This is a long, long book, and the first in a series, though I understand that they mostly stand alone so you don't really have to read them in order. It centers around three women: one married, one single, and one widowed, and for each of them, the central question is the same - do I go with Mr. Dull and Dependable or do I go with Mr. Good Looks Who Will Spend All My Money and Ruin Me?
It might have been a more exciting book if Trollope was a more radical author, but I'm not spoiling too much to say that Trollope was actually a very conservative author. Everyone ultimately Does the Right Thing in a very Victorian way, but not before flirting with impropriety enough to raise the question asked by the title: Can You Forgive Her?
Besides jilted suitors and gentleman wastrels, there is a bit of Parliamentary politics in this book which I believe assumes greater importance in the future volumes.
Anthony Trollope had the gift of narrative and character development, so if your only exposure to Victorian social drama is Charles Dickens, then give Trollope a try. That said, I would probably start with The Way We Live Now, which I thought was a better book with a more engaging story.
Simon Vance is one of my favorite audiobook readers, and he delivers great Victorian performances equally well with his readings of James Bond novels.
A World War II destroyer is sent back in time and joins lemur-people in a war against dinosaur-people.
If that concept sounds awesome to you, then you should read this book. If that concept sounds silly to you, then I've just told you everything you need to know.
Now, to be more precise, it's not entirely clear whether the USS Walker goes back in time or sidewise, but either way, the ship, on the run from a vastly superior Japanese fleet, winds up in an alternate timeline in which humans never evolved. Instead, they find themselves in a South Pacific inhabited by "Lemurians," who sail the seas in gigantic aircraft carrier-sized "home ships," and are currently facing an invasion by the savage, saurian "Grik"... who have sailing ships that are direct copies of 19th-century vessels from our timeline. Obviously, the Grik at some point encountered other humans who wound up in this timeline.
The USS Walker's crew includes a large cast of characters notable mostly for their individual personality quirks, like any war movie, and the Lemurians also get some named characters who will obviously be important in future volumes. The Grik, at least in this book, are just a bloodthirsty horde of nameless monsters, and all we learn about their culture is that they're insanely violent and driven to conquer. They are so mindlessly violent, in fact, that it seems incredible they could even take the time to learn how to operate sailing ships. Hopefully they'll get fleshed out a bit more in future books.
Into the Storm is the first volume in what appears to be a long series. There is nothing deep about it, but the writing, while nothing remarkable, was straightforward serviceable storytelling with brave men (and Lemurians) fighting a vile foe, and a lot of naval tactics, resource management, and inter-species diplomacy. I found it great fun, enough that I'll continue with the series unless and until it loses steam.
Daniel Brasher is the scion of a super-wealthy San Francisco family who is trying to sever his difficult, snooty mother's apron strings. Having walked away from the lucrative trade of managing the family fortune, he's now a psychologist working with violent ex-cons. Not that he's donned sackcloth and taken a vow of poverty - he still has his money, and as the book begins, he's making plans to start a private practice in a nice luxury office suite.
Much of the human interest involves his group of felons whom he meets with once a week as part of the terms of their parole. They are your usual assortment of poor, mostly non-white people who have made bad life choices, but each one has their little facets and secrets which are unveiled to give them a bit of added dimensionality. Much of the book takes place in their group counseling sessions, which of course turns out to be more significant when Daniel suspects that one of them is a killer.
Without spoiling anything, the killer is out to avenge a perceived injustice, and naturally Daniel turns out to be involved personally. Most of the plot moves in predictable fashion - you can tell when a "twist" is coming by how much of the book is left - but despite it being both somewhat formulaic and implausible (I really don't think the SFPD are going to keep asking a civilian who also happens to be the son of one of the city's most prominent families to keep coming to crime scenes where a serial killer may still be lurking about), I found it entertaining most of the way through. Only at the very end did it become so formulaic as to make me wish it had ended a chapter or two earlier.
Not a particularly thrilling thriller, but the plot moves nicely with a diverse range of characters, and being an expat Californian, I appreciated the San Francisco setting.
Nothing much original here - it's another wannabe Starship Troopers. But it does a good job being what it is, even if B.V. Larson is no Heinlein.
