance of not murdering people. The writing was excellent; brief and elegant in many of the conversations, more descriptive and evocative in many of the actions. As usual with crime-stories though I couldn't entirely vibe with the novel. The protagonist is unsympathetic, his actions are wasteful & dumb, and ultimately you wonder about the point of the novel. Hmm, what else to say. It reminded me a little bit of Despair, if it was conceived and written by Dashiell Hammett rather than Nabokov. It made me miss more joyful & creative narrators, like the serial killer from The Wasp Factory.

The Daughter of Time
2.0 Stars

All Dragoons are Bastards

According to the NYTimes, this is one of the best mystery novels of all times. The NYTimes is incorrect. This book was written in 1950 by an English lady, and while the writing is often skillful and occasionally enjoyable the larger effect is ruined by the somewhat arbitrary story telling and the author's right-wing politics. The basic plot is that a policeman is laid up with a back injury, and with the help of his friends he does historical research into the murders supposedly perpetrated by Richard III. This diverges from the usual formula for mysteries (events happen, are actively investigated & chased and decoded), and instead what you get is a more straightforward affair where the characters come out with one historical account after another that mostly supports the case they are making. So it's not really that earlier information is investigated or recontextualised in any clever way, instead the logic & textual trail mostly just leads them where they want to go. This runs into a problem that the crew of Buffy talked about in their commentary on the show, namely that many of their plot points come up during investigations in the library, and so how do you make that interesting to the viewer? Do you have yet another scene of two talking heads, or yet another scene where everyone is sitting together around a table in the library? The Buffy writers made a continual effort to keep these scenes interesting. The author here runs into the same problem but does not tackle it with as much success. There are numerous mini-scenes where the author tries to add some juice in between the text-dumps, but these scenes often come across as forced and boring and self-congratulatory. You can quickly see the scaffolding behind the story.

There are other issues; my own view of the times and location is owned by Mantel's Wolf Hall series, which seems more astute and enjoyable and colorful. It also makes the central mystery of this book (why were these murders ascribed to Richard III?) very simple (because Richard III's family was no longer in power, and because one of the new ruling nobles could have you whipped to death if you disagreed with their version of history). It's not a complicated equation, but this book takes 200 pages to lay it out for us. Another problem is that this book tries to take 1950's English mores, and apply them to 1590's English times. I'm not having it. Another problem is at such a historical distance, it seems a fool's errand to try and make really fine-grained judgments about people and their character, and I don't have a ton of patience for books that do this. If you want to use historical figures as templates with which to tell your own story, ok, but any effort to really nail down the nature of a person at such a remove seems impossible. One final and extremely minor quibble was that yes, the author gives the standard wisdom that faces have a bottomless & fascinating amount of detail and information in them, and yes as such portraiture is one of the most difficult and higher arts. I'd differ from her though in that she expects the face of a judge to be that of a good & humane person. Murdochian canon agrees with the first two points, but disagrees on the third, and would generally expect a judge to become self-important and narrow-minded through the habit of standing above others in judgment.

The Dragon's Nine Sons
1.0 Stars

I liked the title!

And that concludes the complements section of this review. The book is an alt-history semi-sci-fi, where the year is 2050 and a Chinese Empire and an Aztec Empire have a cold war on earth and a hot war on Mars. The characters are various soldiers from the Chinese Empire, chosen for their expendability, who are sent on a suicide mission/heist to infiltrate and explode an asteroid base that the Aztecs are using as a staging ground for their fleet.

