Category Archives: Words

Bloodlines

I know mostly all I do is complain about being behind and/or working constantly. But here’s my point. I read another Deathlands book, right? This is the book I take camping because I might finish one or two over a long weekend, all while helping with a giant fireworks show plus explosion, and also getting up to who knows what all manner of shenanigans. (I mean, I know, but this is a public forum, of however limited readership.)

It took me a month to read Bloodlines. A month. Something has got to change, somehow. There are too many books in the world for me to take a month on a book that has otherwise taken me a day.

Also, you might argue, there are too many books in the world to read the Deathlands at all. And, well. Maybe, but this is an old argument. Especially now that this book has turned the entire series on its head. Because up until now, this has been nonstop science fiction for people who think they are gun-and-sex apocalyptic enthusiasts. (Or, if you’re me, occasional gun porn for people who are apocalypse-and-sex science fiction enthusiasts. But unlike the people it’s actually for, I’m not fooling myself.) But as of this book, they have thrown horror into the mix.

Specifically, Louisiana vampires. How weird is that? But let’s be honest, it’s the mid 1990s now (adjusted for publication date), it was a weird time.

Does this mean that around 2010 the series will introduce comic superheroes? (I’m pretty sure it definitely means that around 2003, the series will introduce zombies. Maybe sooner.)

 

 

Grave Peril revisited

Last week / weekend was a big driving vacation (let’s say) to GenCon. Which was cool and completely exhausting but I think pretty cool, but I’m really disappointed that I never managed to do anything much towards getting in on any games. I will be a little choosier about getting involved with something on the next con with signups that I go to. (Which is probably most of them, but not so much BGG.)

None of that is important, of course, except for how it left time to finish an audiobook during the drive, hooray! Grave Peril is I think the book where Butcher found his footing, at least from a plotting perspective. It’s not that the plot of the book is outstanding in some way. If anything, it’s a little bit overly convoluted. What I mean is that I’m finally seeing the seeds of a long term story for the series, as of this book. Not “oh, hey, these characters come back later” so much as “oh, wow, that felt like foreshadowing for things I read in the most recent book or two”. Also, this being a reread, I should probably elaborate along a few axes, below a cut perhaps? Sure, why not.

But first: timeline update. This one is set almost exactly a year after the last one, so we are now in October of Year 1 (granted a starting point of May (I think?) of Year 0). We are first introduced to Michael as well as to the concept of a holy sword of God, which… I’m still not sure how I feel about angels and demons co-existing alongside fae and being from the outer realms. But it hasn’t made me want to kick the books down the stairs, so I guess that’s alright?

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Fables: Cubs in Toyland

Someday, I will write a review that does not start off discussing how far behind I am and how that’s highly unlikely to change. Today is certainly not that day, in that, at the end of a week of work, I got maybe halfway through my list of tickets once, and I’m positive that a lot of them are waiting on me to do work to proceed. Which is why I never read, which is why I’m actually not very far behind, or wouldn’t be if I hadn’t been on a long drive that included finishing an audiobook. But this is not about that.

As you will no doubt remember, most of my graphic novel reading lately has been Fables, for the purpose of getting caught up to the Unwritten / Fables crossover of 2015[1], in case there are any spoilers. Which there probably won’t be anyway, but why would I voluntarily do that to myself? So now I’ve ready Cubs in Toyland, which gets me to only a year and a half behind where I need to be. Cool?

This is an interlude book for the majority of characters, since the most recent big bad remains thoroughly defeated and the traps he has set remain unsprung, and nor has any new big bad reared a head. But it is a critical book for the offspring of Bigby Wolf and Snow White. One of the seven has recently been named the new North Wind[2], and the others are at loose ends trying to figure out what they are meant to be. Which is all fine and good, until one of them is swept into a far darker version of the Babes in Toyland story than I would have expected.

It’s a good book, though, and I continue to care what happens. 18 volumes in, not counting 10 or more side books / spinoffs, that’s a pretty good record.

[1] I know. I know.
[2] Probably this is tangentially spoilery, so don’t read more if you care about that. (If you did care you’d be reading the books I expect, but.) Bigby is the son of the former North Wind, and he does not want the job, and also it is apparently a genetically inherited position. Thusly. Is the North Wind important? Man, I don’t know, but I will say that the Winds are pretty dang powerful / primal forces, even by Fable standards. So, now you know.

Night of Knives

This is where the Malazan books get logistically weird. Because, see, Erikson had a fellow gamer partner back in the early ’80s or whenever they were building this world, which is ultimately my point, that the world builder behind the Malazan books is a they. And apparently the dividing line they have drawn is that Erikson writes about the Malazan Empire in decline[1], whereas Ian Esslemont writes about the Malazan Empire in ascension. Well, he does eventually. In a trilogy written later than this one.

