Category Archives: Words

Peace Talks

The first thing to say about the new Dresden Files book is, unfortunately, damned near the only thing to say about it. Peace Talks is half of a book.[1] I don’t mean that it ends on a cliffhanger, although it does that. (And I think it may be the only book in the series that has ever done that, including Changes.) I mean that things I want to talk about, although they would be spoilers, I can’t. Well, I could in person, if it were a TV show and we were on the same episode, or if the person I was reading along with was on approximately the same chapter.

But I can’t say that Harry’s actions lack [spoiler here] in a review of the book, because maybe they stop lacking that spoiler a few chapters from now, in the second half of the story. That’s what I mean when I say it’s half a book. The main plot advanced to a cliffhanger, which is fine, and one interpersonal plot actually found resolution that has been waiting for something like sixteen books, which is, uh, pretty awesome. But the mystery of the week plot is just as big of a mystery as it was when it came onto the scene, and the other interpersonal plots are just as half-baked, and how do I review the book when I don’t know whether my complaints will be addressed in the second half of it or not, until I’ve read that half?

[1] The good news is, less than 60 days until the second half is released.

Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch

I first read Good Omens while I was in college, I reckon, based on recommendation and the brand recognition of one Terry Pratchett. So, years before I’d read Sandman or otherwise knew anything about one Neil Gaiman. Finding it now, of course, I would be ecstatic about the collaboration between two such giants, with possibly Gaiman tilting the scale even more?

Anyway, though, I think I only read it the once, which is to say 25 years ago[1], so once I recently learned there was a television adaptation, well. I think I saw all of the first episode rather than part? But for sure no more than that before I acknowledged that I would probably get more out of the show with familiarity, and anyway I had recently finished my current Malazan listen and was in the middle of a Hobb trilogy, which made it impossible to read the next physical book in the Malazan world anytime soon, so hey, time to switch audiobooks to something immediately useful!

“Immediately.” Ha.

Because, you see, a bit over halfway through this fairly short book (12 and a half hours), I no longer had a daily commute. Or much reason to drive literally anywhere at all, but especially in the car by myself. (Good god, my podcasting queue has swelled.) This is probably the least meaningful side-effect of Covid (to me personally I mean, much less to you who reads these words), but it doesn’t stop it being annoying.

But all that to say, I finished the damn book finally, and I do have a handful of scattered thoughts:

  1. Although clearly dated from a technological perspective, the story is otherwise still more timely than not. One supposes that this will always be true of the apocalypse?
  2. The casting of David Tennant as Crowley was an inspired choice. Having just heard the book, I can backfill him into my mental image at any moment and he works perfectly.
  3. The narration, as almost always since I started listening to these, was a) mostly excellent with the caveat that b) the producer or director or sound engineer or whoever makes the choice to edit out pauses needs to be given a crash course in how books are presented. It is always a good idea to let the reader know that a tonal shift of some kind has occurred, whether it be change of viewpoint character, narrator, or scene. Just a second’s pause to let us know something changed. Why is this so hard?
  4. I wish I had a good way to know who wrote what. My instinct is to assign plot to Gaiman[2], humor to Pratchett, with biting social commentary split between them. But of course I have no way to really know.
  5. That said: the four other horsemen subplot goes ultimately nowhere at all and accomplishes nothing except humor, but not nearly enough of that to justify its existence. So I wish I knew who to blame there.

Anyway, it’s a good to occasionally great book, even thirty years after publication, and I’m pretty excited to watch the adaptation now. Six episodes, which seems like plenty enough? We’ll see! …well, I will anyway. It’s not like I’ll eventually report back or anything.

[1] goddammit
[2] This is not a shot at Pratchett’s plotting, nor is the other a shot at Gaiman’s humor. It’s just that it does feel like a Gaiman-style plot overall, and also he does not focus on things being specifically funny, in the general sense.

The Healthy Dead

So yay, I finally finished my Malazan short novels collection, which you may remember (although, notably, I did not) I wasn’t so sure about continuing, because of a certain moral brokenness to the second story. So, good news: the third story was not like that. (Bad news: since I read those two out of order, I can’t consider the trendline broken.)

The Healthy Dead was, however, pretty silly. It staked out a position against zealotry related to exercise, good eating, and other aspects of bodily morality, and then… do you know how sometimes authors can draw up fully-realized characters on both sides of an issue and let them fight it out, and while you maybe know the author’s opinion, the debate as written was a fair one? This was not that.

It was also, thankfully, not axe-grindy, since it was written for comedic value and largely worked on that level. But you can definitely tell, underneath it, that the axe exists to be ground. Plus, Erikson’s inability to write good bit characters in his short work continues apace, which is bizarre since he is one of the best I’ve seen at fleshing out throwaway characters in his longer work.

