When guilty pleasures disappoint

36262498I have a weakness for monster stories. They are a guilty pleasure of mine. For example, I went (by myself) to see Godzilla in the theatre. Come on, giant monsters stomping cities? Definitely a fun couple of hours, despite the plot holes, because I really like the characters.

So, when I saw Arachnosaur on NetGalley, I thought that would be right up my alley. Unfortunately, some guilty pleasures turn out not to be pleasures, and this was one of those.

Basically, two soldiers are the only survivors in an attempt to take out a terrorist group in the middle east. They are recruited to figure out how the terrorist group became so dangerous, especially since the senior survivor swears he saw another soldier blow up from the inside out.

The answer, of course, is giant primordial spiders found by the terrorists, who are trying to turn the effects of the spider webs (that’s what makes people go boom) into a weapon that they apparently want to sell for reasons never stated.

Along the way, the two soldiers pick up a pilot named ‘Speedy’ Gonzales, a doctor who is both female and Arab (and can whip up a serum that does something pretty ridiculous to save the lead at the end), a prostitute who name keeps changing from Lailani to Leilani and back (sloppy editing there). There’s also a captain who is a good guy but turns into an antagonist later, and a retired general who recruits them in the end for a ‘we fight the monsters no one believes in’ type organization. (preview chapters from the sequel appear at the end of the book)

I could have taken the plot falling apart and the ridiculous science at the end if the characters were likeable, but unfortunately, Daniels made me want to throw my ereader at a wall. He’s crude and sex-obsessed, likes to sleep with lots of prostitutes around the world (not sure why he isn’t in palliative care from all the STIs he must have), and his idea of good sex is being a jackhammer (seriously, no foreplay at all?). He also uses drugged condoms to take out a woman twice in the books (seriously?).

Then there’s the prostitute whose name keeps changing spelling. Supposedly, she finds Daniels’ confidence appealing, and his jackhammer imitation to be good. When the whorehouse is attacked (for no apparent reason), she jumps on his back, and he just runs around with her, and when confronting attackers without a weapon of his own, he plucks her off his back and throws her at the attacker like an angry cat. Sigh. And after that, she comes with them and helps? Oh yeah, and it turns out that one of her jobs is going to Abu Dhabi and working as a dominatrix. I kid you not.

Add all of this to soldiers in the middle east who have never heard of The Empty Quarter (hell, even *I* know what that is, at least in general).

Finally, the climactic scene had me going ‘ew’, and not in a good way.

All in all, I really can’t recommend this book to just about anybody. And yet, the preview chapters for the next book in the series kind of appealed. But only if there’s nothing better to read at the time.

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Space Janitors can be Bad-Ass

31363503Jim C Hines strikes me as a very funny guy. Even if you haven’t read his books, you might have heard of his game, a few years back, where he reproduced the back-breaking poses from the covers of popular paranormal romances (making the point that men on covers have reasonable poses, while women are put into poses that implies they are contortionists — apparently his chiropractor got a lot of business out of the exercise).

His novels are often just as tongue in cheek. For example, his Princess series take fairy tale princesses, and puts them together as action heroines.

Terminal Alliance, the first book in the Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse trilogy, does a similar thing of taking a ridiculous concept, and then puts it in a serious scenario. It’s hard to take it too serious, and yet the plot gets very much so.

In this world, Earth was infected with a virus that turned humans into feral animals. Not zombies, but maybe a 28 Days Later sort of effect. Amazingly, they still survived until the kindly Krakau came by. They came up with a cure, and start restoring a number of humans at a time. Those humans are strong, near impossible to kill, and have no memories. Of course they go to work for the Krakau.

Marion “Mops” Adamopoulos is the head janitor on the Pufferfish, an Earth Mercenary Corps ship commanded by a bridge crew of Krakau. When coming to the rescue of another ship, a new virus infects the Pufferfish, reverting to the human members of the crew to feral state. The command crew is dead, and the only unaffected humans are Mops and her team, who were in suits at the time for a repair.

Along with Doc, an AI, they get control of the ship and call the Krakau for help. Unfortunately, the Krakau plan to ‘put down’ the affected crew. Not willing to accept that, Mops and her team take the Pufferfish on a hunt to find the aliens who created this new virus, and find a cure for their fellow crew, despite being instantly named as rogues with a price on their head. And along the way, find out the truth of what originally infected their planet.

The universe is an interesting one, populated by relatable aliens, and others that are so alien that they can barely be understood. The various characters are engaging, including the extremely competent Mops, the gleefully violent Wolf, Monroe with his glitchy mechanical eye, the sarcastic AI Doc (who is part of a monocle that Mops wears), the very juvenile alien Azure, the sympathetic Krakau Admiral.

And while the world and the plot are very serious, I giggled my way through large parts of the book. The humour was perfectly balanced for my taste. It will be interesting to see what happens in the second part of the trilogy.

