Sunday, December 26, 2010

Discord and Unincorporated

"Discord's Apple" had a great premise: what if you inherited- albeit against your will- a basement full of the artifacts discussed in a dozen different mythologies? What I didn't expect was graphic sexuality, and how author Carrie Vaughn moved the premise from the core of the story to the background. I wanted to explore more of what that basement contained and how it got that way, but the heroine soon faces a ruthless opponent and gains some mythological help, and before you know it the story comes to a chaotic conclusion that was well written, but not very satisfying for me. I want to rate this one higher, but despite some great ideas and creative presentations, I had a hard time really enjoying this one as much as I wanted to. Flawed? Yes, but original and showing promise. 25 /42 Richmans,

Now why did I have to try to read the Kollin brothers (Eytan and Dani) fine "the Unincorporated Man" three times? Because the copy I told the library was missing 40 pages was not repaired; it was just put right back into circulation. This happened three times. Finally, I got past page 92. It's great, but does it have new classic status? Let's run through the checklist.
*A detailed and bold vision of the future? Yah.
*A part of the book that will stay with you? Oh my, will the VR plague issues be with me.
*Will I want to read it again? Er... maybe.
*Moral and Philosphical messages? A great deal; in fact the comparisons to Heinline are very apt- no sci-fi work since "Starship Troopers" has had so much political theory disguised as sci-fi plot. And therefore, people might really hate this book.

But as great sci-fi does, it raises questions about the dangers of technology- both those that will affect the body and those that will affect the mind. It may not have the action that some readers want, and it has its slow spots. But one thing never happens when you read this- you never feel that the reality in which the characters live is anything less than real. So what score does this rank? Does it break into the fabled 40's? Not yet. For now, I'm giving the book a probationary 36/42. This book is many things- a warning about the dangers of technologies headed our way, about the nature of corporations and freedom, and a bit of adventure. It's rich sci-fi with a message, and worthy the late night ours . But will I read it again? Not for a long time, which along with some of the slow moving political theory is what keeps "Unincorporated" out of the 40's. But don't let that stop you from reading it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A book like a decent steak.... rich and meaty!

Meaty? A book? Well, yes. “Empire in Black and Gold” has substance to it- you can sink your teeth into this one. Complex characters? Not too much backstory, but yet they are developed. Action? You got it. Betrayal? Yup. Combat? You Betcha! And the endless variety of insect-related groups keeps the unique aspect of the book fresh. Adrain Tchaikovsky’s first volume in the “Shadows of the Apt” series is a fun one, one you can tear into, like a large sized, simple steak served without fancy crap like blue cheese or chipotle reduction. Good, solid meaty stuff- creative settings but not a world that requires half a book to understand. Plot: one good man, grown old, and his students against an evil empire-- and those in danger will not listen to his warnings. Good premise, mixed into a world of insect-styled people and machinery of all sorts. No, it won’t haunt you after you read it; it won’t leave you changed, and you probably won’t need to re-read it down the road. But you’ll want to read the sequel, that’s for sure. 28.5/42 Richmans- tasty, rich, not too complex, but full of flavor. That extra half point is earned by great pacing and smooth reading.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Bujoldian fun

How to talk about a great book that might not match up to the knockout work of its predecessors? Eeeeeech. ? It's tricky. I mean "Cryoburn" is fun. The writing is smooth, Miles is manic as usual and the story keeps moving at a fine pace. Speaking of writing, in this volume of the Miles Vorkosigan saga, Louis McMaster Bujold flows from several points of view with ease- other authors try the same stuff and fall flat- not here. It's a bit annoying that with the stakes a bit lower than inter-planetary war, the story's level of tension doesn't ratchet up as high as some of Miles' earlier adventures. Miles seems comfortable in his Auditor role, so he's not struggling for the personal goals that drove him on for so long; this means the book has less emotional punch overall than earlier Vorkosigan books or the fantastic "Chalion" (rated at 41 Richmans). So this is not the best of the Vorkosigan books. I'm still going to re-read it down the road. I'll take something from Bujold that is less than perfect than the best efforts of a lot of other authors. And I'm ready for the next Miles Adventure- or anything else Lois writes next. "Cryoburn" gets 31.5/42 Richmans.

The motto on Vermont's liscense plates.

Where to start with "Live Free or Die" by John Ringo? It's been a long time since I read a book so chock full of creative sections and ideas, and yet at the same time lags and feels repetitive a few times. Like the end of Peter Jackson's film version of "Return of the King," there are many spots where one is sure things are going to wrap up, and then the story moves on again. The book is inventive, has a good sense of humor and a clear political message that keeps running through the narrative. There are plenty of surprises, including one far-fetched event that seems to have been dropped in from an old erotic stories posting on usenet (it has to do with blonds- don't worry, that won't spoil anything). Is it worth reading? Sure, if you are looking for a bit of creative adventure mixed humanity's first steps into the galaxy. I kept reading the thing to the end, if only to see how Ringo wrapped up the story. Tighter pacing would have made this far more difficult to put down. The uneven pacing threw me off, but the creativity drew me back.
24 out of 42 Richmans.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Well, that was depressing. Which is good.