The premise is simple: Earth was forcibly inducted into a Galactic Empire, in which every planet must have something of trade value or they get blown up. The only thing Earth had was its people — specifically, its soldiers. Yes, another interstellar civilization in which humans turn out to be the meanest fighters 'cause we're just so savage and violent. So young men and women (as is typical of modern military SF, this is another imagined future in which men and women fight side by side in undifferentiated roles) join Earth's Legions to go to distant, exotic planets, meet interesting aliens, and kill them.
The protagonist, a slacker named James McGill, is sitting around in his tiny shared apartment playing video games until his mother tells him the government dole has run out. This is his impetus to go join the Legions. He fails the test for the higher status, more glamorous Legions, because he's too much of an "independent thinker" (i.e., a wise guy with poor impulse control), but just when he's about to give up, he finds himself recruited into Legion Varus, which has a reputation for doing a lot of hard, dirty, "real" fighting. With almost no training, McGill finds himself given a gun and sent to a planet occupied by lizard men. The rest of the book consists of McGill repeatedly getting himself in trouble and navigating the petty politics of both the Legion and the Galactics, in between bloody battles in which half the time he and his buddies wind up dead.
Oh yes, they have "Revival Units," i.e. respawning. So when a soldier dies, his backed-up memories are dumped into a newly-grown body. For McGill, this is disturbing and disorienting and quite upsetting the first couple of times it happens, so the author tries to emphasize that infinite respawning does not come without a cost, but McGill also comes to understand that some of his superiors have been killed and regrown over and over and over, for years, which certainly gives them a different take on life.
Besides the respawning, it also turns out that the Galactics monitor all mercenary battles and score it according to arcane rules which, it turns out, are heavily biases against Earth. The real plot consists of McGill finding out how Legion Varus's battles on Steel World may determine the fate of the Legion, and of Earth itself.
So, very heavily reminiscent of a RTS game. Steel World has a lot of action and cleverly-deployed aliens and technology, and decent characterization. (I found McGill himself the most annoying - even after being killed a few times, he's still kind of a whiny, entitled punk.) Some pieces of the plot were a little implausible, and at times the characters' actions stretched credibility just to introduce some artificial tension, but overall it was a fun, pleasant read to fill a few hours when you are in the mood for yet another Johnny Rico clone.
A nuclear war in 2013 wiped out most of the population of the world, and the remnants living underground in the Moscow subway tunnels believe they are the only humans left alive. Each station in the old metro is now its own little city-state. The main character, a young man named Artyom, is sent on a quest to another station. Along the way, he meets Nazis, Communists, Satanists, monks, cannibals, cultists, flying monsters, and mutants. The ending is ironic and grim, as befits a Russian novel taking place after the bombs fall.
Apparently a big cult phenomenon in Russia, which has spawned sequels and video games, Metro 2033 reads a lot like an old-school post-holocaust fantasy, with a man of the new world journeying through the wreckage of the old one, missing the references that are left for the reader to recognize. It also reads a lot like an old-school dungeon crawl, which makes it both repetitive and fun, though I'm afraid the repetitiveness caused me to tune out at several points in the story as I listened to the audiobook.
Artyom's quest basically consists of going from one station to the next, finding each ruled by some twisted microcosm of the old world (the Red Line, the Fourth Reich, the Watchtower, etc.), escaping, and moving on, acquiring and losing companions along the way.
It's not hard to see how this would adapt well to a game. The writing was often psychologically deeper than your typical mutant-haunted post-apocalyptic tale, but the descriptiveness of the prose seemed to fall a little flat in translation. It's definitely a little different in tone from a Western sci-fi novel, even though it conforms to the genre fine. Had it been a little bit less of a dungeon crawl, I would probably have enjoyed it more, but after the third or fourth narrow escape from underground morlocks, I began to simply become impatient for the climax. I suspect, however, that there are a lot of references and in-jokes that didn't translate well into English.
I was not a big fan of the narrator, who was not terrible, and had a properly deep, sonorous Russian voice, but his tone was flat and he frequently dropped his voice so low that I could not hear his words while driving unless I turned the volume all the way up.
So, this guy Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a cockroach. (Actually, the Wikipedia article has an interesting discussion about how Kafka never specified exactly what kind of bug Gregor turned into). His family freaks out a little, as you might expect, but then they sort of come to accept the situation. Gregor feels increasingly isolated as he cannot really communicate with them and he can no longer support them as he once did. Coexisting in a tiny apartment with a giant cockroachinsect becomes increasingly burdensome for the family. Eventually Gregor dies (implied, that he wills himself to death to spare his family further burden) and they're all relieved. The end.
