Monday, January 16, 2017

Last God Standing by Michael Boatman

Jehovah the God is retired and incarnates and lives the life of an asthmatic black man aspiring to marry his girlfriend and make it as a stand up comedian.

All deities have agreed not to interfere with mankind but something is up and Lando must dip back into the Godhood biz and try to keep the universe from shattering.

Does he give up his mortality to set things straight or is it already too late?
Then we sell you to a sweatshop in Mexico or Singapore or Waco, or just rent you to those two idiots from John & Kate Plus 8. I guarantee you… in five minutes you’ll regret everything you ever did in your whole life.
Dated references can be problematic. Pluck a reference from pop culture today and catch the zeitgeist the characters are living, or risk appearing corny as hell in a few years. I think we know in what category John & Kate Plus 8 falls.

Broad humor falls flat as often as not. It is played out by a 'bumbling' god and a cast of unsympathetic characters. A shaky foundation to the 'rules' of magic/religion make this an uneven read. Impossible things happen but are then impossible again. The premise is interesting but it can be a chore to pick up the book again after a rough patch.

Eventually the author abandons humor to get to the rest of the story out.

The alternate reality thing was pretty good. Imagining a world where Africa and the Americas are the predominant world culture rather than Europe was well done.
Through them, I plunge into the river of human consciousness. Through them I am absorbed into the flow of All, allowed entry onto the DNA-encoded information superhighway that defines every god who ever lived. I kick down the unlocked doorways of doubt – doubt can’t help me here – and plunge deeper, past what is known to what is hoped, to what is dreamed and dreaded and adored and hated, falling until I reach the primaevel core of human creativity, linked directly to the collective unconscious; the morphogenetic field; the phenomenon that unites humankind through simultaneously generated ideas and shared cultural symbolisms. It is the sea from which consciousness arises and the river through which it flows. It is the uncharted depths of shared metaphor, the River of Souls: the Eshuum
The novel aspires to combine broad humour and some pretty heavy metaphysical concepts. Not quite successful in this but there are some pretty good scenes and the ending does manage to wrap up strange god/supergod premise.

Finished reading December 18, 2016

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blightborn by Chuck Wendig

Second book in the Empyrean trilogy. It picks up right away from the first book. It is a dystopian future based on mono-agriculture (fuel corn in this particular scenario) and a totalitarian regime using various techniques to keep the masses in check. The parallels are clear. No single character is particularly endearing, including the hero Cael. The painfully obvious hierarchy metaphor of the floating cities for the haves vs. the have-nots is juxtaposed with the lack of any nobility or vision on either side of things.
Besides, the Heartland treats the hobos the same as the Empyrean treats the Heartland. There’s always an order to things. Someone’s always on the top. Someone’s always on the bottom.
She’d rather be on the top, thank you very much.
I was as slow to read this book as it was for the first. Mostly because it's kinda depressing when there's no one to really cheer on. Everyone seems to be stumbling along trying to achieve their selfish ends.

The gay character gets to develop a romantic relationship. Perhaps it was controversial when the book first came out but now it seems kinda an overused point of conflict. Except the Heartland is a reflection of middle America so still an appropriate issue to address.
...We were a team. He didn’t think we were the leaders of the Sawtooth Seven, but we were, oh, we were. We were bound together in our hatred for the Empyrean. The skyrapers were just starting to really seal the deal, taking things away from us that we’d always assumed would be there: our farms, our education, our choice. We’d already had to put up with them floating above us and telling us who to marry, but now we had no choice as to what we did with our lives. And the way to the sky was shut.
Mission accomplished, but Cael might be dead. No other main characters missing. No one is particularly heroic. I'll probably read the third book in the trilogy soon, just to see if I feel the same way that the first two thirds of the book is a bit of a slog and last third is great fun.

Finished January 9, 2017

The Iron Druid Chronicles, a series by Kevin Hearne

Iron Druid Atticus O'Sullivan is the last Druid on Earth, and thanks to his special concoction he calls Immortalli-Tea he has lived since time of the Roman Empire. With his sidekick the Irish wolfhound Oberon, he wields the power of Gaia to protect the Middle Earth against the depredations of Norse, Greek, and Roman gods; as well as the powers of Faerie. There are vampires and werewolves, and many other "monsters" as well.