So, a couple of things right off the bat. The alt-world building is terribly lazy, e.g. take a few nations and some dumb stereotypes and bam, you've got your world. I checked the publishing date on this book rather early in the reading, expecting something in the 80's or 90's, but nope! It's from 2008, when writers really should know better than this. The characters follow the same pattern: there's a hot blooded gun slinger from Texas, there's a big dumb muscle man, there's a skilled sword fighter from Japan... and so on. They manage to be both tropey and unrealistic, while also not being very exciting or weird. The rest of the world building is similarly dumb, like people are shipping cattle to Mars, and sending minerals back from Mars. There aren't any special minerals on Mars! Mars is a long way away! This doesn't make any sense! The writing is serviceable, i.e. it is not fan-ficton level, but it is also clunky and joyless. The actual plot of the story rises to that same standard. Ok, back to the world building. The author seems to be writing this as anti-Aztec propaganda, e.g. in his word-cloud for describing them the word "blood-thirsty" is right there in 72 pt font. But as alt-history Noam Chomsky writes, the Aztec empire never colonized the Chinese, they never took over the world or tried to set off any nuclear bombs in anyone else's asteroid base. So who's the real villains here, hmmmmmm? For their part, the Chinese protagonists are part of a highly authoritarian, militarized, and stratified society, where despite having space ships most of the people are doing scutt work and gambling over rations of wine and completely lacking in roses. I feel like if you're going to live in an evil empire it should at least be a flamboyantly evil empire, with bright feathers and obsidian and leopard skins stapled to everything, as opposed to the boring Chinese evil empire where most people are downtrodden peasants and the secret police just shoots you in the middle of the night. Also in the Aztec's favor, I liked how their military appeared to operate via a version of The Secret, where their strategy maps were more like vision boards of what they wanted to actualize into reality.

Anyway! This book was one of the refugees from the Houston flood, which accounts for why I had it to hand, and I mostly read it in a waiting room while waiting. I don't feel cheated exactly? But I can't think of any circumstance in which I would recommend the book to anyone.

Oh and spoiler, what the book really should have been about was the life story of one of the Mar colonists, who grew up on a hydroponics farm there. How cool would that be, to spend your life among lush plants just a pane away from the (almost) vacuum of Mars.

Bourne, Vandermeer
5.0 Stars

Still good! I was killing time and picked this up to read a few pages, and of course I ended up re-reading the entire thing. As before, the first ~60% is excellent, the middle 30% is ok, and the last 10% goes back up to great. What a lovely book.

Barbary Station, by R.E. Stearns
3.0 Stars

Decent! A dyad hijacks a ship going to the outer colonies, thinking that this prize will be their ticket into joining the pirate gang that has taken over Barbary Station. The Situation on the Station is not what they thought however, and instead of a rich pirate playground they find a failing habitat, divided between various factions and controlled by the station's mis-firing and psychotic maintenance AI. The pair spends the next 400 pages navigating loyalties, investigating mysteries, and trying to find a way to return the station to human control.

In general I liked the book; there's nothing too exceedingly skilled or clever, but everything in it kind of moderately works. I both liked and disliked the many sections about navigating the failing station, where travelers are moving between various ruined levels of the interior of the ring as well as along the outside. On the one hand, it had a neat sort of parkour/urban navigation feel, on the other hand it was difficult to translate the 3D situation into text and make it fully understandable. I did like the dizzying contrast of space with hull, I did like how close the vacuum always was, I did want to know more about the larger situation in the solar system. Oh! And I liked the use of "Student Loans" as character motivation, e.g. why did you decide to become an adventurer and raid deadly dungeons full of monsters? Student loans man, student loans.

A Deadly Education, by Naomi Novik
4.0 Stars

An interesting but somewhat flawed outing by Novik. Perhaps the fault is my own; I love the concept of the book (dark and tricksy magic school) and the author (Novik, GOAT dragon-romance writer) and so I had really high expectations for this. The actual book isn't bad; it has an interesting protagonist (a decent witch raised right but who for some reason Fate has marked out for having only comically powerful and evil gifts that she can never actually use. It's like having a selection of nuclear bombs when what you really need is a broom), a *lot* of neat monsters (Novik did a great job in creating her own Monster Manual for the school, the Gelatinous Cubes are a particular standout), and an interesting idea of a magical school (Grimrock cogs and gears, floating in pure Void to keep it isolated and safe from intruders). There's also some common Novik elements like friendship and romance thrown in, kind of at a Ghibli-esque level, which are all fine. For some reason though the whole didn't quite gel for me, the world felt like it didn't quite cohere. The world building didn't quite add up, and had too many clashing elements. One of the main conceits of the book is that young wizards and witches are in grave danger, since A) they haven't learned to defend themselves yet and B) they are a source of magical power that can be consumed by monsters or other mages. And so you have *tons* of young wizards being eaten and dying throughout history, like 75% or so. But the world doesn't really match that, e.g. if you have 75% of your kids dying from monster attacks (and not even counting other factors), you would expect wizard Moms to need 10+ kids just to keep the population at replacement levels, and basically their entire culture should be wrenched by this basic fact. Instead the wizard lives are a bit too normal, and the kids are a bit too blase in the face of constant danger. I get that this is just sort of a conceit of the book, but it still made everything else seem too cartoonish for the book as a whole to work. Or to put it another way, it doesn't work well to have romantic-action-comedic brushes with danger on the one hand, and then on the other hands students are regularly being eaten by monsters/planar mouths that will condemn them to a million years of pure torment. In general it had too much Western consciousness and morality, rather than a more Russian fatalism or Eastern materialism. Given the world they live in.

