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Jefferson
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341 REVIEWS / 368 ratings Member Since 2010 1359 Followers / Following 13
 
  • "A Witty & Movi..."
    The Privilege of the Sword

    "A Witty & Moving Fantasy about Gender and Identity"

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    Imagine Jane Austen teaming up with Oscar Wilde to write a historical fantasy featuring class, gender, identity, sexuality, swords, and acting (and the pursuit of single-life rather than marriage), and you catch a glimpse of Ellen Kushner's "mannerpunk" novel The Privilege of the Sword (2006).

    The novel is (partly) the coming of age story of Katherine Talbert, a plucky, good-natured, and innocent fifteen-year-old daughter of a country aristocrat family in financial straits. As the action begins, the wealthy and eccentric Duke Tremontaine, AKA the Mad Duke of Riverside (his residence in the bad part of town near the docks), has written to say that if his sister will send his niece Katherine to live with him in the city for six months according to his rules, he will pay all her family's debts. Katherine wants to see the big city and envisions making a stunning appearance at fashionable balls in fine new dresses. Contrary to her expectations, though, Uncle Alec has all of her dresses removed, forces her to wear the clothes of a young man, and makes her take sword lessons from a grizzled master swordsman who calls her, "Duke boy."

    The Privilege of the Sword has no supernatural events or magic, no elves or wizards, and no epic wars between good and evil. It is a fantasy by virtue of its well-imagined secondary world, a pseudo Elizabethan or Jacobean place in which the nobility has expunged kings but still lives off the labor of their "tenants," in which people drink chocolate, brandy, and wine and smoke drugs, in which in addition to aristocrats there are poets, scholars, actors, merchants, pickpockets, and prostitutes, and in which the nobles wield the privilege of the sword, the right to decide their feuds by hiring professional swordsmen to duel matters out.

    Among the many themes interestingly worked out by The Privilege of the Sword is the difficult but vital need for women to become independent and free to express their true selves in a male-oriented world. The gadfly Duke wants to transform his niece into a swordsman to free her from the usual fate of upper class women, who typically end up having to marry philandering and or abusive husbands. One of the refreshing things about the novel is that Katherine never attempts to hide her gender when she's dressing up in guys' clothes and sporting her sword and dagger. And Kushner writes other interesting female characters who are trying to get by in that man's world, like the Black Rose, a charismatic actress, and Teresa Grey, a "woman of quality" who secretly writes popular plays for the theater.

    In addition to gender themes, Kushner expresses an open-minded view of sexuality. Katherine, for example, is attracted to both the Black Rose and to Alec's servant-ward Marcus, and another of the compelling developments in the novel is the frank and humorous awakening of her sexual self. And readers familiar with Kushner's first Riverside novel, Swordspoint (1987), will recall the romantic love between Alec and the master swordsman Richard St. Vier, which The Privilege of the Sword develops eighteen years after the events of the earlier book.

    Kushner also writes interesting themes relating to identity and acting. Katherine reads a sensational romantic novel, The Swordsman Whose Name Was Not Death, watches a play based on it, and begins thinking of her own actions and those of her friend Artemisia Fitz-Levy in terms of the characters and the actors portraying them. Lucius Perry, a handsome young nobleman, plays different roles as male prostitute, heterosexual lover, faithful cousin, and noble scion. And to what degree does the Duke feign his "madness" to discomfit his peers? The line between acting and being one's true self is blurry, and not just for professional actors.

    At times I tired of Katherine's superficial and hysterical aristo friend Artemisia ("The only time I pick up a book is to throw it at my maid" is her best line), and the climactic showdown between Lord Ferris and Duke Alec discomforted me, but I found the resolution of the story delightful and still continue to savor Kushner's characters.

    I had a great time listening to the audiobook version of The Privilege of the Sword.
    I really like Kushner's reading of the first person chapters narrated from the voice of Katherine (spunky and clear) and Barbara Rosenblat's reading of the third person narration of the other chapters (husky and androgynous), and the different audiobook "luminaries" who read the voices of the different characters in the "illuminated" sections (specially important or intense scenes). I especially enjoyed Joe Hurly's decadent drawl as the Mad Duke, sounding like Oscar Wilde bathing in a hot tub full of turquoise absinthe.

    I have mixed feelings about the occasional sound effects sprinkled throughout the audiobook, door knockings, paper rustlings, owl hootings, boot clackings, sword clangings, and so on. Often these are implied or directly mentioned by the text, as when the narration mentions how Katherine’s sword "rattled and clanged," and we hear the sound effect of a sword rattling and clanging. Even moments like when the narration says someone leaves a room and we hear the sound of a door closing, which at least are not redundant, felt more intrusive than immersive. On the other hand, the music beautifully and appropriately enhances the moods of the various scenes, and is more appealing and original than the majority of movie music these days.

    In conclusion, fans of Swordspoint would love The Privilege of the Sword, and anyone interested in fantasy that focuses on social customs, psychological conflicts, and witty dialogue should enjoy it.

  • "A Pacifist Zom..."
    Raising Stony Mayhall

    "A Pacifist Zombie Tries to Keep It Together"

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    Daryl Gregory???s Raising Stony Mayhall (2011) read by David Marantz is an absorbing audiobook: moving, humorous, and, amidst the legion of undead books and movies out there, original.

