Gaming novels can be good

33405149I rarely read game-based books, especially role playing game books, but for Seanan McGuire, I was willing to give it a try. (The last time I read a book for an RPG game was almost 20 years ago when I went through a White Wolf games phase)

I found the world — steampunk mixed with horror in an alternate US — fascinating, and the characters were very likeable. The plot itself was a bit obvious here and there, but included enough twists to keep me enthralled. Seanan once more proves herself versatile and well worth reading.

In this world, American Indians from various tribes got together to perform a ritual in an attempt to drive the Europeans off their land. This didn’t really work, but it did create a large number of animal and mystical dangers.

Annie Pearl is a member of a travelling circus, along with her mute daughter. She takes care of the wagon of deadly ‘freaks’. Things like nibbler fish that sound like pirhanas with even worse teeth and attitude, terrantula spiders, pit wasps, a corn husk creature with a pumpkin head that if allowed would plant itself inside the corpse of a human. It’s a dangerous job, but she does well at it, and it’s the last place her husband (a steampunk style inventor/Frankenstein) back in Deseret (in Utah) would look for her.

Unfortunately, the circus has had some bad luck, and may not make it through the coming winter. The manager decides to take the risky chance of going to a community called The Clearing in Oregon, which has a patchy reputation. The Clearing is just that, a treeless bow-shaped valley in the middle of the woods of Oregon. The people come across very hostile, but the circus has little choice.

Worse than the people of The Clearing is the shadows lurking in the forest, watching and waiting. And when Annie’s daughter is tricked by the local children into going alone into the woods, everything comes to a head. Meanwhile, the husband she fled is coming after her, and will stop at nothing to claim his daughter for reasons that are not good for her.

I’m not sure that I am interested in reading any of the other books written for this game setting, but I am very glad I read this one. It’s a perfect read for right around Halloween.

Note: I got the chance to read this book through NetGalley.

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Don’t get stepped on

34954246My first experience with what could be called Kaiju was the Godzilla cartoon (and Godzuuuuuuki… ignore the cries of horror) when I was a kid. My second was the Power Rangers series when I was in my twenties. The most recent was the latest Godzilla movie and Pacific Rim. I always thought they were fun, but not much more than that.

Giant Creatures in the World takes a long look at the Kaiju genre, and uses it as a reflection of the culture of the various times. While I doubt that producers were quite as deliberate as the essays might make it seem, they do make a good argument for a reflection between the movies and attitudes of the various times towards women, foreigners, the military, government and other subjects.

The essays in the collection were intriguing, covering from the era of the first Godzilla movie (and before by bringing in movies like King Kong as a predecesor) through to the far more recent Pacific Rim.

Unfortunately, there were a few quirks that brought down my enjoyment of the book. First of all, I think there was only one essay that didn’t include a variation on ‘this essay will discuss’, which made it feel a little like they all were written based on the college instructions on how to write an essay. The author bios make it clear that these aren’t college students, so couldn’t they have let the essays communicate on their own, without telling me explicitely what they intend to do?

There are also a few bad word choices scattered around. For example, an object does not revision something. Revision is a nown, not a verb. It might reinvision something, though. As well, there was one of my pet peeve homonym issues in that you ‘rein’ something in, not ‘reign’. A little more editing (and certainly copy-editing) would have helped a lot.

47 years and counting…

28010373In recent months, I’ve got through a whole bunch of books in the Mack Bolan universe, which make for great bathtub reading due to pace and length. I figured I might as well do a post on the multiple series and their histories.

Mack Bolan has a long and bizarre history. The first novel was published in 1969 (!) by Pinnacle Books, written by Don Pendleton. In the series, Mack Bolan is a soldier in Vietnam who gets called home after his family is destroyed. It turns out that his father owed a loan shark a lot of money, and since he couldn’t pay for it, his daughter (Mack’s sister) was forced into prostitution. In shame, the father shoots his entire family and then committed suicide. The only survivor was the youngest, Johnny. When Mack finds out, he goes on a crusade to wipe out the Mafia, acquiring allies and enemies along the way.

People who read Marvel Comics are probably going ‘wait a second, that sounds an awful lot like The Punisher’. Well, the Punisher first appeared in 1974, five years after the Executioner. There have also been interviews that indicates that the creator of the Punisher was influenced by Don Pendleton’s books. Today, they probably would be sued for plagiarism.