Sort of a downer. I think it loses a lot in the translation, as apparently Kafka's prose in the original German was much of the reason for The Metamorphosis's high literary status.
This is a surrealistic piece which, technically, you could probably call "magical realism." (No explanation is ever given for Gregor's transformation into a giant bug, and no one seems curious about how such a thing could happen. They're just all rather distressed by the whole thing without ever really talking about it.
Frankly, as a story it was a bit flat and anti-climactic, and if there is some deeper meaning, I'm afraid I missed it. Would probably enjoy it more if I read it in the original German.
Alastair Reynolds has impressed me with his intellectual sorta-hard-SF space operas, but left me a bit cold in terms of characters and storytelling, the grand scope of his plots dwarfing the human elements. He's a bit like a colder Charles Stross who is not trying quite as hard as Stross does to impress you with his cleverness, even though he's very clever.
Terminal World is a departure from his usual space operas - it's set on one world, that vaguely resembles Earth but isn't, in a post-apocalytic far future. The setting is kind of steampunkish, but steampunk done in a hard-SF way, and more post-human than the usual pseudo-Victorian frippery.
Quillon is a doctor living in a city called Spearpoint. Spearpoint is, as its name implies, a towering sliver of civilization stretched up into the atmosphere, surrounded by a wasted, cold and drying planet. Spearpoint is divided into "zones" that determine what technology works there. At the highest levels are the Angels, who still enjoy advanced technology, while at lower levels are places like Neon Heights, Steamville, and Horse Town. Some places, electronics stop working. Other places do not even allow internal combustion. And there are some zones where even humans can't survive.
At first, the characters seem mostly uninterested in how this state of affairs came to be, because apparently it's been like this for thousands of years, and is now the accepted status quo. Indeed, we learn that despite the obvious remnants of what was once a great, highly technological civilization, most people have little awareness of history or a world beyond their own.
It turns out Quillon is an Angel, or a former Angel. Angels can't normally survive in the low-tech lower levels, but he was part of a special infiltration project that went wrong and left him isolated among hostile humans (or "post-humans" as the Angels call them). When the Angels come after him, he goes on the run. His flight eventually takes him out of Spearpoint altogether, and across the wastelands which are occupied by Reaver-like "Skull-boys" and a rival civilization known as SWARM that exists entirely in the air, aboard a great fleet of zeppelins.
So, Reynolds manages to give us sky pirates and zeppelin battles, and a world-saving adventure that does not really uncover the secret behind Spearpoint and its world, but gives us a few glimpses. At times this felt like one of his epic space operas, albeit confined to a single planet, and at other times, it was more like a steampunk adventure. (Zeppelin battles!)
I liked Terminal World - it feels complete, even with a somewhat vague ending. Clearly Reynolds could write more books set in this world, but it doesn't seem like he plans to.
Alastair Reynolds is probably one of the smartest and best writers of hard SF and space opera today, the kind of SF that actually uses physics and big ideas. Unfortunately, his writing still lacks an essential something to make him one of my favorites - it's as if there is always a certain lofty distance between author and creation that one can sense in his work. His characters are intelligent and interesting, but they are largely plot puppets. Still, this was going to be "three strikes and you're out" but it was more of a base hit, so I'll keep reading him.
Claire DeWitt is the protege of Constance Darling, the "greatest detective in the world." Using tea leaves, I Ching, home-brewed philosophy, and a book by a French detective named Jacques Silette, studying under Darling was like apprenticing as a wizard. Then Constance Darling died, leaving Claire as her heir to the title of greatest detective in the world.
It's hard to say how tongue-in-cheek Claire is being when she calls herself that, but she states it in a flat, no-nonsense manner that makes people believe it because she seems to. And she really is, as it turns out, freakishly good at what she does, though I Ching and tea leaves notwithstanding, whatever supernatural help she receives is as likely to be the result of the drugs she does not hesitate to sample as the spirit of her departed mentor.
Claire is hired to find out what happened to a New Orleans lawyer who has disappeared, by his nephew. One of Claire's first observations is that clients rarely actually want you to solve their mystery for them, and this proves to be true. Claire's case takes her through the still flood-devastated streets of New Orleans, uncovering trouble and secrets people would rather she not uncover, and when she solves the case, no one is happy. Pretty much as she expected.