    In Part One, in 1968 on a snowy night in Easterly, Iowa, a zombie baby is found by the Mayhall family, mother Wanda and her three daughters. They must raise him in secrecy, because the boy, nicknamed Stony, is a ???Living Dead??? or ???LD,??? and earlier in 1968 (the year of George Romero???s ???documentary??? Night of the Living Dead) an outbreak of a mysterious disease that turned people undead hit the eastern USA. Though the contagion was seemingly stopped by the rapid and rabid reactions of civilians and authorities, if Stony were discovered he would be exterminated. The rest of the novel depicts his attempts to understand himself and the undead and living human condition.

    Gregory dryly revels in the ramifications of the zombie premise: an undead physiology by which LDs do not eat, sleep, breathe, bleed, heal, decay, or stink; an undead philosophy focused around the conundrums of life and death and of how the undead may make prosthetic wooden limbs move; a resistance LDA (Living Dead Army) working through cells and safe houses; an undead representative government comprised of factions like one that wants to spread the disease all over the world and one that wants to avoid violence no matter what; and so on. He also works out the personal ramifications for Stony. Is he human? Can he love? Does he have a soul? If so, where is it? In heaven, hell, or purgatory (because he is dead), or in his body (because he is alive)? For that matter, where is his conscious self? Confined to his bones and flesh, or limited only by his will and imagination?

    In addition to the possibilities of the zombie genre, Gregory is interested in the relationship between science and the supernatural. He also writes interesting and human characters (especially the undead ones). And he also wittily works in references to the popular culture of each of the eras through which his narrative moves, from 1968 until 2011.

    Reader David Marantz enhances the situations, conversations, emotions, and ideas of the novel with restraint, reading the different voices for the male and female, old and young, educated and ignorant, living and undead characters without exaggeration and with a twinkle in the eye of his voice.

    When you finish this entertaining audiobook, if you listen to the prologue again, more things will become clear and many touches will move you.

  • "An Informative..."
    The Modern Scholar: Rings, Swords, and Monsters: Exploring Fantasy Literature

    "An Informative, Stimulating, and Enjoyable Class"

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    I enjoyed Professor Michael D. C. Drout???s 14-lecture class on modern fantasy, which mainly focus on J. R. R. Tolkien, which is fine, because Tolkien is a major figure in modern fantasy. Professor Drout has a pleasing enthusiasm and a comprehensible clarity as he lectures.

    After discussing the fantasy genre (a hybridization combining oral epics with novelistic techniques and concerns), Drout limns the origins of modern fantasy (Victorian works like the Alice books, The Waterbabies, and The Princess and the Goblin), and then dives into Tolkien, depicting relevant facts about his life and philological study before assessing The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, as well as difficult work like The Silmarillion and important scholarly essays on Beowulf and fantasy. Drout next covers two followers of Tolkien, Brooks the imitator and Donaldson the reactor, as well as two ???worthy inheritors??? who create fantasy as aesthetically and thematically consistent and compelling as that of Tolkien: Ursula K. Le Guin and Robert Holdstock. He then discusses children???s fantasy (Narnia, The Dark is Rising, Prydain, and a bit of Rowling and Pullman) and then the Arthurian genre (T. H. White, Mary Stewart, and Marion Zimmer Bradley). He concludes with a chapter on magical realism (Borges and Garcia-Marquez), arguing that, unlike most modern fantasy, it denies rather than provides healthy escape and is oriented around tragedy rather than Tolkieniean eucatastrophe.

    I like the many insights that Drout provides as he lectures, like about Le Guin???s solution to death in The Other Wind or about class in The Hobbit or about the way in which Peter Jackson???s movies make Tolkien???s world smaller. Sure, I wish he???d have covered more authors (like L. Frank Baum, Lord Dunsany, E. R. Eddison, Robert E. Howard, Mervyn Peake, or Michael Swanwick) and to have gone into more detail in non-Tolkien chapters, but that only shows how much I enjoyed his ???class??? and wished it could have been twice as long.

  • "The Necromance..."
    Johannes Cabal The Necromancer

    "The Necromancer as Diabolic Showman"

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    Johannes Cabal once sold his soul to the devil in return for necromantic knowledge that would propel him towards his goal in the dark arts, only to discover that his soullessness always skews the results of his black scientific experiments. Therefore, he makes a wager with Satan: if he can get 100 people to sign their souls over to the devil within one year, Satan will return Cabal???s soul to him. To ???help??? Cabal, Satan gives him the use of an infernal traveling carnival and a ball of Satanic blood with which to conjure up workers and attractions. The penalty for failure is Cabal???s death and damnation.

    Thus begins Jonathan L. Howard???s macabre, humorous, and strangely moving novel Johannes Cabal the Necromancer. Howard???s fresh takes on hellish horror tropes like vampires, ghosts, demons, warlocks, imps, zombies, and Lovecraftian cults, is entertaining. His similes are often funny and original, as when the smoke from the infernal train engine rises up to the sky like the pyres of witches or martyrs. I liked much of the social satire, about, for instance, the insanity of war or men who beat women. Sometimes Howard???s jokes and allusions are a bit too contemporary or cheap, as in revealing that Satan created lawyers or as in having Al Capone misspell ???venereal??? on the form he???s trying to fill in to enter hell. But Cabal is a fascinating anti-hero protagonist, his relationship with his big brother Horst is compelling, and his mysterious reason for being a necromancer is intriguing. And the climax and resolution of the novel are suspenseful and satisfying (though I could have done with a little less of Layla the Latex Lady).