Life on the Moon isn’t as glamorous as you might think

34928122Second novels can be tricky, especially when the first novel was a hit. People who loved the first book expect the second to be just as good, but where the author might have had years to refine their first novel, they often get a contract that gives them a lot less time to finish the second.

When The Martian – Andy Weir’s wildly successful first novel, which was originally self-published – came out, I read it and loved it. I gave my father a copy for his Christmas book (everyone on my Christmas list gets a book as part of their gift), and he loved it. We saw the movie together in the theatres and really enjoyed it (even if they did throw out a good portion of the second half of the novel).

As a result, I approached Artemis with a lot of trepidation. There was no way it was going to measure up to The Martian, but I hoped that it would still be a good read.

Thankfully, it was.

Artemis takes place on the first city on the moon, where the locals live in cramped spaces (for the most part), and tourism is a large part of the economy, as the rich and powerful come to see where Armstrong was the first person to set foot on the moon.

Jazz moved to the moon with her father, a welder, when she was a child. Now estranged, she works as a runner, and as a smuggler. She’s trying to earn a very set amount of money that we don’t find out the reason for that amount until nearly the end of the story. Among other things, she smuggles contraband combustables (ie, cigars) for a businessman who moved to the moon to make things easier for his disabled daughter.

But then her client hires her to sabotage a business rival, offering an insane amount of money. But of course things go wrong, and Jazz finds herself on the run from the organized crime backers of the rival. She feels she has no choice but to to try to follow through on her promise.

The plot moved along nicely, and I enjoyed the planning and the action, but unfortunately the characters didn’t work as well as they could have. It seemed like Weir was checking off the diversity list. The main character is an Arab woman whose father is a devout Muslim. The on-Earth smuggling partner is in Africa, and presumabley black. Jazz has to work with a male former friend who stole her boyfriend. Another ally is the awkward geek. The cop is actually a former Mountie (who should not still be wearing the uniform). The bad guys are Brazilian. The city administrator is Kenyan. The daughter of the employer is in a wheelchair. After all that, you basically have a full Bingo card.

Still, Jazz was likeable, and you definitely get the feel that she had a life before and after the novel.

So, while Artemis is nowhere near as successful as The Martian, I would recommend it to fans of hard sf. I just don’t think it was be as big a breakout as The Martian was, outside of the SF fandom.

Goals for 2018

Welcome to 2018! Okay, we’re almost at the end of the first week of the year, but still, welcome.

It’s been nearly a year since I started this blog, and I was pretty scattershot with my reading last year. I will read just about anything that is words on a page (hence the blog name), but I didn’t direct my reading in any way.

So, now that it’s a new year, and I’m finishing the books I started over the Christmas holidays soon, I thought I’d set myself a few goals for this year. I’ve read people talking about how they were going to read classics, or only female authors, or only diverse authors. I’m not willing to limit my reading, but I have been trying to expand my reading.

For example, last year, one of my quiet goals was to read more poetry, and I did in fact read more poetry than I have since my school days (and lord, I hated the poetry they made us read then). Did I read a *lot* of poetry? No, but I might not have read any poetry at all otherwise. I even found one poet that made me all fangirly, and I now follow her on Instagram, because she is awsome.

Still, goals for this year. I want to eat better. I want to walk more. I want to sleep more. The usual sort of shit.

But for reading, I’ve settled on a few goals.

First of all, I want to read more short stories. Short fiction has never been one of my interests, although I’ve read some great ones. I did read four anthologies last year, all in the SF/F field, but this year I want to tackle some of the collections I have on my shelves. Helen Oyeyemi, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Kelly Link, and Karen Russell are some of the short story writers who I have collections of on my TBR shelves, and I want to try and get through those.

Second, I want to read more books in translation. My reading has been very North American focused (and occasionally a book from the UK). Some of those writers may have been born abroad, but I’d like to try to get more books read that are translated from other languages.

Third, I have a trilogy (The Divine Cities by Robert Jackson Bennett) that I picked up each book as they came out, and now I want to actually read them. These can be my bathtub reads as soon as I finish the four book Lian Hearn series that I am in the middle of book three for.

Fourth, I love history, but I tend to focus on certain eras, certain countries (mainly the Ancient Mediterranean, such as Egypt, Classical Greece, Roman Empire). I want to read a history book about a time and area that I don’t tend to pay much attention to.

Five, I want to tackle Bookriot’s Read Harder challenge for this year. I did the 2016 challenge, but I don’t think I got anywhere with 2017’s list. But the list of categories for 2018 look appealing.

And reading adjacent, I want to publish a blog post every week. I think I can make sure to post at least once a week (not including any ‘what am I reading’ posts).

So, goals. Hopefully I’ll actually succeed with a few of them. Certainly, I’ve got enough goals to keep me busy.

First to come: A review of Artemis, by Andy Weir.