Edit: I was trying and flailing to put my finger on what my complaint really was, and after re-reading the first 20 pages of VanderMeer's _Bourne_ I can say that my complaint was that this is not _Bourne_. That novel actually captures something of what it would be like, psychologically, to be in constant mortal danger for months and years on end and how it would warp and wrench the mind. Related: at the start of WWI, the British noted that their soldiers kept going ineffective from shell shock, and so in the spirit of Science they did a test where they kept a unit on the front line, in constant action, without any breaks, and then studied how many of the soldiers in the unit went insane over time. The short answer is "all of them". They found that of the survivors, ~95% of them became ineffective over the course of 90 days of combat. Which is again just to say that the character's in this book are way too relatable for the constant danger they are in! Ok, that niggling criticism is done. Now let me say some more nice things about the book. It reads super fast, I loved the "death flick" spell, very creative, I liked how Novik put as much creativity into spell creation as she did with monster creation, even if the spell world building doesn't entirely hold together (but at least no time travel, so it has that going for it). Finally, I liked the extended magic-mirror creation process. Whew! I think I am done now.

Battle Ground, Dresden Files book #119, by Jim Butcher
4.0 Stars

Ok, wow. As someone else described it on the internet, this 350 page book was basically one long boss battle. Every single stop is pulled out and every single past character and power gets involved. My earlier complaints about the first half of this book being slower and more faltering than usual are quelled; read together these two parts would form a really interesting work with the first half being more setup and foreplay and the second half being just a balls-out fight scene that ends up leveling every bit of scenery in the area. I'd kind of be ok with the series ending at this point, as the power levels have started to reach silly levels, but the author certainly does leave the plot open and ready for the next book in the installment. Other random thoughts:

- I kind of want to complain about this book's fellating of cops, but it did at least partially break from its pro-cop stance and veered towards realism when Karren Murphy shot Mouse the Dog. Much like Thomas struggling against his White-Court spirit demon, Karen spent years struggling against her cop-nature, knowing that in the end she would lose the battle but still valiantly fighting it. So this was a bittersweet entry in the series, as she finally lost that particular battle, gave in, and shot Dresden's dog to death.
- The book suffers a little bit from what you see in series that have gone on for a long while, with baddy-characters who were previously giant threats and irredeemably evil becoming sort of neutered through long exposure. I feel like several of Dresden's "allies" in this fight probably should have turned on him at various points, though I suppose you could also read that non-betrayal in some cases as being part of a longer game.
- The book suffers a little bit more from the author's interest in army tactics and such; you could see this same flaw in its fully evolved form in Butcher's Codex Alera series. That book focused much more on armies, which really aren't that interesting, rather than on conflict between individual characters, which are much more dramatic. In this book there's a fair amount of faffing about with brigade-level conflicts, which I'm sure is of interest to the author as he is a giant nerd, but does not (to me at least) make for stories that are super interesting.