Continue reading “47 years and counting…”

Walking out on Civilization

34956706One of my goals over the last two years was to expand my reading into areas that I might not have gone looking for before. And while I have read books on climate change, they have been primarily in the science field, by writers like Elizabeth Kolbert (The Sixth Extinction)

But Walking on Lava is not a science book about climate change. Instead, it is a more literary look at the world, climate change, and destruction of the environment. Artwork, poetry, stories, memoirs, and essays collected from the Dark Mountain Project magazine (which I had never heard of before

Honestly, I may not have been the ideal target for this book. On the one hand, I admired the writing as I was reading, but I also wasn’t really buying the message. There was a lot of talking about the dangers of civilization, and how it is destroying the world, over and over again. Instead, we should go back to living in harmony with the world, like our ancestors. But no one mentions the elephant in the room: to make that workable, you would probably have to get rid of as much as 3/4 of the world population. There’s just too many people to live local and on subsistence farming. And even if we did reduce the population, humans tend to breed at a growth rate, especially if you are trying to grow enough food for the local area (someone has to work the fields, after all). From all the history I’ve read, overpopulation isn’t the fault of civilization, it that civilization came about due to overpopulation to deal with the friction that resulted.

Still, the writing was (for the most part) lovely, and did make me think in places, even when I disagreed. ‘Shikataganai’ in particular, near the end of the book, affected me deeply.

When Security Fails

25810610Security, by Gina Wohlsdorf, is one of the better first novels that I’ve read in a while, despite a few annoying minor flaws, and I would definitely recommend it to suspense fans.

Manderly Resort is a new operation, about to open. Tessa is the manager driving the project for her rich boss. She’s the product of the foster system, and her foster brother/crush, an extreme biker star, has shown up to see her for the first time since the death of his twin brother. She doesn’t really have time to deal with him, since she’s trying to wrangle a temperamental chef, married staffers having a rough patch, a cleaner who has issues with men, and a lover who is chief of security, up on the twentieth floor where no one except security even knows how to get to.

Oh, and there is a pair of killers lurking in the building, killing people off, one by one, but no one knows that they are there, other than the narrator of the book.

I did find the apparently omniscient narrator to get a handle on at the start of the book, but when you reach the point where you find out the truth about the narrator, I went ‘ooooohh, now I get it. That’s clever.’

There were some characters that I really wanted to survive (the previously mentioned cleaner who turns out to be tougher than expected was top of my list, not Tessa or her foster brother/crush). There were other characters who I would have cheerfully killed myself (the married pair were top of the list).

But as much as I enjoyed the book, there were some sloppy parts that had me gritting my teeth. The worst was the point where there is a smell that has a character investigation, opening door after door, only to be called away before opening the door where he would have seen a dead body, giving away the game. He never bothered to go back, which made me want to smack him.

There’s also the danced around conversation between Tessa and her brother that keeps being put off, which made me want to knock their heads together.

And seriously, a glamorous resort, but members of the staff are using the penthouses as their homes away from home? That seems a little iffy.

SPOILER. Finally, who were the damn killers? Since the narrator turns out to be very limited, we never find out more than his speculation of who they are or why they are doing this. As well, if they are planning on killing everyone, why did they let all the sous-chefs and kitchen staff leave to go home, even after the killing has (quietly) started. Plus, the security staff were pretty damned ineffective, considering they were killed with little to no effort./SPOILER

The final action sequence definitely saved the book for me. At the end, despite unanswered questions, I was very satisfied with the book. I will say, though, it feels like instead of a book, it should have been a kick-ass summer thriller movie. I look forward to seeing what the author does next.

Audiobooks: Journey to Munich

32962722This was my first shot at a Maisie Dobbs book, which is mining Alan Furst territory by dealing with the period between the two world wars. In this book, the series character, Maisie, a recent widow, is approached to travel to Munich (the title kinda tells you about that) to collect a genius/publisher who was arrested and thrown into Dachau, which I never realized was on the outskirts of Munich.

