Wolfhound Century Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An inventive and mostly enjoyable russian themed fantasy/spy novel. One of the reviewers compared it to Le Carre's work, which is just mind boggling wrong. LeCarre is all about deep psychological study, while in this the characters are all fairly straightfoward. I found this to have much more in common with the Thomas Convenant series, with it's alternating periods of danger and tranquility, and the warring cosmic forces of nature and corruption. Even the golems are very similar to the ones from Donaldson's work.

While this isn't a huge deal, I would also point out the the mystery the protagonist is sent to investigate is just glaringly bad if you think about it for a bit. The solution to the great mystery is written down at the top of the relevant file, the relevant file is in the hands of the relevant officer, and the relevant officer is marked down in the central computer from when she checked out the file. I feel like the conspirators really weren't trying very hard.




The Spy who came in from the Cold
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A delightfully bleak book. At any point during the story you can ask yourself "Are things going to get worse?" and the answer will be "Yes!"




Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Scott B. Smith
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another one of LeCarre's classic spy novels. The hero is Smiley, a wonderfully understated British spy. His approach to concealing his intentions and not giving info away is to always be completely gray and benignly bland. He goes through the novel not raising his voice, asking a series of mostly friendly and harmless questions, and politely mirroring the people he comes in contact with. And at the end he has penetrated to the heart of the conspiracy and woven an unbreakable net around his target. Has one of the most nearly happy endings in any of LeCarre's books.




Teleportation Accident by Scott B. Smith
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Honorable Schoolboy
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another bleak LeCarre novel. This book represents something of a transition from his early works. In those books the Western spies might use truly terrible means in a sort of Special Circumstances way, but they were at least fighting against Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, and there is a sense that basically anything would be preferrable to the enemy. In this book it is not at all clear who the enemy is, and the focus is more on internal corruption, greed, and self-serving, and the human cost paid by individuals caught up in these struggles. In some ways it reminds me of the Wire, and in general the characters who get caught up by the intelligence services fare about as well those drawn into the criminal justice system in the Wire.




The Red Knight
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

I asked my friend for trashy fantasy books, and he gave me this. He was right on the money. This is basically the novelization of a D&D campaign, something like Keep on the Borderlands, and it works for about the first 300 pages. There are a few editing missteps ("ears" instead of "years")", and a few descriptions which weren't really thought all the way though (describing a pretty lady with long eye lashes, he writes that ~"she could lick her eyelashes with her tongue", which raises all sorts of questions). Overall though the first part is a good fantasy yarn. Unfortunately the book goes on for another 300 pages after that, and the adventures get very repetitive, and then there is another 70 pages of denouement/setup for the next book. It's all a bit much and ruined any chance the book had for a 4 star rating.




Vampire$
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An adventure book about hunting vampires in the 1980's. Has weird gender and religious politics, and a hilarious eroge interlude in the middle of the book, but the action sequences are of an enjoyable quality.




Personality Disorders and Other Stories by Juan Jose Millas Garcia
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Sharps by K.J. Parker
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A delightful book. At its best it takes the gritty-sword-and-shield action of Glen Cook and combines it with something approaching the fecund and inventive world building of Ian Banks. I'm not sure that the plot quite holds together under examination, but the individual scenes are generally great fun to read. In particular, Parker does a great job with the fencing scenes which are the heart of the book.




MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Short stories about the government agency that fights Kaiju (Godzilla type monsters) which periodically invade Japan. The stories are written like Saturday morning cartoons, using light and broad strokes. The stories are generally enjoyable but not too deep.




Godslayer (The Sundering, #2) by Jacqueline Carey
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

I know I am giving up all of my GoodReads cred by saying this, but I liked this book a lot. To repeat my review of _BaneWreaker_, this is a well done Sauron apologetic which re-arranges the original story in interesting ways while still managing to be its own tale.

As a small example, take the cover page of the book. You have your generic fantasy title, which ends up referring to something completely different than you would think. You have a noble white stallion (a Shadowfax analog), which used to be our protagonist's favorite horse, until Gandalf stole it and brainwashed it. And then you have the Gandalf-analog, who is a complete ass. He is like the snooty, too-perfect British suitor in a Rom-Com; there is basically no scene where you are not rooting for him to get stabbed.

This book isn't on the same level as Beowulf/Grendel, but it is still a fast-paced and enjoyable read that manages to turn its fantasy-cliche vices into virtues.




Banewreaker (The Sundering, #1) by Jacqueline Carey
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

This is by far the best Sauron apologetic that I have read. While there is not an exact mapping, the characters and events in the book are clearly modeled after the The Hobbit and The LoTR, with just a bit of Covenant and other fantasy mixed in. However, the focus of the story has shifted completely, so that the reader is in the boots of the Orcs/Banelords/Dusky Easterners, and facing the threat of renewed Gondorian/Elven aggression.

Despite drawing so directly on Tolkien, this is still very much its own story. It presents a fantasy world closer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, where both sides have grievances that go back to the First Age of Man. And the Mordor side is never a caricature; the author does a good job of portraying their affections, values, and viewpoint in such a way that you root for them at least as much as opposing side. The various events and set-pieces have also been moved around, so that while you might know the events that will happen, you are not sure of when they will happen, or who will fill which role. For example, mid-way through the book I was terribly anxious that the Gandalf-analog would carry out a Helm's Deep type charge from behind, ruining the plans of our heroes and their orcish army. Something else happened, but still, half the fun of the book is re-arranging the various puzzle pieces of known events and trying to guess how they will be arranged into the story.