    Christopher Cazenove marvelously reads the novel (as he does with The Merry Adventures of Robinhood and Peter Pan), with perfect rhythm and clear enunciation and varied voices for different characters, from Cabal???s stiff, cold, and slightly Germanic accent through Bones??? ingratiating Americanisms and Satan???s infernal humor and silk and rage. Fans of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman ought to enjoy this book.

 
D
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corona, ca United States 67 REVIEWS / 302 ratings Member Since 2017 357 Followers / Following 0
 
  • "Detour!"
    The Pillars of Creation: Sword of Truth, Book 7

    "Detour!"

    Overall

    If you know up front that the Richard,Kahlan, and the usual cast are not the main characters in "The PIllars of Creation" then the story is not dissapointing. They serve as the background story for most of the book until the last several chapters. This book centers around 2 other offspring of Darken Rahl, Jennsen and Oba. Rather then distracting from the series, these new characters expand and inrich the story. It starts off a liitle slow but worth listening to the end.

  • "Dragons, Assas..."
    Jhereg: Vlad Taltos, Book 1

    "Dragons, Assassins, and Intrigue"

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    The book of Jhereg is something of a detective story in the midst of a fantasy world of dragons, elves, and of course humans. It follows the antics of wise-cracking assassin Vlad Taltos and his dragon-like companion, called a jhereg, in the Dragaeran city of Adrilankha. Vlad Taltos is human; he is also a mobster and assassin and is the narrator of the book; for those familiar with the Dresden Files, he loosely reminds me of Harry.
    Jhereg is book one of a series in which the writer, Steven Brust creates a very credible fantasy world. Originally published in 1983, I was curious to hear how it would sound in audio format and was pleased; I thought the narrator, Bernard Setaro Clark, gave a good performance bringing the characters to life. I would recommend this series for those who like this type of genre.

  • "Back to Barrayar"
    Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen: The Miles Vorkosigan Adventures, Book 17

    "Back to Barrayar"

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    After more than four years, since Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Grover Gardner again brings the Vorkosigan saga to life and back to Barrayar in the latest story “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen.”
    I personally began my adventure with this series starting with the “Warriors Apprentice,” and couldn’t get enough of Miles. Brittle boned, slight of build, and always over-matched physically in a world that prided itself on strength, he wass usually able to overcome all obstacles with his keen intelligent and equally sharp and witty wit. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every audible book in this series that Louis McMaster Bujold has so masterfully crafted and this latest release is no exception. Some of my favorited characters are back, including Miles, but this is a Cordelia story. Throughout the series we got to know her; “Shards of Honor” and “Barrayar,” centered on her. We learned of her diverse background growing up on a technological forward thinking planet called Beta Colony that was indirect contrast with the militant hierarchical planet from which her husband came from and which they both resided called Barrayar. Now three years after the death of her famous husband, Aral Vorkosigan, Cordelia, widowed vicereine of Sergyar, is ready to begin a new direction in her life. Insightful and heartwarming, this story does not have a whole lot of action but for those who have been following this series I think you will like this addition.
    Grover Gardner, as usual, gives a great performance setting the tone perfectly.

  • "Hold onto your..."
    Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files, Book 15

    "Hold onto your staff; Harry’s back."

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    When the Dresden files began with “Storm Front,” Harry was a private detective and the only openly working professional wizard in Chicago. Then he became a warden for the white council, fought all kinds of supernatural monsters, including the Red Court, and recently he was dead. Now in book 15, “Skin Game,” he is the warden of the island Demonreach, and oh yeah, also the reluctant knight of winter court. What great story progression.
    From the previous book, “Cold Days,” we know Harry has a parasite in his head and its threatening to end his life. Now Mab, the queen of the winter court, and Harry’s boss, is using his infirmity as leverage to get him to do a job. She’s loaned him out to one of his most hated foes, Nicodemus Archleone and the Denarians. Having done battle with Nicodemus before Harry knows he has his hands full; but locked and loaded with his usual nonstop smartmouth commentary and banter Harry is ready to fulfill his obligation and at the same time thwart his old enemy’s plans. Harry will need the help of his friends, although Thomas and Molly do not make an appearance we get a lot of Murphy, Michael and Butters, and he must use all of his cunning to get him and his friends out of this story intact.
    I did like the development of the characters, notably “Butters,” and, as usual, there are plot twists. Some loose ends from the previous books are tied up with others left hanging; but this is “The Dresden Files,” and, if you’re like me, am glad that Jim Butcher always leaves us wanting more.
    A note about the narrator; if you’re wondering whether to read the book or listen to this audio, James Marsters is Harry Dresden; his voice inflections captures the clever wit and subtle nuances of the character perfectly.