Apparently the Nazis (we are in 1938, so the Nazis are in complete control, and about to invade Austria) insist that a family member collect the man, and since his only living relative is a daughter dying of tuberculosis, Maisie is recruited to go in her place. Since she is finally coming out of the funk she’s been in since her husband’s death and her resulting miscarriage, Maisie agrees. And she also agrees to a side mission from a powerful man to find his daughter, who has run off from her husband and child and landed in Munich, and convince her to return to the safetly of England. The complication is that Elaine is the cause of the death of Maisie’s husband, since she was supposed to be the test pilot for the plane that crashed and killed him after he took her place when she didn’t show up.

All in all, the story was very competent, as was the reader. I did find one element at the end a little problematic, since Maisie made a confusing choice that seemed to be designed to let her see a Nazi officer be brutal, since he’d been almost sympathetic up until that point of the story. There’s also no real resolution to the murder of a Nazi that Elaine was sleeping with and that she was witness to. Why was he killed? Who did it? There were hints, but nothing definite.

The most successful aspect of the book was the portrait of a city under Nazi control, knowing that war is coming. Occasionally it gets a little heavy-handed (the little German girl and Jewish girl playing together in secret because they can’t do so openly), but it was still effective.

While, I don’t feel an urge to go back and read the earlier books in the series, I have reserved the digital audiobook of the next book from the library.

Canada Reads

Well, I’m a little late getting to this, but Canada Reads came to an end.

Day 1

I was a little surprised that The Break was the first book eliminated, since from what I’ve heard of the book (it’s the last one I have to read, and the only one I haven’t started yet), it’s just the sort of book that the competition loves. A crime, the lives of witnesses, native point of view. And yet, out it went

Day 2

Nostalgia was the next to go. I actually really enjoyed this one. It was slow starting, but the ideas started coming together midway through the books, and in the end, it had a lot of meaning in relation to the present

Day 3

The Right To Be Cold wasn’t so much of a surprise. Personally, I thought this was an very important book to read, but from the first day, it was clear that the panellists didn’t understand the book. They were focused on it being a book about climate change, and didn’t like having all the other elements (memoir, pollution, colonialism, etc) in it. To me, that was painfully short-sighted. As well, there was one panellist who complained that the writing was too difficult for the average reader in Canada. Sigh.

Day 4

So in the end, it came down to the magic-realism (Fifteen Dogs) and straight sf (Company Town). I’m nearly finished Company Town, and while it’s a really good book, it just isn’t what I would consider a Canada Reads winner. As a result, I wasn’t surprised at all when Fifteen Dogs won. And for the panellist who wanted something… easier for Canada, a book that is less that 200 pages is just what he wanted. Personally, I think that’s short-sighted. Canada Reads should pick something that informs and challenges, along with entertaining the public.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that Fifteen Dogs is completely unworthy of the title, I just think that pretty much any of the others (other than Company Town) would have been a better winner.

Still, Canada Reads is over for another year. It will be interesting to see what contends next year.

The Themis Files

25733990The Themis Files is a series that I picked up the first book based only on the descriptions I was hearing: In the style of World War Z (a story told through interviews), follow a girl who falls into a hole and lands in the palm of a giant hand that turns out to belong to a giant robot.

To be honest, I was expecting something more like the children’s movie Iron Giant, but I got giant robots and politics and war, told through interviews and files. The girl is quickly moved to adult, and works with a mysterious government person to find all the parts of the robot, which were scattered around the world. The search turns deadly at times. Then comes the quest to find people who are capable of piloting the robot. The military is heavily involved, and then international politics. And once pilots are found, an unethical biologist tries to experiment on them in order to ‘create’ more pilots. Definitely not Iron Giant.

30134847With the second novel, we go even further. It’s nearly ten years later, and the world has (mostly) come together, with Themis (the giant robot) primarily used as a peacekeeper and propaganda device. But now, new robots start appearing, and they are anything but peaceful. As well, one of the acts against the pilots of Themis in the previous book bears fruit (almost literally).

And even though book one was nothing like what I expected, I was honestly shocked by events in book two. Especially several deaths that I would never have thought possible. This book also ended on more of a cliffhanger, leaving me anxious for book three. Sylvain Neuvel is proving himself a writer to watch.