Night of Knives is ostensibly about the Malazan Empire on the cusp of decline. That is to say, it is about the specific night when the Emperor Kellanved (but don’t say his name, just in case) died, or was deposed, or was assassinated, or if some darker rumor about what happened is the truth. (He said, nobly avoid spoilers from Gardens of the Moon.) But I said ostensibly, because it’s really about new characters reacting to the events of those twenty-four hours on Malaz Island, birthplace of an empire turned sleepy backwater port town that nobody has cared about in decades, that night when strange things were afoot that happens every so often in the island’s mythology, that night when the realm of Shadow is closest, when the Deadhouse stirs, when everything is ripe for a Really Big Event. Such as an emperor’s fall. Or whatever happened.

So. I liked the new characters, and I hope that the five sequels to this book that are as far as I know still set on that cusp I mentioned do something interesting with them. I liked a little bit more plain talk about the history of the empire; while it’s Erikson’s strength that he throws you into the world without a life preserver and trusts you to tread water until you discover the joy of swimming, it’s his weakness that he sometimes forgets to eventually throw you a life preserver anyway, because joy doesn’t cancel tiredness[2]. Or, this was always Esslemont’s story to tell, and Erikson has simply been staying out of the way for something like half of the series. Like I said in the first place, it’s really very strange having another person play in a world-building sandbox, without it being slash turning into a farmed industry a la Star Wars.

[1] Obviously it’s not ultimately anywhere near as simple as that, but it is absolutely the launching point of the series.
[2] To my surprise, I’m still happy with that metaphor upon review.

Alien III

Meanwhile, another Audible dramatic presentation, because that’s a thing I do now? It’s not really my fault, both of these were monthly freebie giveaways, and I still haven’t finished the Malazan side book I’m reading, due mostly to the previously mentioned horror show that is my professional life. Although to be fair, I would have spent a hard-earned credit on this one.

The thing is, I don’t really like Alien3. I mean, as a horror movie it’s actually fine, and as an Alien franchise movie, well, the truth is I like the world so much that I cannot fairly judge the film’s individual merits, but I’m pretty sure I like it in that context too. But I absolutely hate it as a sequel to Aliens, because it undoes everything that movie accomplished, from a character perspective. Hey, says James Cameron, let’s give the Final Girl from Alien a tragic backstory, where she loses her entire family over this mess because she’s lost in stasis for over fifty years, and now her daughter, older than Ripley and a grandmother in her own right hates and resents her over something Ripley had no control over. And then let’s send her to an amazing showdown with the creatures that took everything away from her, and have her claw her way back to a family of her own, over the corpses of the family members of the alien bitch that took it all away in the first place. That is narrative gold, and even as much as people mostly approve of Aliens, I still think it is badly underestimated. Top five movie, probably.

And then Alien Cubed comes along and says, haha, nope, what family, they all died in a random crash landing because all we really care about is Ripley v Alien, character development is for other genres. So yeah. In context, I really loathe the movie.

Enter William Gibson, who apparently wrote a script for Alien III, which for reasons unknown to me was disregarded in favor of the dreck above. If I had to guess, it’s because he delved a little too deeply into the corporatist framework of the previous two movies. Which, I mean, is what you expect out of the father of cyberpunk, right? Anyway, I had heard someone mention that his screenplay was floating around the internet, but I never got around to seeking it out. And now, I no longer need to!

The audiobook version is really just a movie performance without the images. So they spend a little more time dialoguing descriptions of what they can see to each other over the radio, which means a little less time in quiet claustrophobic scenes that drag on just long enough to stay scary. It weighs in at a little under two hours, and while there are aspects I would have tinkered with here and there, I am left saddened that I never got to see this movie, and even moreso that I will never get to see or hear its sequels. Because not only is it a better concept for a movie, it’s a better world-building trajectory for the Alien franchise than we will ever see.

Dodge and Twist

To be honest, I’m not even sure Dodge and Twist qualifies as a thing I review. It’s in a weird netherzone heretofore unexplored. Because it’s a book without a book. In a dim forgotten age, it would have been a radio drama played out in half hour segments over a series of weekly appointments with the local PBS affiliate. But here in modernity, I got it with one of my Audible credits because I had so much new stuff to read between Malazan installments. So, does that even count as a book? I still can’t decide, but a full paragraph in, I may as well finish as scrap the whole thing, right?