Season of Storms, Witcher book #2
4.0 Stars

I was waiting for some image processing to finish, and this book was laying around, and thus history is made. Previously I had read every Witcher novel except for this one, but now I can say that I've read them all. My copy of Season of Storms was an early (that is to say extremely rough) translation, with numerous mistakes with tense, sentence structure, etc. The end effect though was better than you might think, it was like listening to a story told by an elderly Yiddish man, and there were frequent occasions where the non-standard sentence structure and word choices enlivened the tale. The plot of the story, like the telling of the story, was also enjoyably "off", with it darting in several directions and folding in a number of disparate elements. E.g. Is it monster hunting? City politics and dynastic politics and law and political intrigue? Mad wizard hunting, cruel wizard loving, deep mage plotting, disaster recovery, crime lord cuffing, or fox hunting? At different times the book makes lunges in each of these directions, and at the end I would be at a loss to really describe what it was about. It does act as a transition point between the early Witcher stories (shorter and mostly unconnected tales) and the later stories which tell a longer and more standard fantasy tale. In this book the author has begun tying the short stories together into a sort of larger tale, though not one that really has any consistency or over-arching plot. I enjoyed it? It was weird and not entirely sensible, but the flavor, cynicism, and blunt expressions were a pleasant change from more standard Western story telling. It was also snappy, frequently clever, and frequently funny.

Troubled Blood, by JK Rowling
2.0 Stars

I decided to try this out, in order to see what sort of atrocity Rowling is perpetrating now. Initially I was impressed by the book; the writing was fine, the descriptions were good, and it had slow and detailed character interactions and dialog that I was not expecting from a mystery novel. I'm used to mass-market mystery novels being extremely low quality, with fan-fic level writing and card-board cutout characters and a constant stream of lumpenprole thought-patterns and prurient sex and murder and crime. So in that regard, Troubled Blood was a big step up, as the writing was not actively bad and off-putting, and just in general it felt more humane and well thought out But then I started to have doubts. About 150 pages in, I started to realize that nothing had actually happened in this book, that the investigation was just barely getting started, that I didn't really care about the characters, and that there was still *800 pages* left in this ultra-long mystery novel. So... maybe the more standard mystery writers actually do know a thing or two about their craft. Give the reader something, anything, to hook them into your novel. I think in this regard Rowling might have been spoiled by her Harry Potter success, and at a certain level she just assumes that people will read 1000 pages by her, because what else are they going to do, *not* read the next installment of her work? But outside of the huge success of the Harry Potter main-line stories, yes, that's exactly what people are going to do. Anyway I gave up on the book around the ~150 page mark.

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
5.0 Stars

An inadvertent re-read. I wanted to just look up a few tidbits from the book, but as with Annihiliation I ended up re-reading the entire thing. I think the trick of this book is that the political struggle before the war is very engaging, and so you are drawn in by that initial ~250 pages. Then, without even realizing it, you transition into reading about the military struggle of the war and before you know it, it is too late, and you are reading ~400 pages about troop positions at the second battle of Mansasses or something. Key take away from this read: It all seemed very familiar, like we are locked in some bad BattleStar Galactica writer's room. There's an 1830's version of Philandro Castille and his family, as well as an 1831 version, and so on, where each time you are just like "jesus". There's a large contingent of Americans who will practice any sort of oppression and violence, while thinking well of themselves for it, and when criticized in any way they for their violence they will respond as the aggrieved and injured party and threaten yet more violence. While thinking well of themselves. Phrased another way, these are Americans who have been only lightly dusted by the intellectual and moral achievements of the last 5000 years, leaving the thinnest patina of rationalization over what is effectively an orangutan-zombie, a creature lacking in any sort of interior life or moral life or intellectual life. Oh! Like the creatures from Blindsight, but with a beer-gut. As my favorite podcast says, "It's not good."

Oh and right and it turns that we've been trying to conquer Cuba for literally 200 years now. Maybe, as a country, it is time we gave that up? Like with Canada, we tried three times, and then we were like, "yeah, I guess you're ok mate." We should do that with Cuba too I think.

The Club Dumas
2.0 Stars

A book that might have been decent or even good if the protagonist wasn't such a doof. The idea is that a mercenary book hunter and fixer, Corso, has been hired at an extravagant rate to investigate the authenticity of an ancient book. From there follows investigations, suicides, bribery, theft, assault, European travel, light murder and arson, etc. I'm making it sound more interesting than it actually is. The book is also extremely meta; it is about people who collect and hunt books, and the plot beats of the main story are setup to mirror the plot beats of *two* different books, the A) Three Musketeers and B) a fictional book of alchemy and demonology, which purports to lead the way to secret wisdom. On the face of it, it's an interesting conceit, to have the story mirror and intermix two other stories, one of which is entirely fictional to the book itself. In practice it only about 65% works; the author spends a bit too much time dwelling on the meta and not enough writing a story that is interesting and clever in and of itself.

