End of the world

36118624When it comes to reading, my tastes run the gamut. Some days I want to settle in for a difficult read that makes me think. Other days I want popcorn. I mentioned this previously with respect to Simon R Green. Here’s another round of popcorn.

I’ve never read anything by Alex Scarrow. From what I can tell, his background has been in young readers, and non-sf thrillers. Plague Land (also called Re-Made elsewhere in the world) is very much SF.

Strange flakes start falling out of the sky. When it touches living creatures (humans or animals), it dissolves them quickly. It also poisons waters supplies. It’s first seen in Africa, and governments conceal who bad things are until it’s too later. Within a few days, there are very few survivors.

Leon, Grace and their mother, who have been living in London since their parents divorced, get a warning from their father, back in New York City. They try to get out of town by train, but get trapped when all travel is shut down. Within a day, the trio are the only survivors from a packed train. Eventually they come into contact with other survivors, who have figured out how to protect themselves.

Only, the virus, if you can call it, has moved on to phase two. It is using the dissolved organic material to create new creatures to go after the survivors in their haven.

On the one hand, the story hits the parts of me that enjoys zombie novels. However, it also falls into lazy plotting at times. Is the virus alien? If so, why try to recreate Earth animals? For that matter, why go after the survivors? There are far too few survivors to be a danger to whatever plans follow.

As well, there is a couple places that fall into the trap of ‘people do stupid things just so that the plot can be advanced’. That always annoys the heck out of me. And yet, at the end of the book, I do look forward to seeing what happens in the next book when it comes. After all, surely there must be a way of fighting back and surviving.

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Fast Food Fiction

13515091In my view, some books are perfect gourmet meals — to be savoured slowly, with great concentration — and some are McDonalds — doesn’t matter where you are, you know what you’re getting, and sometimes all you want is fast food.

Simon R Green (much like Mercedes Lackey) is a fast food writer, and when I’m in the mood, his books hit the spot.

The Ghost Finders series, which I have just finished the third book of, is about a team from the Carnacki Institute that deals will supernatural encroachments. Every book has the same elements.

1. You start with a more simple haunting (in book three, Ghost of a Dream, it’s a derelict train station being renovated for tourism). This introduces the characters and their witty banter (of course it’s witty). Happy and Melody flirt (and am I the only person who pictures Toby from the TV show Scorpion as Happy?), while JC mopes over his lost ghost girlfriend Kim (met in book one, lost in book two, and who makes a brief appearance). JC has creepy eyes, Happy is a coward who used to use drugs to dull his ESP. In the end, the haunting is solved, but there are hints of worse to come.

2. The meat of the book ties in with greater dangers from other planes of existence. In book three, the haunting is an old theatre (also being renovated to reopen). The haunting is weird, but not overly dangerous, but once they get there, things take a turn for the much worse.

All in all, this series is a fun read. The sort of book that I use for my bathtub read (nothing better to end the day than to relax in a hot bath with a drink and a book before bed)

The Semi-Annual Readathon

The twice a year Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon has just kicked off. 8am in Ottawa, Canada, so off we go

8am – starting with Terrorist Dispatch, a novel I  the Executioner series. A nice, short action novel

9am – Terrorist Dispatch is 19% done. I also got an email from the library that my reserve on the audio book of Sourdough by Robin Sloan is ready for download,  so that’s ready for later on.

10am – I’m now up to 48% on Terrorists Dispatch. 

11am – 72% done. I should finish in the next hour. After that, I’ll do a little audio book listening while knitting. 

12am – I just finished the first book. Next up, There Werewolf of Paris, by guy Endore, since The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast is covering the book this month, and I’ve been collecting episodes until I read the book. First the audio book, though.

1pm – I listened to the first 11% of Sourdough, then switched to The Werewolf of Paris. I’m only 3% into the ebook.

2pm – 17% into The Werewolf of Paris.  It is definitely of its time period. 

5pm – I took a break and went out for a late lunch (or early dinner). I also read some frantic for fun. Still, I’m at 39% for the werewolf novel.

6pm – 51% in the novel, plus 25 pages in this week’s bathtub read (there’s nothing better than a soak in the tub with a paperback to read.

7pm – And now I’m at 64%. Time to take a knitting/audio book break.

8pm – Another 11% of the Sourdough audiobook. I am thoroughly enjoying the reading. 

9pm – I’ve hit 76% in The Werewolf of Paris, but I think I’m close to my limit for the day. Before much longer, I’ll probably head to bed, although knowing my sleep patterns,  I’ll be up before the end of the 24 hours tomorrow morning. 

8am – I reached 82% before bedtime, and I have now finished the book. As well, I listened to a couple more chapters of the audio book.

Summary

Executioner 448: Terrorist Dispatch by Mike Newton – complete

The Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore – complete

Sourdough by Robin Sloan- audio book, 25% done

Ghost of a Dream by Simon R Green – 48 pages

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.

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.