This is a sequel of sorts to Oliver Twist, a book with which I am somewhat familiar without having really ever read it. Like, I know the first half pretty well from summary kidbooks, where the boy who wants more food at the workhouse eventually falls in with a master criminal who is more of a petty thief through our eyes, and also a murderous guy and his tragic girlfriend, and most importantly the Artful Dodger, best of the pickpockets in Fagin’s child criminal army. How or why the book ends, though, I could not tell you. Did I never finish the kidbook version? Was the story boring once all the pickpocketing interludes were over, and so I’ve forgotten? Who knows!

Anyway, now it’s twelve years later, and our characters (those still alive) are brought back together by circumstance, with stand-ins aplenty for the characters who are not (still alive, that is). Will Oliver be corrupted this time? Will Dodger have a brilliant plan for the biggest heist of all time? Will everyone sound terribly British? The answers may surprise you! …I mean, probably not though.

The biggest upside, of course, is that this sequel was in fact not written by Charles Dickens. But that’s because it’s a really big upside. At 5 hours, this was not a huge investment, and I liked the return. Plus also, now I have a slightly better idea of how the original book ended. Only slightly, but still.

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Walking Dead: The Rotten Core

I feel bad using the horror tag by default on The Rotten Core, simply because it’s a Walking Dead book. Because this is I think the most political the series has ever been. Not to mention, and this will be a spoiler, so in the unlikely event you are worried about that, skip to the next paragraph: not only did nobody die to a zombie attack in the book, but I’m pretty sure this is the first book where that’s true. I may be wrong, but it’s for sure the first book where it stands out.

Anyway, the political thing. I mean that both in terms of the treacherous political waters that are being navigated, and in terms of how in your face actual political stances are. Which is… maybe less true than I think.

See, the people we know in their many local-to-Virginia/DC communities are now in discussions and mutual goodwill tours with a much larger, much more stable community to the west, called the Commonwealth. And it’s not exactly bold to come out against the idea that people are to be frozen in their social status for the foreseeable future / but really the rest of their lives. At the same time, coming out against a police state is… well, it at least shouldn’t be a bold position either, but hi, 2019!

I guess it’s good to see Kirkman actually reinventing the series a little bit after all, because, well. The same plotline for the fourth time in a row would be a bit much.

NOTE: I have not ruled out that this will become the same plotline in a row for the fourth time.

The Ruin of Kings

This was a strange experience.

First, the fact that I got into a new fantasy series on release day of book one. Who does that?? Nobody, is who. But I have a friend whose business is book stuff (recapping mostly), and I read the first quarter or so of the book online via her recaps, and it was enough to make me want the book after all. So, I am a fool and here we are.

Second, the way I read it. Which was very slowly, for no compelling reason. The last handful of chapters, in which everything is rushing towards climax and upturning everything you thought you knew? That should have been a voracious two hours instead of the two weeks it was in fact. When I say I’m just not good at reading anymore, I think what I mean is that my job is draining too much out of me, and that it actually has nothing to do with reading. At least I’m still soldiering on, instead of becoming, at this late date, a wildly different person than I have ever before been. Slow is good enough, I guess?

That was a lot of words that were largely not about The Ruin of Kings, so I guess I need to shift gears.

The first thing to understand… no, I already covered that. Book one of a projected five book series, and it was released a couple of months ago, maybe? So, you are warned. The first non-warning thing to understand is that this is quite a bit more intricate than the average. Part one is told in a series of disjointed parallel flashbacks, and it lasts for 90 percent of the book. Then, part two goes completely off the rails, which I am going to deem not a spoiler because if an epic fantasy doesn’t go off the rails in the last few chapters of the first book, that is what would be a spoiler to mention. I mean, really now.

The second thing to understand is that the reliability of the narration is highly questionable. I already know that the book benefits from a reread to go back and untangle truth from falsehood from error, and I’m willing to bet that this will be true again after subsequent books in the series. Maybe not, as it’s… well, I’m not sure what stand-alone even means in this context. There is obviously more story to tell, and it is equally obvious that the central conundrum of the series has barely been scratched, and at best mostly revealed instead of just partially. (Or in error. As you can see. I’m not sure yet.) But at the same time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion after a satisfactory arc, both for the principle characters and for the principle events. So I was going to say that it’s fairly stand-alone, and this could result in the final outcome being trustworthy and not to be rewritten in the future. But I honestly expect my perspective to shift more rather than less.

Anyway. It’s a good book, and it’s separately a well-constructed plot, about which I remain interested right now, and would probably read the next book immediately if I had it. It is not so good that I would willingly encourage anyone to read it knowing that it isn’t finished. (There are maybe two books that I would, and maybe only the one, so that’s not really a knock against this. It’s just mean to make someone read a story that might never end, or might outlive its author.)

If you do read it, though, Leigh’s reread is still going. So that’s cool.