I've mentioned some light problems, now let me mention more serious ones. The main character is not likeable, and when anyone in the story treats him as likeable or does anything for him it is annoying. I believe the funadmental problem is that the author has an idea of what a neat guy/cool guy is, and writes the protagonist to be this guy. But the author is wrong. Drinking gin isn't cool, board games are cool. And I'm not talking about Napoleonics, which Corso is lightly into, but real Euro games which mix cooperation and competition. Other things that are not cool: being hung up on the girl who left you because you were such an incurably boring downer, being rude to people, losing fist fights to guys, sexually assaulting girls. The main character has such a weirdo mythology of himself that it just makes me feel vicarious pain for anyone who has to deal with him, and it make reading the book a progressively more grueling task as the pages went by. So the book has interesting ideas, and the mechanics of the writing are fine, but I was out of phase with what the author was trying to portray.

Dark Harvest
1.5 Stars

A not very good entry in the canon that comes across particularly poorly via audiobook. The basic problem is that the book is long and the plot is short, and the difference between the two is made up by absurdly lengthening what should be much more straightforward plot beats. It reminded me of Netflix TV programs, where in liu of coming up with more plot points the writers just circle endlessly and pointlessly through the same narrative paths before finally and limply resolving things once their 10-hours has been filled. Anyway! There's a ritual, there's a guy come to stop it, but wait that's actually what the ritualists wanted all along. It's a completely-characteristic and predictable Warhammer story. Things are livened somewhat by A) the post-Katrina New Orleans swamp setting and B) the Bulldozer like main character and C) they did at least mostly commit to the ending. Still, any gathering excitment was continually deadened by every single investigative interaction going through this process.

Harrow the Ninth
4.0 Stars

A neat and fast-reading sequel that failed to really come together for me like the first one did. Part of this is due to the fractured narrative, as the main character has partial amnesia & sensory glitches & unreliable flashbacks & peer-to-peer-dreams, and has to use a Memento style system of notes to help her out. Part of this is due to my own amnesia, as I try to remember ~20 characters from a year ago. Part of this is due to the magic system, which reminded me of the transition from high school level math to college level math, where small seeds of misunderstanding blossomed into flowers of complete incomprehension. It did not help that the power level of the magic system launches completely into the stratosphere, so that all the main characters are basically demi-gods who can heal and reshape themselves at will and travel through dimensions and fight planet-size psychic beasts. And part of this is simply due to the character of the main character, Harrow, who seemed to have way too much detachment and chill for someone in her place. I kept comparing her to other teenage void priests/necromancers, e.g. the priestess from le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan, or the kindly necromancer from the Sabriel series. Both of these were grounded characters and grounded worlds that fully explored their subject and all its details. They felt like worlds you could reason about and understand, and less like "a wizard did it" (though of course a wizard did do it, just in a way that it is consistent and understandable given the previous world building).

Despite these flaws, Harrow is still an enjoyable book, and the author does an excellent job on a number of fronts. The simplest accolade is that I blazed through it and read the ~600 page book in ~2 days. The book does have energy and cliff hangers and central threats and mysteries and for the most part it does manage to draw you along. Many of the characters are neat, once you remember them, and the sensory description and anatomy poerty is often great. At its best the book has a giddy energy where the author leans into the psychedelic craziness, and it becomes something closer to a Philip Palmer book but with wizards. So despite parts of this not working, I am still looking forward to the final entry in the triology.

Green Magic, Assault on a City, by Jack Vance
4.0/3.0 Stars

Two shortish tales by Vance that I read while waiting for Windows updates to clean themselves up (40GB of wasted space? really?). Green Magic is classic, beautiful Vance, just 30 pages of constantly creating and unfolding. Assault on a City is longer and while it is sci-fi, it is sci-fi that is very close to everyday modern existence. It's also, like, really mean to city dwellers. I did like the education-via-maze, and I did like the word "gunk".

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24