Canada Reads Day One

Well, the first day of debates has gone out, and the first book out is the only one of the list that I haven’t at least started yet (although I still plan to read it).

One thing I did find mildly annoying, though, was the constant reference to The Right To Be Cold as ‘a book about climate change’ as if that was all the book was about. Sigh. It was about a lot more than that.

Canada Reads 2017 Book #1

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Fifteen Dogs is a book that I considered when it originally came out, but never got around to reading. I did hear a number of interviews with the author, and it was on the ‘someday’ list The fact that it is part of this year’s Canada Read’s contest finally got me to pick it up. I just finished reading it, and I am really not sure how I feel about it.

The book starts with the Greek gods Hermes and Apollo in a bar, which affects the people around them in interesting ways that really does fit in with the pettiness that Greek mythology portrays them with. They get into a bet about whether another species would be happy with human level intelligence. They head out and end up at a vetinary clinic, and they give the fifteen dogs inside intelligence. The parameter they set for the bet is whether or not one of those dogs would die happy (although there are a lot of arguments later about what is ‘happiness’ and at what point of dying that they should look at).

Note the part about ‘die’. In the end, every single dog dies. Some die within a day or two, others live for years. Some die violently and in other unpleasant ways. If you didn’t like A Dog’s Purpose, where a dog is reincarnated over and over again, you really should avoid this book.

Much like humans, some of the dogs are good, and some are bad. One is a poet, one is a philosopher, one is pretty weasely, and one resorts to murder, although his reasons become more understandable as the book goes on. On the other hand, they react as *dogs*, not humans in dog bodies. They were given human *level* intelligence, not *human* intelligence, and some of them are pretty conflicted about that, wanting to go back to what they were.

As well, the gods interfere in various ways, wanting to influence the outcome of the bet, the way the gods do (remember the story of the Trojan War?). Zeus, in particular, takes an interest, although initially he is very annoyed about the bet, and sets limits on what others are allowed to do in the way of interference.

In the end, I’m not sure I enjoyed the book, but it definitely affected me. I was impressed in how alien the minds of the dogs could be. The last couple of chapters did make me cry (which is a pain, since I am an ugly crier, and it leaves me with painful sinuses and a headache). I’m not sure I would vote for it to win Canada Reads, but it definitely deserves the consideration.

Next stop, The Right to be Cold, which I am nearly two thirds of the way through.

The Ants Come Marching Two By Two

Ever notice things come in pairs? Like the year Armageddon and Deep Impact were both released. Or Volcano and Dante’s Peak. By the way, I kinda enjoyed both Armageddon and Volcano for being really ridiculous. Psst. Science doesn’t work that way.

But books do the same. Like the year I read both 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson and Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds. Both books were a family drama, murder mystery, and a tour of the future solar system that humans have spread out in. Both books were good, but reading them together meant that one would suffer in comparison. In this case it was the Kim Stanley Robinson book that fell down for me.

More recently, I ended up reading two ‘genetically engineered killer ant’ books in close proximity. Back in November was Invasive, by Chuck Wendig. And on Friday I finished The Colony, by AJ Colucci. While both were enjoyable in their own way, comparing the two left The Colony suffering as a result.

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In The Colony, New York city has an infestation of planted killer ants starts killing a few people. Experts are brought in, and in the course of twenty-four hours everything goes crazy. You have rampaging military, romantic triangles, and a lot of death. But the plot is rather basic, and the science… well, it just worked far too fast. TV show fast. And the romantic triangle had all the tension of over-cooked noodles. And the ants had no creepiness. There should have been the terror of the small army coming, with no way to escape. It wasn’t a bad book, but it wasn’t a great book either

 

 

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However, Invasive had that in spades. The FBI finds a dead body surrounding by ant corpses. Working with a Futurist, they track down evidence leading to a company building ecologically friendly products. The futurist then gets the owner of the company to let her investigate the labs on an isolated Hawaiian island. The ants don’t get on the loose until more than halfway through the book, and when they do arrive, the tension that had been slowly building ramps up. By the end of the book, I was on the edge of my seat.

 

 

Reading and comparing the books is a practical example of how tension and fear can be built, and how not doing so can pull a good idea down. But if you want to read only one of these books, I definitely say pick the Chuck Wendig. Invasive was by far the better book.