This urban fantasy series is very much in line with Dresden Files. The romantic relationship between Atticus and his apprentice Granuaile, that weaves its way through the book, rarely relies on the "rescue the princess" trope. Good adventure and with a sense of humour. Oberon, the "talking" dog, mostly interested in sausages and poodles, is my favorite sidekick in this genre.

1. Hounded
Atticus O'Sullivan is the last of the Druids. He lives quietly in Arizona; running an new-age bookstore and occasionally shape-changing and hunting with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. Centuries of peace and quiet come to an end when a Celtic god tracks him down looking for some stolen property.
2. Hexed
Things are getting hectic in Tempe, Arizona. Atticus must contend with not one, but two witches' covens, a fallen angel, and followers of the Roman god Bacchus. With his faithful hound Oberon, some good neighbours, and his vampire lawyer, Atticus must broker a supernatural peace in Arizona and protect the mortals he has been hiding among.
3. Hammered
Things are becoming untenable in Tempe, Arizona. Anonymity seems out of the question now as vampires and demon hunters both seek to use and/or destroy the last Druid. Its time to get out of Dodge so as a favor to his vampire lawyer Atticus travels to Asgard to battle Thor.
4. Tricked
The battle on Asgard left some powerful enemies now looking for Atticus in Arizona. The local Navajo trickster god Coyote helps the Druid hide, but also tricks him into dealing with some nasties out in the desert. Further tricks are played on Atticus by godly powers closer to his heart.
5. Trapped
The druid Atticus has survived since the Roman empire by flying below the magical radar. Now his cover is blown just when he has to risk returning to Europe to complete his apprentice's binding to the Earth to become the first new druid in 2000 years.
Enemies from the Roman and Greek pantheon as well as vampires, Loki, and the Norse dark elves are all out to get the druid.
6. Shattered
The apprentice is now a full druid, and after rescuing his archdruid and former master from a magical time-bubble prison there are now three druids.
Atticus, Granuaile and "Owen" must battle Loki and a malevolent menagerie of magical beings. Is the newly Gaia-bound druid ready for the big leagues? Is the newly released archdruid able to adapt to a world that has passed him by? Can Atticus protect his friends and family while battling for the fate of the earth?
7. Hunted
The druids' last interaction with the European gods at the foot of Mount Olympus have come back to haunt them. Atticus, Granuaile and Oberon, the wolfhound must race across Europe, fleeing the best hunters of the Greek pantheon.
Loki is preparing for Ragnarok and killing Atticus is part of the preparations. Can the druids reach sanctuary in Britain and thwart Loki's plans before the hunters catch their prey?
8. Staked
Atticus and his friends must come together to deal with the vampire conspiracy the almost exterminated the druids 2000 years ago. Owen, his former mentor, and Granuaile, his former apprentice, both have their own problems to deal with before they can all team up and put an end to the vampire's plans to take over the world.

Its great that a series this long can manage to tie off long running plot elements, kill off and introduce new characters, and still maintain the air of ongoing risk necessary for a fun adventure.

Oberon the sausage-loving Irish wolfhound is still around for comic relief so I'm gonna keep reading the series.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Beacon 23 by Hugh Howey

Mankind has moved out into the galaxy; they a not alone. Beacons are strung out among the stars to facilitate safe travel for faster than light ships. These beacons are the lighthouses of the future, and like lighthouses of yore they need a lighthouse keeper. One lighthouse keeper plays a pivotal role in brokering peace while battling his own demons.

Hugh Howey has gained some fame by personally managing his publishing rights and keeping his e-book rights above all else. The e-book and audiobook business is pretty hinky in general so Howey's courage and sacrifice is something many new authors should consider if and when they break into the business.

I look forward to read more by Howey. I listened to the audiobook, actually. The first person viewpoint and the context of trying to stay sane while living alone in a beacon lent itself very well to the audio format.