 
Katherine
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1885
St. Johns, FL, United States 344 REVIEWS / 639 ratings Member Since 2014 643 Followers / Following 0
 
  • "Really pleasant"
    Troubled Waters: Elemental Blessings, Book 1

    "Really pleasant"

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    Zoe Ardelay and her father, once the king???s closest advisor, have been in exile for ten years. After her father dies, the king???s new advisor, Darien Serlast, shows up in Zoe???s village to escort her back to court because she???s been chosen to be the king???s fifth wife. At first Zoe is numb with grief and shock, but by the time they reach the capital city her ???water??? personality asserts itself and she begins to flow around the obstacles in her way ??? obstacles such as Darien himself, a man of ???wood??? who???s strong, stubborn, and immovable.

    Filled with vivid characters, beautiful scenery, sweet friendships, surprising destinies, political intrigue, mystery, a slow satisfying romance, and an interesting take on personality types, Troubled Waters by Sharon Shinn is a book that just feels good. I listened to the audio version produced by Audible Frontiers and read by Jennifer Van Dyck. It was 14 hours long, but I enjoyed it so much that I finished it over a weekend, which kind of annoyed my family. I even considered trying to extract myself from a couple of social engagements so I could spend time with Zoe instead.

    Troubled Waters is definitely a romance ??? and some of the verbal sparring felt a bit contrived, as if set up just to create that tension ??? yet mostly the romance brews in the background as Zoe navigates her way through her changed world. Some readers won???t believe in the romance, and others might feel that things work out too easily for Zoe, but I enjoyed this low-stress novel. It features a strong and likable heroine, a love-interest who???s my kind of guy, a diverse supporting cast, a leisurely pace, and it focuses on a variety of human relationships. It is likely to appeal mostly to women.

    Troubled Waters can be read as a satisfying stand-alone story, but there may be more books to come. If so, I???ll definitely be picking them up. Meanwhile, I???ll be trying out some more novels by Sharon Shinn.

  • "Amazing audio ..."
    The Voice from the Edge, Vol. 1: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

    "Amazing audio performance"

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    Originally posted at FanLit.

    Probably everyone who knows anything about Harlan Ellison knows he’s a jerk (please don’t sue me, Mr. Ellison). I had to consciously put aside my personal opinion of the man while listening to him narrate his audiobook I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1. I was disgusted by some of these stories, but I have to admit that even though I suspect Ellison delights in trying to shock the reader with his various forms of odiousness (mostly having to do with sex), the stories in this collection are all well-crafted, fascinating, and Ellison’s narration just may be the best I’ve ever heard. Here are the stories:

    “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” — (1967, IF: Worlds of Science Fiction) Harlan Ellison spends the introduction to I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1, arrogantly expressing his annoyance that this titular story, which he dashed off in one draft during a single evening, has been so well received while “Grail,” his favorite story, which took him many hours of research, is almost unknown. I think “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” is so popular because it’s so gut-wrenchingly horrible in exactly the right way. This is the story of AM, a supercomputer that has become conscious and resents not being able to break free from its programming. To take revenge upon humanity, AM has killed off all but five humans and made them essentially immortal while he constantly tortures them by creating a hellish virtual reality for them to live in. I will never forget some of the imagery in this story. It’s both horrible and wonderful at the same time. I loved it, though I could have done without the occasional loud electronic sound effects in this audio version. “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” won the Hugo Award in 1968.

    “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” — (1965, Galaxy Science Fiction) This story, which won both a Hugo and Nebula Award, is a social satire with an interesting premise: what if everyone was charged for the time they were late or caused others to be late? The currency? Minutes off your lifespan. “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” was also written in only a few hours. I thought it was a little silly and the whole thing seemed too obvious to me, but maybe that’s just because I’ve read too much Philip K. Dick.

    “The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke” — (1996, Harlan Ellison’s Dream Corridor Quarterly) A man who was one of the Nazis at Auschwitz is walking in the woods when he’s accosted by a woman with a gun. This very short tale is a revenge story with a supernatural twist.

    “Laugh Track” — (1984, Weird Tales) A TV writer tells the story of how he’s been hearing his dead aunt’s distinctive cackling on the laugh tracks of stupid sitcoms for years, and even in live studio audiences. Eventually he solves the mystery. As the story unfolds, Ellison takes the opportunity to rail against insipid Hollywood writing, getting downright nasty in parts. (Harlan Ellison has plenty of experience writing for television.) Those familiar with sitcoms from the 60s and 70s may feel nostalgic about this one. I think I loved the science fiction element best. All of Ellison’s narration has been superb, but this story really highlights what a great storyteller he is. He doesn’t read the text exactly (I checked) but changes it slightly to make it sound better, even adding the occasional groans, chuckles, sighs, snorts, sound effects and such:

    "…abruptly, out of nowhere — out of nowhere! — I heard — huh! Ha! — my Aunt Babe clearing her throat, as if she were getting up in the morning. I mean, that.. that phlegmy [hawking sound effects here]… that throat-clearing that sounds like quarts of yogurt being shoveled out of a sink."

    “The Time of the Eye” — (1959, The Saint Detective Magazine) Two lonely people in an insane asylum befriend each other. At first this seems like a sweet story, perhaps a romance. At first….

