Category Archives: Words

Circle Thrice

Nearly a year since the last Deathlands. Oops? But between a global pandemic and a new son, I’ve had things going on. …boy howdy. Things.

Circle Thrice is a weird book, even by the standards of the series so far. For one thing, it’s highly episodic. Except for the fact that our post-apocalyptic teleporting companions are not literally on the Mississippi River (it’s the Tennessee instead), the first two thirds of the story remind me a lot of Huckleberry Finn. Because there they go, downriver[1] on a raft, running into various weird people and situations[2] without very much fear of consequence, because, as you know by now, our heroes are very well-armed and other people generally are not. It’s a peaceful interlude, if you correct for mutant death around every corner.

Later, in the last third, we get to a more typical “heroes run into a baron who may not have their best interests in mind and/or former enemy makes a new appearance” situation, and that part is fine as well. I guess a thing I like about these books is that, 32 volumes in, they are simultaneously comfort food and something I’ve never read before. It’s not like I’m getting bored, clearly. Probably because they still keep me guessing with things like the first two aforementioned thirds, and with things like wondering if that wound that keeps being mentioned and which keeps not getting resolved is going to turn into a really big deal major character death or in fact is just an oops, need to stretch more and maybe take it easy for a day or so. It’s nice to not know for sure, instead of seeing it coming from miles away.

Also, though, the book title? It feels like a religious or especially pagan religious reference, right? No idea if it is one, my briefest of googles tells me not especially, but man it sounds like it. Also, it doesn’t mean a single thing relative to the story being told. Nothing. Pick any other random imperative verb and slightly archaic modifier, and it would fit equally well here.

So that’s weird.

[1] Did Huck and Jim go upriver? Because on the one hand, how do you stop being a slave by going farther south? But on the other hand, raft + river rarely results in an upriver trip. How is this the first time I’m asking myself this question?
[2] Villagers who have a raft that needs stealing. Non-consensual BDSM priest. Tour of the Civil War battlefield of Shiloh. Graceland[3]. Rabid villagers (not the same ones as the ones with the raft).
[3] Look. I’m not saying it’s on the Tennessee River. I’m not even saying the writer is saying that. It’s just another episodic thing that happened. They don’t all have to tie directly to the raft, okay?

Battle Ground

I have logistical thoughts about Battle Ground. Because it’s obvious that this and Peace Talks are in fact one book. Sure, there are one or two structural plot elements to make them feel like they are each a whole book, and that’s a good thing; but if you rearrange those or ditch the plot elements leading to them, you don’t hurt the overall story of the proposed single book. But man would it have been an enormous book, you know?

All that to say, a three month gap between these books is not bad at all[1], so I’m not complaining exactly, but the delay to get here was… also not insane, but it was large, and what I’m really saying is it reminds me of George RR Martin’s scenario writ in miniature, except you’ll note that after his split in two single book, he never wrote anything else again. So I’m concerned, is the thing.

But back to this actual book. This is a title that delivers. I mean, I guess they both are? Peace Talks was easily 80 percent or more a book about all of the Accorded Nations getting together to hash out a peace, while they could[2]. And Battle Ground is about the moment when that ticking clock has run out. So if what you are looking for from this book is an all out war between Dresden and allies vs the bad guys de l’année, I can assure you that you will get it.

And while you’re getting that, you’ll also get a great deal of broader plot events and character development moments. From all kinds of characters and all kinds of plot directions. This is a legitimately huge book in the greater sequence of the Dresden Files series, and I’m still all wrapped up in it. I know people have turned away from these over the past decade, but for my money, it’s still a very solid piece of story-telling, and I will continue to find out what happens next for as long as I’m able.

More below the footnotes + cut, to be considered at least mild spoiler territory, mostly for the series rather than the book.

[1] Especially at the rate I’ve been reading this year, which is to say that my three new summer books took me basically two thirds of a year. Look, things are and have been weird.
[2] Some of them, it occurs to me, with vastly more hypocrisy than others.

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The Baron of Magister Valley

It has taken me over three months to read The Baron of Magister Valley. This is a) not a statement on the quality of the book, and also b) it’s really not okay.

What happened was, I read the first half of the book in a leisurely rush, around child-rearing and comics-reading. That half of the book was great! There were dire plots and secret prisons and just the very best kinds of intrigue, all surrounded by Paarfi’s oh so distinctive authorial voice. I was at each moment excited to learn what would happen next! Just like I should be.

And then suddenly they wanted me to come back to work. Which means I’ve had time for watching about a gajillion movies, but reading has just fallen apart on me. And at a snail’s pace crawl, I found that I just didn’t really care much about the revenge half[1] of the book. My assumption here is that reading the book with any kind of momentum would have prevented this malaise, and I would be glowing here instead of all mehed out.

Ultimately, I think the failures of the book were either the failures of my circumstances, or (less likely but certainly possible) the failures of the source material. Or, so unlikely that I hate to think it after the stretch of great books I’ve previously read by him, it could actually be the book, and this is a failure on Brust’s part.

But whatever the case, a book whose plot I did not care about and whose characters’ motivations were mostly uninteresting to me for an entire half of the story, and the second half no less!, a book who I mostly kept reading because, whatever else was going on, Paarfi knows how to make me laugh? That is not a book I can be excited about in a review. Alas.

[1] I should say here that I’m not actually hurling out spoilers; this book, like the others that “Paarfi” has written, are based on popular works of adventure fictions from the 18th or 19th centuries.

A Night in the Lonesome October revisited

Cool thing about finally reading A Night in the Lonesome October again: I have done this on a month when October ended in a full moon, as the plot demands. Also, and if I’m being real, moreso cool, I did it as a family. I mean, Malcolm wasn’t really old enough to catch the finer points of the adventures of Snuff and his human, Jack, and he doesn’t have the literary context to catch the sundry references on display, but he does like to hear me read.

If this gets to be annual, which I don’t fully expect that it will, I am not going to write a new review each year, in which I decline to discuss the plot any more deeply than I already have. But this time seems relevant nevertheless. And so, a fairly belated Happy Halloween!

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!