My best guess is that he is so enamored of Bauchelain and Emancipor Reese (and I suppose of Korbal Broach, in a different way (I hope! For my part, it was nice to not see much of him in this story)) that he jealously guards them from losing the spotlight to any minor characters in their own stories.

To sum up: this is a cute little story with almost nothing to recommend it save the force of personality of its main characters, but as I usually tend to like them, that is enough to recommend it to me. But I’ll remain perfectly happy to get back to the big story.

If It Bleeds

I don’t know if you know this about very small children, but they take up a lot of your time. That’s not the only reason the number of books I’ve read in the past month totals one, but it’s definitely high up on the list. But: when Stephen King arrives on my doorstep, I persevere and do the thing.

If It Bleeds is a novella collection whose stories are each largely concerned with mortality. Which is certainly timely, although I’m not sure it’s what I would have asked for as my leisure reading during the [first?] summer of Covid-19. But it also makes sense that an aging prolific author is thinking about death. Like, natural causes death, not horror fiction death, which to be fair he has always been thinking about.

The title story has the least to do with this theme; it is instead another Holly Gibney mystery story, and I liked it, but it’s hard to feel like it belonged. But weighing in at half the length of the book, it was good to not overstuff it into a full-sized book, and it had to go somewhere? As for the other stories: The Life of Chuck was the most ambitious, and while I don’t think it quite hit the mark, I have a lot of respect for the story it was trying to tell. Mr. Harrigan’s Phone continues King’s fascination with the dark cracks in modern technology through which supernatural horror can slip. And Rat is yet another in a long line of stories about authors in dire straits. But, well, write what you know, I’m told? And he is pretty good at that particular topic!

Anyway: if you ever thought he had it, he’s still got it.

The Expectant Father: The Ultimate Guide for Dads-to-Be, part two

A number of months ago, I had read half(-ish) of a book, and reviewed it, in part because reading a book for nine plus months makes it hard to review the whole thing after that long, and in part by way of announcement. This review is not by way of any additional announcement; I have simply finished The Expectant Father.

For the most part, my initial review stands. There’s a lot of good information here, some questionable information, and a few things that are maybe bad. The authors source a great deal of their information, and cross-reference back and forth within the book as well. But every once in a while, Armin Brott’s anecdotal style goes off the rails when he makes a point of generalizing that anything he happened to do to make his wife unhappy during once of her pregnancies into ironclad advice for all fathers about all mothers everywhere.

This is a minor complaint in a sea of good, mostly because it doesn’t happen super often. Less than once per chapter? Like I said last time: I don’t know how much of what I learned was directly applicable, or even correct, but the sense of security and confidence was meaningful either way. Of course, now my streak of reading every chapter just in time is broken, since I’ve read not only the labor and delivery (and emergency c-section if needed) chapters, but the “now you have a human in front of you” closing chapter, but none of these things have occurred.

Still, though: if you find yourself in the position of being a first time father, or at least first time partner to a pregnant woman even if you’re a father previously through some series of events, I can recommend this book with few to no reservations. Not that this is exactly controversial, what with its best-seller, multiple editions status.

Hack/Slash: Resurrection

Some time back, I came to the [second] end of the Hack/Slash comic series, a little disappointed that it really was over this time. Well, joke’s on me, because three years later, someone came along and tried again.

The Resurrection series is another continuation by another author, but this one is a little more successful because she understands that the point wasn’t tying up loose ends from previous big stories, it was getting to the root of what makes Cassie appealing and restoring the status quo by bringing someone back. I mean, spoilers, but it’s really right there in the title, innit?

Basically, it’s this: Cassie is done with monsters, living in a trailer in the middle of nowhere making money off Twitch subscribers, which may be the most modern thing I’ve ever read in any comic in all of history. Except an acquaintance of her mother has opened a summer camp nearby, to help the victims of slasher trauma be strong and ready instead of ripe to get angry and disturbed and turn into more slashers themselves. And except zombies keep showing up outside her trailer. And except the nearby prison seems awfully suspicious. Before you know it: new story, continued from the prior series but without the weight of almost any continuity to worry about.

Worthwhile!

Fool’s Fate

I have not finished many series lately. The Walking Dead wrapped up a few months ago, and before that… I don’t know. It honestly might have been the Wheel of Time. Which is going back nearly 10 years I think? One conclusion to draw from this is that I have really way, way, way too many started but unfinished trilogies on my to-read shelf. Another is that there are definitely people who need to do more work on finishing their series, and here I am looking mainly at GRRM. But I think the first conclusion is definitely a relevant one, is all I’m saying, and maybe I’ll do something about that in the next months.

That turned out to be a bigger digression than I thought. Because, I finished Fool’s Fate yesterday, and, okay, that is not technically the end of a series. Maybe it was at the time, and then Hobb decided she could write more after all? I don’t know, but I know someone told me that it felt like the end of the series, and that this person was 100% right. If nothing else were written in this world, I would be… honestly, I’m so satisfied that to some degree I’m concerned about there being more written.