    “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” — (1958, Rogue) A 40 year old man realizes that the world is about to end and decides he doesn’t want to die a virgin. While reading this story I thought to myself “I bet this was published in Playboy because it has no value other than titillation.” (Not that I have ever read an issue of Playboy, but I have read some stories originally published there.) It turns out I was wrong. It wasn’t Playboy, but its competitor Rogue which was once edited by Harlan Ellison.

    “Paladin of the Lost Hour” — (1985, Universe 15) After Billy Kinetta saves Gaspar, an old man who’s being mugged, Gaspar insinuates himself into Billy’s life. Both of them are alone in the world and both have their secrets, regrets, and a lot of emotional pain. Billy finds himself opening up to Gaspar and eventually learns that Gaspar is more than he seems. This sweet story made me cry. It won a Hugo Award and is the basis for an episode of The New Twilight Zone.

    “A Boy and His Dog” — (1969, New Worlds) I was disgusted, yet fascinated, by this story. Reading it was sort of like gawking at a car wreck or a mangled animal in the road. It’s a post-apocalyptic story about a boy named Vic and his dog Blood who share a telepathic bond. They live above ground on the ruined Earth, always hunting for food to eat and girls to rape, murdering whoever gets in the way. When they find and follow a girl who’s come up from the civilized bunker below ground, a lot of trouble ensues and Vic and Blood’s bond is tested. I loved the setting and the telepathic dog, but Vic is one of the most horrid people I’ve ever met in a book. Ellison’s characterization of the girl and the way she reacts to being raped by Vic is totally off. In some ways, it feels like this story was written by a hyped up 14 year old. I was repulsed by “A Boy and His Dog” and I’m pretty sure my lip was curled in disgust the entire time I listened, but the story and the narration is brilliant. “A Boy and His Dog” won the Nebula Award in 1970. Ellison wrote more stories about Vic and Blood and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ll probably take a look at those someday.

    “Grail” — (1981, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine) This is the story that Ellison is so enamored of. It tells the tale of Christopher Caperton who is searching for True Love. As she was dying, Christopher’s most recent girlfriend told him that True Love is an object, like the Holy Grail, and that she’s been searching for it for years, so she gives her knowledge to Christopher and he continues the search. This involves magic and demon summonings, lots of money, and many years of travel, but eventually Christopher discovers where it is. There’s an ironic lesson at the end of this story. It’s at once depressing and hopeful. I liked it.

    Summarizing my feelings about I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Voice From the Edge Vol. 1 is difficult. There’s an awful lot to like in this story collection. Some of these stories were unforgettable and there were one or two I loved, or almost loved. Most, if not all of them, were also crude, nasty, and disgusting in parts. All of them were wonderfully narrated. If you’re a fan of Harlan Ellison’s stories, you absolutely must hear him read them himself. If you haven’t tried Ellison, this is the perfect starter collection.

    Interesting note: As I was writing this review, the mailman delivered advanced review copies of two new Harlan Ellison story collections that will be published by Subterranean Press later this year. When I opened the package, my stomach kind of turned. I was both excited and revolted at the same time. I’ve never had such mixed feelings about books before. I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll read them.

  • "Immediately ca..."
    The Alchemist and the Executioness

    "Immediately caught my eye"

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    Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell offering linked fantasy novellas that take place in a shared world? Bacigalupi's story read by Jonathan Davis? What could be more promising? (It turns out that had I been familiar with Katherine Kellgren, who read Buckell's story, I would have been even more excited about this one!)

    In this shared world, the use of magic causes the growth of bramble, a fast-growing, pervasive, and deadly plant that has taken over cities, making them uninhabitable. Crews of workers must fight back the bramble daily, burning it and collecting its seeds. Magic is forbidden and those who are found using it are executed, yet some citizens are willing to risk their lives if a bit of magic might help them. Who cares if a patch of bramble sprouts in a stranger's garden if a magic spell might heal their only child?

    The Alchemist is about a metal and glass worker who has given up all of his riches and is building an instrument which he hopes will destroy the bramble, restore his fortune, and give him the license to use magic to cure his daughter's wasting cough. When he presents his invention to the city government, things start to go wrong.

    I liked Bacigalupi's characters ??? the focused scientist who's so task-oriented that he misses important social cues and the strong woman whose support is crucial but mostly goes unnoticed ??? and I enjoyed the laboratory setting because it reminded me of my own frustrating days at "the bench." It was intriguing to explore the idea that small and secret lawbreaking, even for a good cause, can accumulate to destroy a nation or, as one of Bacigalupi's characters says: "If we grant individual mercies, we commit collective suicide." That got me thinking of all sorts of current political, economic, and social parallels.

    With The Executioness, Tobias Buckell becomes the hero of middle-aged mothers everywhere.

  • "Oberon and Gra..."
    Tricked: The Iron Druid Chronicles, Book 4

    "Oberon and Granuaile are back!"

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    Originally posted at FanLit.

    Atticus O’Sullivan, the 2000 year old druid who looks like he’s 22, has just pissed off a bunch of Old Norse gods (for details, read Hammered) and now he must go into hiding. It’s a good time for that because what he really wants to do is spend the next 12 years training his gorgeous and smart apprentice, Granuaile. Fortunately his werewolf lawyer can fix up some new identities, but first he has to fake his own death so the gods will stop hunting him, and then he needs to do a favor for Coyote, the Navajo trickster god.