When Orson Scott Card says ""This is the golden age of fantasy, with a dozen masters doing their best work. Then along comes Ken Scholes, with his amazing clarity, power, and invention, and shows us all how it's done.... I wish all five volumes of this series were already published so I could read them now", you expect something astounding. Well, Schole's "Lamentation" almost fully lives up to Card's high praise. The writing is excellent to the point where even when you know what may happen to characters down the road since they are archetypes, you don't care, since they are written so well. What keeps the book from "New Classic" status? Well, maybe because it is a book about the destruction of a city in a world where humanity is already recovering from a whole mess of apocalypsing. Or maybe its hard to love a book so filled with scheming characters and haunted heroes. And the book's style, which involved jumping from character to character was something I found kind of jarring. But it is a book you can dive into very easily- and a strong ending that leaves you knowing a sequel is coming. Solid. 28.5/42 Richmans.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

So what is it? and ... Imager #3

There's no magic involved. Aristocrats and schisms, yes. And yes, there is a faith very close to Christianity and a setting very close to western Europe. Medieval facets of life, such as a Doge and a Jewish Ghetto are part of the landscape. But no wizards, no powers- aside from talents for violence and political disaster. So, not exactly historical fiction, nor fantasy, "The Left Hand of God" by Paul Hoffman manages to be a damn fine read regardless. Given gruesome surroundings at the start, young Thomas Cale is a hero with a skill for battle- and a few other things. I'm saying nothing else about the plot here, but the writing is descriptive, with bits of narration peppering a tight and descriptive flow. Worth reading? Yes, with a firm 29/42 Richmans standing behind it.

L. E. Modesitt's "Imager" series is also set in a world that echoes medieval Europe. With this third volume, "Imager's Intrigue," our hero is thrust ever deeper into a lethal world of politics and... hey, this book is a lot like the first two. There's suspense, threats to the nation and the life of the hero Rhenn, and of course, now he's married to his long-time love. In this volume, the stakes are raised as are Rhenn's responsibilities. While perhaps not as thunderous in it's conclusion, it still is a solid read, with 28/42 Richmans. If you were a fan of the first two of the "Imager" series, this one will still be quite satisfying. Probably.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Geinies and Heven: Two bits of summer reading

First, let's be honest: Mark L. Van Name's name has got to be one of those few that gets you to look at the book twice. Wait- his name is Van Name? Really? And then there is his third entry in "Jon & Lobo" series, where interplanetary trouble keeps finding the skilled mercenary Jon, a man from the forbidden planet pinkleponker (yes, that's right). He is of course teamed up with the Lobo, the obnoxious self-aware space-craft, and once again they are blowing up everything in sight to get to the really, really bad guy in "Overthrowing Heaven." For it's blend of unusual planets, real characters, and of course, good dashes of wit, it earns 26.5/42 Richmans.

Next up: " Master of None" by first time author Sonya Bateman. A thief who is bad at what he is and a djinn who wants nothing more than to have nothing to do with said thief are the duo at the hart of this book about stealing artifacts, honor among thieves, and of course, Genies. There are some seriously creative ideas here, and a tempo that moves the book along very quickly, but things do get a bit gory. Reading it made me wish the "here's what a djinn really can do" lasted a bit longer, but others may find the book dragged in other sections. I can't put a finger on it, but something was off in this book that kept it from really wowing me. A strong first showing and worth a read at 24/42 Richmans.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Out of Print. Out of this world? Why, yes.

So, as I mentioned on vacation, Piers Anthony wrote a sci-fi series in the early 1980's that was not only a grand solar system epic but also very... adult, enough to shock most Xanth saga fans. But that 's what Bio of a Space Tyrant, a five volume series now out of print, is: grand sci-fi with adult themes- lots of politics, lots of planets, lots of space sex. What's not to like?

Used copies are worth tracking down. I'm leaving this set unrated since I read it over 20 years ago, but I remember liking it a great deal- and not just for the naughty bits. You can read a nice wiki entry about it here.

Warded Man, Desert Spear.

I walked past the book The Warded Man at least six different occasions, and each time thought "enh, maybe next time I'm at the library." Finally, I grabbed it. Peter V. Brett's book is called "The Painted Man" outside the US for some reason, but regardless of which version, it's a solid fantasy novel. Always key with good fantasy is a magical system that can be followed, but is not completely revealed (keeping it magical, if you will). Both the sequel, The Desert Spear, and the first book have such a system and the many other qualities needed in a good fantasy. Almost epic, the first book really has three stages, feeling a bit like YA reading at first, like solid YA fantasy in the middle, and shifting to an almost "Tarran Wanderer" feel for the end. The second book lags a bit when working through its secondary plot line, and the anti-hero aspects of the hero are a bit annoying, but even with those problems the book is a page-turner with plenty of oomph.

Rating for "The Warded Man" and its sequel: 33/42 and 29/42Richmans. Solid!

Well now, this sounds like fun.

I know you've read Scalzi's "Whatever" blog now and then, and his "Big Idea" posts are a real kindness to both readers (ooooh! something new!) and authors (oooooh! read my book!). Not everything posted there grabs my attention, but Discord's Apple, by Carrie Vaughn, seems to be a solid work just waiting to be consumed.

Scalzi's entry is here. The first chapter of the book is here.