The first trilogy ended with the plot crisis averted, but the character crisis fully embraced, and that’s kind of how I’ve thought of Hobb’s writing as a result, despite evidence to the contrary since. The second trilogy ended with both plot and character crisis averted, but with the acceptance that the world was still turning.

[Because of the author, mild spoilers lurk below.]

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Keepers of the Sun

This week in the Deathlands, our heroes… are not in the Deathlands, actually. See, for the past three to five books, there have been hints of circa 17th C samurai that have been using the same teleportation gateways that our band of semi-heroes have been using to travel around the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once the United States. (So, y’know, near future sci-fi.) All of which to say, this time they come out in Japan!

Well, in the post-apocalyptic remains of what was once Japan. Because, you know, global thermonuclear war has only the one winning move, and nobody in this series took it.

Anyway: Keepers of the Sun is mostly interesting as a historical time capsule of the late ’80s[1], when we had an economically tense relationship with Japan. I have frequently lauded the sexual egalitarianism of these books, and I would have guessed that the racial parts would be the same. This is… kind of true here? Not as much as I wanted, but in some ways it felt like the blustery, rough-edged folk of the future were learning not to be racist against the Japanese[2] as a stand-in for the (let’s be honest) mostly working class truck driver type who became the biggest audience for this series.

I know for sure that I kept expecting [hereafter follow spoilers for a book you will never read] the other shoe to drop with the nominally noble-minded, Bushido-coded warlord[3], but no, he really was what he seemed. Even their points of contention over a possible mass invasion of the Deathlands could I think have been solved by the realization that even with the many uninhabitable or outright destroyed regions of North America, population reduction has resulted in plenty of room for everyone. But the mostly episodic nature of the series largely prevents that size of change to geopolitics, I suppose. So they found another way to resolve it.

[1] I’m trying very hard to disregard the 1996 publication date here.
[2] Except manga. Everyone stayed racist against manga.
[3] Okay, what I cannot especially defend is the premise that the meager remains of Japan’s main island would revert to circa 17th C warlords, samurai, ronin, and peasants. But since the US has mostly reverted to feudalism, it’s not as troublesome as it sounds at first glance.[4]
[4] I’m a little proud of that phrasing.

Golden Fool

I have really a lot of thoughts about Golden Fool, which (unless something changes) marks the approximate midpoint of Hobb’s travels in her world of assassins and Elderlings and dragons. That clause looks like the kind of clause you say to fill time, but I meant it to actually convey something, which is that the many swirling thoughts and confusions I have not yet expressed are probably in the right place. After all, if I don’t find myself with more questions than ever and my previously held answers upended in the precise middle of a story, when should I find myself in that predicament?

But anyway, the series and the world continues to be both really good and to not bother me as much as it has in the past, on an emotionally depressive level I mean. So those are both things that are great! In addition, they are pretty much the only things I can say that are not spoilers. Well, that’s not quite true. My one line not very spoilerly summary goes like this: this is the book where Fitz learns how to interact with humans again.

Everything else below the cut, though.

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Death Masks revisited

So, uh, massive spoilers for not so much this book but for the entire series through Peace Talks, which is not yet published as of this review. Don’t read farther unless you don’t mind.

Without yet having checked my previous review of Death Masks, I assume that I liked it quite a bit[1], since all of the Dresden books have hit me pretty favorably. And yet, reviewing the audiobook relisten in my head, mostly what I think of it is… well, that’s not fair. It’s still extremely positive. The war with the Red Court is really heating up, we get the first real glimpse of the Denarians, Marcone is humanized[2], there’s some big movement with the Knights of the Sword that, if I remember my timelines correctly, has only recently paid off. Plus, they finally introduced Molly, who appears to have set off the chain of events leading to Harry’s procreation. A lot of really important things happened!

The problem, if there is a problem, is that everything I’ve said (or almost everything) is groundwork for future books. Whereas my actual experience of Death Masks as a book was: you know, it was fine. Butcher has already written better single book mysteries and anyway it only reached half-resolution, and only via deus ex missourian at that. I mean, unless you care how the Shroud of Turin thing turned out, which I suppose is fair enough. The problem, briefly expressed already a paragraph above, is that this makes me sound sour on the book, and I’m not! It was, y’know, fine.

Anyway, the by far more important part, my timeline update. The book occurs in February of year 3, seven months after the book prior. And various events lead me to conclude that okay, probably Harry’s daughter was conceived during this book, rather than being 6 months old already. Which makes her birthday in November of year 3 rather than Augustish of year 2. (Because, see, I’m still making this calculation easy on future me. Woohoo!)

[1] Guess: correct! Shockingly.
[2] Which has stuck with me ever since even if the details of how it happened had not.