Claire's voice is dry, wise, and occasionally sarcastic. She operates on intuition, mysticism, and drugs. She's tough but not a superwoman, and she seems to have connections everywhere. The other characters are equally vivid and flawed and contain multitudes, even the missing lawyer who is never seen on-page.
This was a quick read that is just your basic mystery with a quirky lady detective on the surface, but contains hidden depths. I'll definitely be reading more in the series.
This book is cheesy big guns blazing entertainment, and I loved it. I am giving it five stars not because it is the best of the best, but because it was fun and action packed and it's an example of an author doing nothing more and nothing less than entertaining his audience without pretense.
Warbound is the third book in the Grimnoir trilogy, so you want to read the first two. It is set in an alt-history in which a magical being came to Earth in the 1850s, and its presence bestowed magical powers on 1% of the population. Most people get a single power, so there are "Brutes" (super-strength), "Heavies" (gravity controllers), "Cogs" (gadgeteer geniuses), "Readers" (telepaths), "Fades" (turn insubstantial), "Torches" (pyrokinesis) and so on.
Basically, despite the "fantasy" element, these are period superhero novels. And the author devotes many words to describing the battles in full-page multi-panel glory. It's hard to do superheroes (an inherently visual genre) justice in written form, but Correia does a pretty good job. At times he reminded me of his fellow Mormon author Brandon Sanderson, who's also known for his intricate "magic systems" and long descriptions of characters figuring out how to use their powers in creative new ways, but Correia's plots are less contemplative (which is not to say simpler) and more about the action.
That said, major suspensions of disbelief are required, but no more than with most epic or urban fantasy.
In the conclusion of the trilogy, war with the Japanese Imperium is imminent, but only the knights of the Grimnoir know that Chairman Tokugawa has been replaced by an impostor. His "son," Iron Guard Toru Tokugawa, knows of the deception and the corruption of the Imperium's magical training schools, Iron Guard, and Shadow Guard, and so has reluctantly joined the Grimnoir.
Since this is a rising Japan in the 1930s, guilty of pretty much the same atrocities Japan was committing in Asia at that time in the real world, this causes a lot of tension with the Grimnoir, who have been sworn enemies of the Imperium. Toru manifests all the usual tropes about fictional samurai: hard-headed, death before dishonor, all non-Japanese are weak and lazy, grudging respect for Westerners who are brave warriors even if they are ignorant barbarians, blah blah blah.
A summary of the plot would be kind of pointless: if the premise does not interest you, it's not gonna interest you, but Correia does do a very good job of working within the parameters he has established and then treating it seriously. Powers work a certain way and everything follows from certain first principles, and when some of the big twists are revealed, more pieces fall into place, including some that have been developed since the first book.
Is this is gonzo gun porn and superhero slugfests? Yes! And awfully darn fun. But awfully damn intelligent for a historical superhero novel as well. And there is a conclusion to bring this trilogy to a definitive close, while still leaving open the possibility (I would guess, based on Correia's prolificness, inevitability) of a new series coming down the pike.
This is not the best written or deepest or most original series. It's just fun and entertaining. Did I mention fun? Okay, so I am a superhero nerd. But in all seriousness, for what it is, the plotting, pacing, characterization, and worldbuilding were all far above the somewhat low bar I have for this kind of book. Hence, 5 stars. Would read more Grimnoir, definitely.
And an additional 5 star rating must be given for Bronson Pinchot. I HATED Balki and "Perfect Strangers"! But he is one of the best audiobook narrators ever! Seriously, he nails every single accent, does men and women both flawlessly, and probably puts more life into Correia's characters than exists on the page.
John Douglas is a former FBI profiler - he's written several previous bestsellers, and reminds us frequently in this book about his pioneering work as a profiler and all the other books he's written. I suspect his earlier books are better, as this one, while interesting, seemed like it was very much written to fill a publication slot. Douglas's own connection with the BTK case is tenuous - he provided some advice to police detectives during the initial investigation of the BTK serial killer when he first began, in the 70s, but had no further connection with the case until many years later, after the killer was caught and identified and imprisoned for life. At this point, Douglas, now long-since retired from the FBI, is filled with a desire to interview Rader.
