Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Books I Like, But Have A Hard Time Reading...

The book: An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham.

This is book 3 in the Long Price Quartet.  I bought the first two in an omnibus edition from the Science Fiction Book Club.  In fact, their non-offering of the remaining two books as an omnibus is one of the things that lead me to stop being a customer of theirs.  But that's a rant for another day.  I read the first two books and enjoyed them greatly, and never got around to reading the last two.  Until recently, when a paperback omnibus edition was released.  I requested the volume for Christmas and was fortunate enough that Mrs. S. gave it to me over the holidays.  Since it had been several years since I'd read the first two books, I re-read them to get ready for book 3.  They were very good, much as I remembered.  But looking back at my book log, it has taken my over 2 weeks to read An Autumn War.  Normally I'd read 5 - 6 books in that time period.  The book was good, but painful to read.  If I weren't such a completist when it comes to reading books, I'd have put it down and moved on long ago.  As it is, I can't bring myself to read book 4 yet.

So what happened?  Let me put forward a few ideas.  First off, the book removes the very unique magic system from the world, as the main premise of the plot.  The culture portrayed in books 1 and 2 is the sole possessor of this magic, and when it goes away, they are vulnerable to military conquest, having trusted in their magic to keep them safe for generations.  So, no cool magic = less cool story.  Next point: the book is about the attempt to militarily conquer the now defenseless society, yet the military stuff is all off stage.  Whatever gratification there is to be had from reading descriptions of battles is not present.  Mostly what we get is the POV of the leaders of both sides of the conflict, feeling guilty about doing things they feel they must, in service of the greater good.  A lot of talking, but not a lot of doing.

Anyway,  I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, and I'll eventually read book 4 for that reason, but this book just didn't hold my interest as much as the previous two.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Dangers of Teaching by Analogy

S. Jr. : Mommy, do farmers maple sugar the horses the same way that they milk the cows?


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sidereal Jr. Discovers the Germ Theory of Disease

Upon learning that his father has an ear infection:

S. Jr.: Daddy, maybe you got germs in your ear when somebody with germs in their mouth yelled at your ear.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Review: Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis

Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis
published in 2009 by Solaris


Quincey Morris (a descendant of the character of the same name from Dracula) is a supernatural troubleshooter, called in to handle anything from a passel of Texas vampires, to poltergeists and evil curses. After beating up on some vamps in the first chapter (which seems to have originally been a short story of its own), Morris is called upon to investigate an escalating series of supernatural seeming events afflicting a family living in small town Pennsylvania. Morris is a fairly non-magical guy with lots of expertise in the supernatural, so after a quick investigation he figures out that a powerful practitioner of black magic (the titular woman) is trying to kill the family. Realizing he is out of his league magically, he calls upon his friend, Libby Chastain, who happens to be a powerful practitioner of white magic. With Morris' help, she sets up some temporary protective wards, and then the two of them set out on a cross-country journey to identify the bad witch and stop her.

Morris and Chastian tracking down their opponent is the main storyline, but an almost completely unrelated storyline is formed when a practitioner of evil magic from southern Africa arrives in the U.S. on a commission to create a powerful, evil magical artifact from the hearts of innocent children. An African-American FBI agent and a visiting South African agent (from their version of the X-Files) spend about half the book chasing down the serial killer of small children. The FBI agent plays the role of Scully, slowly being awakened to the supernatural while he tries to track down the killer.

Mild spoiler alert:

The two storylines almost, but not quite come together, when it is revealed (early on) that the evil African magician is working for the black witch who is tormenting the Pennsylvania family for personal reasons unrelated to her desire to obtain the evil magical artifact.

My Opinion:

I liked this book, even though there are some serious flaws in it.

1) The main bad guy, the evil witch, is supposed to be a powerful descendant of a long line of powerful, evil witches. She has a long term plan to become a Major Player in the supernatural underworld, but risks it all in order to carry out a 3 century old family vendetta (against the people who hire Quincey Morris). This results in Quincey Morris being brought into the picture and ends up ruining her plans. The bad guys behave systematically stupid, which allows the good guys to catch them.

2) The two storylines (Morris-Chastain and the child serial killer) don't quite come together in a satisfactory way. Either one by itself would have made a good novel, but to me they don't quite fit right together.

What I liked: Well, I liked all the good-guy characters. I am very fond of repurposing, or building upon pieces of classic novels, so the whole idea of Quincey Morris was the reason I bought the book. I also liked the two law enforcement agents of the second storyline. Their characters worked well together, and I hope Gustainis considers writing a book about their adventures.