Finished 13 December, 2016.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Barking by Tom Holt

This standalone novel by Tom Holt twists the werewolf-vampire trope into a humorous story about belonging and the magic of chartered accountancy. An old childhood friend inserts himself into the life of our protagonist. Is being a dull junior lawyer doing estate law different from being the junior monster in a werewolf pack?
No, he argued with himself, it’s not the magnificent heightened senses and superpowers and all that stuff. It’s not even the changing into an animal, because that’s great. It’s them: Luke, Pete, the bloody Ferris Gang. I was right to leave them and wrong to come back. If only I can get away from them for good; New Mexico— 
But that wouldn’t be possible, would it? Your wolf is first and foremost a pack animal. He’s part of a group. He belongs. Now, belonging is a wonderful thing, as opposed to being isolated and lonely and nobody in the world giving a damn. But like everything else, it depends. Above all, it depends on who you belong to.
This is a fun and surprising take on werewolves. Comparing and contrasting the pack mentality with being a lawyer, and a dull estate lawyer in particular, in a law firm turns out to be a great source for humor.
Biscuits: he remembered them, vaguely. They belonged to a world where people were people, rather than werewolves, zombies, vampires or unicorns; a place he might once have taken for granted, but never again. The events of the last two days suddenly rushed up around him, like flood water, and he huddled in his chair, his face in his hands, as though his memories were a cloud of buzzing flies.
Holt apposes mundane office life with the fantastic to make the fantastic both mundane and silly. The problems of werewolf life include maintaining pack order, not chewing the furniture, getting drinks in down at the pub, and not snacking on cats.
A quiet room somewhere with no windows, a calculator and a pencil, and that’d be the end of Bowden Allshapes. A few calculations, some straightforward addition, the two bottom lines would balance and that’d be it. Accountancy as a lethal weapon; death by double entry. And then he’d be free.
The central conflict of the book revolves around trying to balance the numbers in a set of books. It is less a werewolf story than it is about identity and finding where you belong... and the magic of accounting. Plus there's a unicorn.

Finished 12/11/2016 8:02 AM

Calamity (Reckoners 3) by Brandon Sanderson

The series continues with the previous rebel leader turned evil and the team trying to turn him back. I can see this being the series conclusion, especially with Sanderson having so many other projects on the go.
(Is there a point to this? I asked. Yeah. Entertaining me. Say something stupid. I’ve got popcorn and everything. I sighed, tucking away)
All the texting and stupid puns and metaphor manglings makes sense as the books are targeted towards the young adult crowd. The violence level makes it more teen than tween.
Well…crashed it here. Turns out flying is way harder than people think. In the air, I was about as adroit as seventeen geriatric walruses trying to juggle live swordfish.
Might need to work on that one.
In a series where regular folk are the heroes and Epics are villains and monsters I found the conflict resolution a bit too easy. It was probably appropriate for the age range though. An excess of subtlety can ruin a straightforward adventure.

A fun sci-fi adventure very much along the lines of Sanderson's Alcatraz series.

Read 29 November, 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kingkiller Chronicle - The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are the first two books of the Kingkiller Chronicle trilogy. Rothfuss twists the usual teen hero fantasy in an interesting way by switching between the past where the boy becomes a man and reveals his great powers and a future where he has lived through his 'heroic' deeds and now hides in anonymity. We are all waiting for the third book to explain what happened during the intervening years, especially what the whole 'Kingkiller' thing is all about. There's also an ancient evil that few people believe in to deal with.

Rothfuss has received well-deserved praise for his writing. He is great at hanging rich world building and character development on an intriguing plot. Dialogue and terminology specific to the world is not loaded with jargon or medieval-ism.

It was 4 years between the first two books and so far we have been waiting 5 years for the third book (The Doors of Stone - coming 2018?). Perhaps the delay is due to Rothfuss spending so much time going to conventions and doing his podcast: Unattended Consequences: A weekly conversation between Patrick Rothfuss and Max Temkin (Cards Against Humanity). Perhaps it is the time he devotes to his family or his Worldbuilders charity. The monster.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things was published three years after the second novel. It is a standalone side story featuring a complete adventure focusing on a secondary character. I haven't read it yet as I wanted to read it shortly before I get my hands on the last book. In general I dislike waiting years between books in a series so I try to let them pile up. Rothfuss has said that the third book will definitely complete the trilogy, but there will be more books set in the world and include his main characters as well as shedding light on new and minor players.