The interview itself is only the last chapter of the book, achieved after a lot of hoop-jumping and negotiations with an unfortunate would-be author who had already secured exclusive rights to Rader's story. Douglas's meeting with Rader behind bars at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas was anticlimactic. Rader presents exactly as we'd expect: a psychopath who is matter-of-fact about his crimes, as there is no point in denying them now, yet still trying to game his image and what people think of him. He's able to tell Douglas little that we don't already know about him, and few additional insights are gained about the inside of this sick pervert's mind.
Still, the journey along the way was both fascinating and disgusting. Dennis Rader was no criminal mastermind, no charming Manson-style leader or scary monster who makes you look away from his chilling gaze. He was a not-particularly-bright man obsessed with bondage and killing, who wormed his way into positions of small, petty authority where he could terrorize people in small ways while terrorizing Wichita, Kansas in a very real way at night for decades. The only particularly unusual thing about him, as Douglas notes, is that he stopped killing for a while, long enough for the police to think he'd either retired or died, and then started again. It was when he restarted that he got caught, as he began making use of new Internet and word processing technology. This proved to be his undoing. He was quickly tracked down, arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Is there anything to learn from Dennis Rader's story? Douglas talks a little about what might have made Rader the way he is. He rejects the "broken from birth theory," though the evidence seems pretty strong that Rader, like all serial killers, was a sociopath at an early age. Douglas probably prefers to believe that Rader had a choice and therefore is fully responsible for his crimes. That seems mostly a philosophical point; we may be curious how someone becomes a serial killer, but with little ability to identify and prevent them, we do as a practical matter hold them responsible for their actions when they are caught, as we must. Douglas repeatedly refers to Rader and other killers like him as "monsters" who deserve to die, which they surely are, but it makes him sound less clinical and more personally invested. Understandable for a former fed, but given that he has little insight to offer on that score, sometimes it just felt like an obligatory reminder that John Douglas is a good guy fighting bad guys, even though he's long since hung up his badge.
This is not a book for people who have a high degree of empathy for victims, even strangers, as the crimes of the BTK killer are described in detail, though here Douglas does remain clinical rather than gratuitous, aside from a few sympathetic (but wrenching) speculations about what the poor victim must have felt, realizing only after they are tied up what they are really facing.
What stood out to me was how banal and ordinary Dennis Rader was — a dweeb who could've been taken down by anyone who had the foresight to fight him, yet a combination of luck and cunning allowed him to kill and kill again, even after several botched adventures. John Douglas tries to link himself to Rader's eventual capture by describing how the techniques he innovated decades ago were used, but he really had nothing to do with Rader's actual capture and there's not much evidence that any of the advice he ever gave to the police helped them catch Rader sooner.
Marko Kloos is another one of those self-published SF authors who found an unexpected following, hence my discovering this book as an Audible deal of the day. It was, while not epic or on the level of one of the better works of Heinlein or Pournelle or another big-name military SF author, a nice treat.
Terms of Enlistment shows its very obvious Heinlein influences right away - Andrew Grayson is not exactly Johnny Rico, being a slum-dweller who joins the military for three squares and a shot at an enlistment payout if he survives his five-year hitch. But the training and the ground-pounder action is quite reminiscent of Starship Troopers. That said, it's Starship Troopers without much military or political philosophy, and in fact the "North American Commonwealth" that the troopers serve is a rather skeletal setting. The military is divided into Army, Marines, and Navy, and while Grayson wants to go to space, it's the Territorial Army he winds up in, rescuing embassy employees from civil unrest and quashing riots in tenements like those Grayson grew up in.
This futuristic military is completely coed, so Grayson falls in love with a Navy-bound enlistee who becomes a pilot, and through a rather contrived set of circumstance, he is able to get a service transfer and then get assigned to her vessel.
Until this point, the book had been a rather flat sequence of events, full of action but very little plot beyond the main character's ambitions. Then we get to leave Earth, and if the ending is even more contrived and improbable, it does throw a major twist into the story and set it up for a sequel.
Overall, an unexpected gem which I recommend to all space opera fans, especially if you like military SF. Kloos actually seems to know something about the military and writes convincingly about training, different branches, ranks, and equipment, something a lot of SF authors don't do so well at convincingly portraying.
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