    Of course, this doesn’t go as easily as he hopes. The favor that wily Coyote demands involves befriending an elemental that Atticus doesn’t know, transferring a vein of gold to a Native American reservation, sabotaging a coal mining company, fighting off some scary skinwalkers, and battling some “locusts of unusual size.” And he’s also a little worried about the new vampires who’ve moved into the Phoenix area after his friend Leif was injured in Asgard.

    During all the mayhem we learn a little more about Atticus’s past — there’s a lot of it, so Hearne doles it out a little at a time in each novel. Specifically, in Tricked we learn about why he came to the New World, how he killed Bigfoot in the Florida Everglades, and how some of his charms and tattoos work. We also learn more about who Coyote is and where he came from.

    Readers will be happy to know that Oberon and Granuaile are back in Tricked. They stayed home during the outing to Asgard in Hammered. Granuaile is looking pretty and acting sassy, and Oberon, everyone’s favorite Irish Wolfhound, plays a prominent role in Tricked and earns a lot of sausage and bacon snacks. Both of these characters provide plenty of comic relief.

    I’ve been listening to the audiobook versions of THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES. Mostly I love Luke Daniels’ narration, though this time I think he went a little overboard with Oberon. A lot of the time he ended up sounding like Scooby Doo. I forgive him.

    If you’re new to THE IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, I recommend starting at the beginning with Hounded. This is a great series; it’s got a perfect pace, charming characters, pleasing prose, and just the right amount of humor. At the end of Tricked it feels like a major change is coming as Atticus and Granuaile are finally (we assume) able to settle down to get Granuaile trained. The next novel, Trapped (that’s an ominous title, isn’t it?), takes place 12 years later but there’s a novella called Two Ravens and One Crow which takes place between Tricked and Trapped which fans will not want to miss.

 
Ethan M.
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Philadelphia 114 REVIEWS / 164 ratings Member Since 2005 804 Followers / Following 17
 
  • "A modern maste..."
    Great North Road

    "A modern master of epic SF does what he does best"

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    I am a huge fan of Peter Hamilton, and, if you like the kind of epic hard-ish space opera that he tends to write, this is yet another amazing novel. It moves from the far future of his recent books to a single-volume near future adventure, but all of things that make Pandora's Star or the Void Trilogy great are here. But, for new readers, you should know that Hamilton tends to write a very specific sort of novel, and this is no exception.

    So, here is what you should expect: As in all of his novels, it starts a bit slow, as Hamilton throws you into the world with little explanation, while the viewpoint switches often between many well-rounded characters, most of whom have obvious mysteries in their backstories that will only be slowly revealed. The book therefore takes a bit of patience as a result (though it is never boring) and Hamilton takes his time filling in the details of his plot. As a reader, I find the journey from confusion about the world to eventual understanding to be a huge amount of fun, and it is a pretty standard approach among the best epic space operas (think Alastair Reynolds or Iain M. Banks). If you don't like the same progression, you may wish the novel had more info-dumps, and fewer characters.

    There are lots of other standard Hamiltonian elements as well. There are gateways to other worlds and hardboiled detectives who won't give up the case. There is detailed technology (especially military technology) and top-notch worldbuilding, including governmental and economic elements left out of most other science fiction. There are the usual (very) slowly revealed mysteries and complex wheels-within-wheels plot elements. There are lots of high-powered action and adventure sequences. And, at the heart of the (really long) novel, are some fundamental mysteries that keep you listening late into the night.

    In short, this is Hamilton at the top of his game, and is much tighter than a lot of his previous work. If you love epic near-future science fiction, this should be an instant buy. Your patience in figuring out the details of the world will be well-rewarded, and the reading is superb.

  • "Solid Hamilton..."
    The Dreaming Void: Void Trilogy, Book 1

    "Solid Hamiltonian Space Opera"

    Overall

    For my money, Peter Hamilton is the best writer of space operas working today. Like all of his books, this one has a cast of many characters, frequent shifts in perspective between at least 8(!) storylines that initially seem unrelated, some great action sequences, lots of interesting speculation about far future technologies, and an occasional need for an editor.

    This book takes place 1500 years after his last two-book series (Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained). Some of the characters from that series are still around, due to the virtual immortality provided by future medicine, but knowing the previous books is not required, though it will make some of the story more interesting.

    As the first book of three, this one starts a bit slower than Pandora's Star, but builds over the first third or so of the audiobook to become a really compelling story that weaves together the stories of a far-future hitman, the leader of a religious movement, a semi-omniscient AI, a young woman launching a business career, and a young man who initially seems to be living in a fantasy novel. And yet, as the story comes together, these desperate elements weave together into a story about interstellar intrigue and an upcoming event that could threaten the galaxy.

    I thought this was an excellent start to a new space opera, much better than Hamilton's Nights Dawn series, but not as immediately action-packed as the previous Pandora's Star novels. Some segments run a bit long, and the occasional sex scenes can seem a trifle gratuitous, but if you like sprawling novels with dozens of characters (think George RR Martin, but in space) and innovative space opera spanning dozens of worlds, this is a great, very well-read choice.