Another selling point to the book is that it is much more straight forward than the original. Characters are clear and distinctive, and events move at a fast pace. Rather than rambling on about elven poetry, this book dives straight into the strategic/magical balance of power. Altogether delightful, assuming you are into this sort of thing.




The Killing of Worlds (Succession, #2) by Scott Westerfeld
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A perfectly enjoyable and fast-reading space opera. One third of the book goes to space battles, one third to politics/world building, and one third to surprisingly non-terrible romances. The world building and sci-fi elements are well thought out, meaty, and occasionally clever. They aren't as brilliant as you would find in M. Banks, and there are occasional mis-steps (authors, please stop mixing psionics in with your sci-fi stories! Keep the psychics in the fantasy ghetto! Thank you!), but overall the story doesn't make you feel dumb when you read and enjoy it. Oh, and the big reveal at the end was a bit underwhelming. Still, it seems like a solid foundation for a new series.




The Risen Empire (Succession, #1) by Scott Westerfeld
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A perfectly enjoyable and fast-reading space opera. One third of the book goes to space battles, one third to politics/world building, and one third to surprisingly non-terrible romances. The world building and sci-fi elements are well thought out, meaty, and occasionally clever. They aren't as brilliant as you would find in M. Banks, and there are occasional mis-steps (authors, please stop mixing psionics in with your sci-fi stories! Keep the psychics in the fantasy ghetto! Thank you!), but overall the story doesn't make you feel dumb when you read and enjoy it.




Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An extremely engaging, informative, and detailed history of the Civil War. I read the first 200 pages straight through, which is usually something that happens with trashy fantasy novels, not histories of the US politics of 1830-1860. The book has great quotations and excellent maps. I also found it to be an enjoyably inflammatory book; after that first 200 pages I was completely ready to join the Union army and shoot Confederates. I think this might finally be the book that cements the history of the Civil War in my mind.




Dies the Fire (Emberverse, #1) by S.M. Stirling
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Terrible. God-awful. Racist. Cliched, like literally adventurers-meet-in-a-tavern cliched. Fellates SCA people like Cory Doctrow does IT people. These are a few of the things I thought while reading the first part of this book.




The Russia House by John le Carre
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles C. Mann
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Cancer Ward by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

In many ways, this is the same book as _In the First Circle_. In both books, plot is mostly tossed out in favor of dozens of slices of life from various people in a collective. It's difficult to identify a common tone of these snapshots, since each character has their own viewpoint and circumstances. A muddled grey maybe? This time the setting is a Soviet cancer ward rather than a Soviet gulag, but the cheerfulness of the stories is about the same.

After reading 750 pages of slice-of-life in _First Circle_, I'm not sure that I needed another 500 pages from _The Cancer Ward_. There are some differences between the books, but they're mostly negative. Both books are semi-auto-biographical, but in _Cancer Ward_ the author's stand in graduates from bit player to main character, and gets a third of the total pages. This is unfortunate since while the author is not bad, he's not really the most interesting character in the book, and his sections veer between seeming somewhat Mary Suish, to taking the piss out of himself. Again, I'm not quite sure what to make of it, whether it is an author who has started to buy into his own fame, an unsparing self portrait, or maybe a self portrait that was meant to be flattering but comes across to modern, enlightened readers such as myself as unflattering. While the author's writing benefits from his lived experiences, he is pretty much a 1950's Russian nationalist with some Tolstoy thrown in, and I don't really know that I need to read his more general musings. Or to put it another way, I do appreciate the experiences he has brought back from the extremes, but don't think he has that much to say about the more everyday parts of life.

There are excellent chapters in this book, and there are themes that it covers that are different from the other gulag novels. And _Cancer Ward_ is a somewhat more optimistic book, in that Stalin has died and past repressions are being rolled back. Still, I can't say that this book produced much in me besides a general feeling of malaise.




In the First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A depressing book, but high quality and occasionally quite moving. The First Circle refers to a system of gulags for the engineers who are too useful to be sent to hard-labor camps. Those in the First Circle of hell enjoy a measure of safety and physical comfort, in exchange for working on technical projects for Stalin's regime. The book itself is a 48-hour window into the lives of those engineers and the people around them. Generally, each of the 50+ characters will get one PoV chapter, and the book covers not just engineers, but also wives, girlfriends, security officers, janitors, administrators, and party bosses. There is a plot to the book, but it is rather slight and incidental. The majority of the book's 750 pages consists of camp stories and life histories from those under the regime.

These life histories are well done, and they take a foreign and confused time and make it vivid and real. At its best, the book manages to convey and make real the immense human potential that was squandered by the regime. The author spent 10 years in the gulag system, and that lived experience comes through in his writing and in a wealth of small details. For engineers, this book will have an extra piquance, as there are many recognizable scenarios from your own life in the book. There are tech demos, schedule estimation meetings with the boss, and being called away from interesting work in order to attend Human Resources Communist Party meetings. Of course, each these scenarios in the book has its own special Stalinist flavor.

I feel like a bit of an asshole for not giving this book 5 stars, however the high points of the book were too diluted with writing that was merely good. There were too many characters for me to keep track of their interrelations, and this was compounded by the short PoV time for each character, as well as the fact that each Russian apparently has 5 different names. I also felt a slight disconnect from the story in many places, which I think is partially due to the fact that it is translation, and partially due to the fact that it is from a different culture. So in that sense I couldn't appreciate the nuances as much I could with someone like Nabokov.




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