In other news, Lin-Manuel Miranda will be involved in a TV adaptation and a movie of Kingkiller Chronicle.

I don't necessarily suggest immediately going out and reading these two books, I strongly suggest you get them as soon as the third one is available... or the movie comes out.

I read Name of the Wind in November 2010,  and Wise Man's Fear in May 2011.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak

Black City Saint by Richard A Knaak is an urban fantasy novel set in the days of Prohibition and Al Capone. Its magic system is much like Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. Angels and saints co-exist and do battle with the forces of evil and chaos as represented by the magical realm of faerie ruled by Oberon and Titania. Of course, Chicago is the setting.
I wasn’t sure if Oberon had told him I was a Roman or if Doolin just thought I was Italian since my skin was swarthier than his pasty flesh. It was possible he even believed I was part of the South Side gang. Whatever the case, his assumption seemed to fuel his attack, making me wonder about his past history with Capone’s boys.
The book sticks to the noir style, warts and all. I was reminded that film-noir was created as a low budget film style. Budget writing, acting and special effects. The racial stereotyping seems pretty accurate for the period. Irish, Italian, Mexican, and black all get the old-style treatment.
Eye can give you wings . . .
Aware of what that offered entailed, I said nothing. There were worse things than endless servitude to the Gate, and believing the dragon was at all a thing I could trust with my life and my soul was one of them.
How does that last sentence parse for you? I found the writing a awkward in places. I guess it helped that the protagonist was so taciturn.

Problems arise and and are solved with little to no organic development. The characters remain invariant through the course of the story. It didn't help that the characters had no interesting quirks or habits to give them color.

Both Nick and the dragon have been around for 1600 years and yet seem pretty naive and clumsy. You'd think Nick would be a combination of Sherlock Holmes and Bruce Lee by now. Unfortunately strict adherence to the genre requires that he miss the obvious and constantly get knocked out cold.
I wondered what else had been altered just by that one card. I suspected I’d find out before too long.
And I suspected that at least something caused by that alteration would come back to haunt me and maybe offer the dragon another chance to free himself again . . . even if more than a city burned next time...
Teaser for more books? I hope not.

Knaak may be more of a pure fantasy expert. Maybe I should try some of his other works. The story was okay as an exercise in genre but the characters were flat and the period color work was stilted.

Finished 12/08/2016 5:27 AM

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

Been a while since I've read this series but there was enough of a recap built in to the first part of the story to get me back in to the swing of things.

The dragon's naiveté is a continuing, and mostly the only source of humor in an otherwise grim and stodgy alternate universe set during the Napoleonic wars.

The globe-spanning Temeraire series hits every continent, exposing us to different dragon-human cultures. In this book we start with Japan and China in the first half of the book and finish with Russia.

Of all the different ways dragons coexist with man around the world Russia is the worst, and sadly as our memory-deficient protagonist Lawrence learns, Britain is not far ahead. The amnesia gimmick is kind of hokey but forgivable given that it is book eight in the series.

The parallel to the Napoleonic wars is roughly accurate so we have a general idea of how the rest of series will play out. There are hints early on in the book that there may be a North American story in the future.

Believable period dialog and societal conventions combined with some exciting battles carry this and previous books in the series. I look forward to future installments of the Temeraire series.

Finished reading November 27, 2016

Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff

This is a story of a man with multiple personality disorder who tries to resolve his internal issues while trying to live a 'normal'  life.  His 'house' is populated by over a hundred personalities, the strongest handle different aspects of his life. Things get complicated when someone tries to play matchmaker when a woman with MPD is hired.

The developing romance is complicated by their attempt to control and/or cure their psychological issues. Sensitive, funny and dramatic in turns, Matt Ruff gives us a satisfying story about an uncomfortable subject. There is controversy over whether MPD actually exists, but that need not be of concern as Ruff is first and foremost a story teller, and uses MPD as a device to explore the characters rather than taking sides on the issue.

I've read Fool on the Hill and Bad Monkeys by Matt Ruff as well. Both great reads.

Read March 10, 2014