  • "A great techno..."
    The Atrocity Archives: A Laundry Files Novel

    "A great techno-spy-Lovecraftian-horror-comedy"

    Overall

    Charlie Stross writes great-to-excellent science fiction/fantasy in many sub-genres, but this novel (and its two sequels) is probably his most original. Its hero is an IT support expert turned secret agent fighting against supernatural horror and organizational bureaucracy. The book is by turns satirical, scary, and action-packed, and generally succeeds admirably, especially for its target audience, for whom it is likely to be a home-run.

    And boy does the target audience matter: the book is full of allusions and in-jokes, as well as many quickly listed references. You can (and will) miss a few, but if you aren't a nerd, that is, you aren't into IT and Lovecraft, then you may not be the target audience for this book, and may miss most of its cleverness. For example, expect quick, but important references to: Alan Turing, gorgons, Forward-Looking Infrared Scanners, Windows software licensing terms, Cthulu, John Dee, Mandelbrot Sets, The Great Old Ones, and much more. If the list intrigues you, definitely, definitely get this book. If it baffles you, this might still be a good listen, but will be confusing as well.

    As for me, nerd that I am, I loved it, and look forward to seeing the sequel, and the new book coming out in July 2010. The reader, by the way, does a great job.

  • "Falls apart in..."
    The Annihilation Score

    "Falls apart in all the wrong ways"

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    I am a huge Stross, and Laundry, fan, but this is the weakest entry in the series so far. I really appreciate what Stross is trying to do - introduce us to a different viewpoint, make a middle age female character the hero, and start giving us a more well-rounded view of the relationships in the book. Unfortunately, none of it really works as well as I hoped, though the reading is excellent. Mainly this is because the book seems to constantly focus on the least interesting aspects of its plot and characters.

    Major things are happening in the Laundry universe, and we are missing them as listeners. For example, if the rest of the series was about hiding the terrible truth of Case Nightmare Green from the world, this book features a sudden switch where everyone is suddenly aware that supernatural stuff is happening, yet we see nothing of the implications of this. As another example, Stross introduces his own twist on superheroes, but then never does anything very interesting with it. Or the fact that the tension between Mo's violin and her love for Bob should be a big issue, but it never really feels motivated. Even the major overarching plot seems mostly to focus on minutiae (like setting up desks in an office), while giant events happen elsewhere.

    It was the least satisfying Laundry book, and is a lot grimmer than previous novels. Overall, I think it is probably skippable, though I am still looking forward to the next in the series.

 
Ryan
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Somerville, MA, United States 305 REVIEWS / 370 ratings Member Since 2005 555 Followers / Following 14
 
  • "A human-focuse..."
    Gateway

    "A human-focused SF classic"

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    Gateway is a book I’ve read several times since I was a kid, and an old favorite. At eleven, I was more interested in the science fiction aspects (somehow, most of the sex and drug use went over my head), but with repeated readings, I’ve come to appreciate the human elements of the story a lot more.

    To be fair, the setup is one of the coolest in science fiction. Humanity has discovered an ancient alien space station near Venus, called Gateway, which is filled with small starships. Nobody knows what happened to the Heechee or why they abandoned their base, but many of the ships are in working order and will travel by autopilot to other star systems and the planets orbiting them.

    Too bad there's a catch. Not all of the ships still work perfectly after half a million years, and some of the destinations are lethal. A once temperate star might have supernova-d since the time of Heechee civilization. Nobody has a clue how Heechee technology works. So, the Gateway Corporation recruits "prospectors" willing to risk a fairly high chance of death to take images of different parts of the galaxy and bring back artifacts that the Corporation might study.

    People volunteer for this mission because life on an overcrowded Earth has become pretty miserable for most, with quality medical care available only to the wealthy few (sound familiar?). One such volunteer is Robinette Broadhead, a former miner of oil shale (now used for growing foodstuffs -- yum), who wins the lottery.

    Bob, as he’s called, is a pretty flawed character, a self-centered, sex-chasing man who’s also somewhat of a coward. But he’s easy to relate to, not really being a bad guy at heart, and his fear is understandable, given the horrible deaths that await many prospectors. His story unfolds in two parts, one of which follows his life and relationships from Earth to Gateway and beyond, and the other of which has the older and now fantastically rich Mr. Broadhead in sessions with an AI psychiatrist, trying to get to the root of a deep trauma that both threads will eventually converge on. (And it is a pretty terrible one.)

    Some readers aren’t fans of the sessions between Robinette and the computer psychiatrist, Sigfrid von Shrink, but I loved their relationship and think it’s integral to the story, in a subtle way. I found it fun watching Bob try to trick Sigfrid, only to find that the machine’s programming was nearly always a step ahead of him.

    This book isn’t really about the Heechee (see further entries in the series to learn more about them), but about the dirty, messy tension of human desires, fears, and guilt in a place that stands between life and death, known and unknown. Gateway’s a moving examination of the psychology of our existence, of how we, from the personal level up to the species level, neither want to place our hopes on a frightening gamble on the unknown, nor on the ugly, suffering-filled known, but sometimes must make a choice and face what comes.

    Still a classic.