The world building seems very standard urban-fantasy, though without a strong romantic component. What I liked very much was that Quincey Morris is very much a non-supernatural actor, who happens to have a lot of knowledge about the supernatural world. Gustainis is very clever in having Morris adapt modern technology to the myths of the various supernatural beings Morris encounters.

The Roundup:

Fun book, could have been better, will probably get the next book in the series, Evil Ways, eventually. I'd probably have it already if these books were sold in an e-book format that my Kindle can handle.

Next: The Detective Inspector Chen novels by Liz Williams.


What Other People Have to Say about Black Magic Woman:

A review at the Love Vampires Site.

Flynn Gallagher's review at the Internet Review of Science Fiction

Jackie at Literary Escapism

A review at The Dark Phantom Review

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Review: The Last Colony, by John Scalzi

The Last Colony, by John Scalzi, published in 2007 by Tor Books


The main character of each of the two previous novels in the "Old Man's War" series are reunited in The Last Colony: John Perry and Jane Sagan. John has retired from the Colonial military and has been given a new civilian body (pretty much like normal humans, as opposed to military bodies, which feature all sorts of upgrades). Jane has retired form the Special Forces (meaning she is a clone grown from a dead volunteer's DNA and has spent her entire 10 years of life as a soldier), and is also given a civilian body. John and Jane have married, and are minor members of the bureaucracy in the local government on a peaceful colony world. Together they are raising an adopted daughter,

Towards the beginning of the novel, John and Jane are approached by the Colonial government and asked to serve as the leaders of a brand new colony being planned on a world the Colonials have traded for from another alien species. In this series, interstellar civilizations compete fiercely for inhabitable worlds to colonize, very frequently resulting in all out warfare. To obtain a new world without fighting is almost unheard of, so everyone is eager for the new colony to succeed.

Herein follows minor spoilers:

Immediately upon arrival, things go wrong, beginning with the fact that they arrive at the wrong planet. This is followed by the fact that the Colonial government lied to the new colonists and sent them to the wrong planet on purpose. This is followed by the fact that a brand new interstellar, interspecies government (that humans refused to join) has declared an immediate moratorium on all new colonies and actively hunts new colonies down and destroys them. Which is further followed by the fact that the Colonial government "let slip" the existence of the new colony on purpose to try to undermine the authority of the new interstellar, interspecies government. On top of all this, the planetary survey the humans did prior to colonization was incomplete and hasty and the planet has dangers that the colonists are only just discovering. And John and Jane, as representatives (and dupes) of the Colonial government, are perceived by their fellow colonists as liars and their authority as leaders of the colony is undermined.

My Opinion:

An interesting story, but not as fun as the two previous books. (See my review of Old Man's War.) There is much less emphasis on military action, so fans of military SF might feel shorted here. There is lots of political intrigue, both at the interstellar level and at the level of the new colony itself. This I like. We also get a more nuanced view of the relations between humans (led by the Colonial government) and other alien species. Some species consider humans to be the scum of the galaxy! And they may not be that wrong! There are a few points that didn't quite work for me, including a heavily played up threat to the colonists on their new homeworld which is never quite resolved and then conveniently disappears for the rest of the book when the "A" plot picks up more steam.

The Roundup:

A fun book to read. I am not disappointed to have given the author and his publishers my money, and I hope they view my purchase as incentive to produce further good works. This book was read by me on my Kindle, and I never would have purchased it had tor.com not offered Old Man's War for free a while back. This single free e-book has lead to the purchase of two more Scalzi books, whic I hope is viewed as incentive to offer further free e-books for established authors with popular series in print.

Next up: Black Magic Woman, by Justin Gustainis


What other people have to say about The Last Colony:

John DeNardo at SF Signal

A review by Russ Allbery

Rick Kleffel at The Agony Column book reviews

lorin_arch at arch thinking

gav at NextRead

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wherein a Prolonged Absence Is Explained, at least Partially, with a Further Promise of Better Behaviour

..... and I woke up in a bathtub full of ice, and all my hair was missing!

Eh, okay not really. I fell into a space-time vortex and only recently returned from an alternate reality where George H.W. Bush's son was the President of the U.S.A.

Okay, not really either, though I wish..... Actually it was the confluence of being really busy at work and re-reading the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. That's been discussed so much on the Internet already that its not really worth saying anything here. Except, damn -- cutting out that whole Faile-Shaido thing and the Bowl of the Winds could have saved three whole books, and perhaps enough trees to cover the entire state of New Jersey.

Next up, a review of The Last Colony, by John Scalzi.


Monday, February 1, 2010

New Word: malsearchification

malsearchification: noun. The use of another person's browser to conduct an embarrassing Internet search. This is most often done at work, when discovery of such a search on one's own web browser might lead to ridicule, humiliation, or legal action.
a visual example of a result from a malsearchification.