  • "Exhaustively w..."
    The Gone-Away World

    "Exhaustively witty, but unsatisfying"

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    The Goneaway World is a novel that aspires to be a whole bunch of things at once. It's a breathless adventure story, with pirates, ninjas, mad scientists, and covert military units. It's a coming-of-age story about a young man and his best friend. It's a sardonic satire, criticizing the excesses of capitalism and militarism in a Kurt Vonnegut-like style. It's a post-apocalypse story. It's an absurd, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-style romp, complete with a crack unit of mimes. It's a metaphysical tale about how "real" the things in our mind are.

    You'll either find this book delightfully witty or self-indulgent and exhausting. I leaned a little more in the latter direction. On one hand, I admired how clever and inventive Harkaway is, his effortless talent at satirizing human foibles and turning even the most mundane scenario into a madcap adventure (or the most exotic into something perfectly routine). On the other hand, the story careers around the map so wildly, I found it hard to care about any of the characters or what was happening. Even Gonzo, whom the protagonist is obsessed with (for reasons that become apparent later), is about as interesting as a video game character's user manual bio -- e.g. "Gonzo: a manly, cool-under-pressure guy with Polish parents and a stubborn streak." I eventually got bored with the story and all the tone switches, and stopped listening before I got to the final chapters, even though I'm sure there was an exceedingly clever ninja/pirate/mercenary/corporate honcho/mime battle I missed out on.

    Don't get me wrong, I think Nick Harkaway is a smart guy with an impressive imagination. But he really needed the firm hand of a good editor here, who might have stopped him from running with arms waving after every butterfly that flitted past, and gotten him to have focused more on the novel as a whole.

    Still, other readers might enjoy the unrestrained zaniness more than I did. Doctor Who or Terry Pratchett fans, take note. Lots of dry British humor here.

  • "Still a classi..."
    Childhood's End

    "Still a classic of visionary science fiction"

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    The last time I read this book was when it was assigned to my English class in eighth grade, and it was a pleasure to come back to as an adult and re-experience the same emotions I did back then. This is science fiction about the wonder and awe of discovery, the bittersweetness of letting go of the primitive past, and the ultimate destiny of the human race. It's not a dystopian or cautionary tale, as so much science fiction, but a book about what it means for our species to reach adulthood -- and a sacrifice that that may one day demand of us.

    The story begins, in classic form, with the visitation of beings from the stars. The Overlords arrive on Cold War-era Earth in immense, silver starships, and immediately establish themselves as vastly superior, but benevolent masters. Yet, they refuse to reveal themselves in person (at least not right away) or explain their ultimate purposes. Here, one might guess, as some characters do, at sinister intentions.

    But, nothing so crude comes to pass, and Clarke proceeds to a new generation of characters, as the Overlords usher in a new era of peace and worldwide prosperity for the human race. Not to mention a certain amount of ennui and loss of purpose, as mankind finds that most of its traditional problems are solved. Yet, a few people continue to puzzle over the mysteries about the Overlords and chafe against the restrictions they still impose. What are the reasons? Several intrepid explorers begin to find out.

    The writing is simple and unadorned, and the characters not particularly complex in their construction (not to mention a bit 1950s), but there's a subtle eloquence to the way the story unfolds, each stage in the human race's progress revealing a little more about the fate that must eventually come. And Clarke's writing is still a pleasure to read for its vision, its thoughtful ideas about the forms that different alien races might take, the capabilities of advanced technology, and how human society might continue to function when the primary need is that of avoiding boredom. Though a few assumptions are showing their age (newspapers, radio), much of this 1953 story still speaks to the 21st century. Clarke continues to remind us of how little we know about what's out there in the universe, or how limited our evolution has been compared to what's possible.

    Read it, if you haven't yet. Or read it again. Childhood's End is one of the works that sets the template for great science fiction, and will likely still contain meaning for new readers in fifty years.

    4.5 stars.

  • "The ocean we c..."
    The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel

    "The ocean we come from, and return to"

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    This short novel will undoubtedly stand as one of Neil Gaiman's more beautifully written, poignant books. The protagonist is a middle-aged man leaving his father’s funeral for a visit to his childhood home, where the memories of his seven year old self still linger. There, he recalls strange, dark adventures -- a friend who seemed much older than her eleven years, travels between worlds, a kindly grandmother who is more than she seems, a babysitter who turns out to be a monster in disguise, and that the kind of monsters who remove monsters can be even more dangerous.

    The dark fairy tale aspects, which won't be a surprise to readers of Gaiman's other books, feel both vividly original and hauntingly familiar, the stuff of universal childhood pretend worlds and nightmares. In this novel, though, it seems, he's intentionally blurring the lines between the fantastical and the real. One could easily read this story as an allegory for childhood imagination and the way it shapes the rest of our lives, even after we outgrow it. If so, I found a lovely sadness in that interpretation. As kids, we are both tormented and protected by things in our inner worlds, which give shape to an adult world that we don't yet understand, until we ourselves are pulled into that world's trials and temptations. Will our adult lives be worthy of our original selves? Will we remember the light of our inner friends, the cruelty and deception of our inner enemies? Will we ever again meet what we left behind?

    I found the gentle, bittersweet way Gaiman reflects on these questions touching. The things we remember from childhood may, in one sense, only be a small, weedy duck pond, but, in another sense, they’re as big as an ocean, our foundational experience of being human.

    And, of course, I can't neglect to mention how good Gaiman's reading of his own audiobook is. His throaty, enunciative voice is, well... him.