Chris hates THE PRINCE

March 1st, 2013

imageThe Prince
Niccolò Machiavelli
(1532)

What a bunch of garbage. This is AMERICA, we don’t even have princes here! Geez lou-eez, get with the times, Nick.

Chris hates SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER

February 27th, 2013

imageScourge of the Betrayer
Jeff Salyards
(2012)

So I’m clipping through this enjoyable, if mysterious, military fantasy, when suddenly, out of nowhere: BLAM-O! right in the feelings! This is a macho manly-man’s book, and there’s nothing macho nor manly about the tears that are most definitely not welling up even now, no sir, no way. Oh, God, someone hold me.

Book review: Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

February 5th, 2013

I’ve picked up a number of books through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program over the years. Some have been phenomenal, and some have been pretty good, but a lot of them have been pretty mediocre, if not downright bad. So when I signed up for a chance to win a copy of Gail Z. Martin’s upcoming novel, I had my fingers crossed: all I really wanted was an enjoyable, competently-written fantasy from an established author at a well-known publisher.

Ice Forged delivered exactly that.

The basic premise was an intriguing one: an arctic penal colony gets cut off from the rest of the world after the magical version of nuclear Armageddon. Has the post-apocalyptic scenario been done before in a fantasy world? If so, I haven’t read it yet, which isn’t saying a lot, other than that the idea here was new enough to me to be exciting. Anyway, the main character, a nobleman’s son by the name of Blaine McFadden, gets sentenced to Velant, the aforementioned penal colony at the top of the world. There’s some quick jumps in time as we see Blaine adjusting to his new life, while back on the mainland we’re introduced to a secondary protagonist, a functionary of the royal court named Bevin Connor. It’s through his eyes that we witness the magical strike which lays waste to the country of Donderath, while Connor himself escapes aboard a vessel headed for…Velant.

Martin’s an established author with a couple of published trilogies to her name, and it shows here. There’s nothing flashy, her prose isn’t noteworthy in the slightest, the characters aren’t particularly deep, and the book doesn’t make you think. But it is eminently readable; the pages and the minutes fly by in a blur. If nothing else, Martin shows herself to be a polished and professional storyteller.

Having said that, I can’t help but lament what Ice Forged could have been. Granted, this is just the first book in a series, so Martin’s laying the groundwork for future volumes, here, but. As much as I enjoyed Bevin Connor’s storyline, imagine if events on Donderath went unexplained and unwitnessed by the reader. Suddenly, the supply ships stop showing up in Velant, and Blaine McFadden’s got a mystery on his hands, and the reader is just as bewildered as he is. Suddenly, the mystery of the book becomes “What happened to Donderath?” instead of—well, that would be telling. But I think it could have been pretty amazing.

And while we’re on the subject of Blaine McFadden, one thing with him that bugged me: during his years in Velant, he adopts the nickname “Mick” to hide his true identity. Later on, his true heritage comes back to haunt him, and he’s forced to decide: is he truly “Mick” or is he “Blaine”? But it’s really a false choice, because the narrative has referred to him as “Blaine” for the entirety of the novel, and the only time the reader is reminded of the “Mick” persona is when a character (very rarely) calls him such. Instead, imagine a book that begins with the exile of Blaine McFadden, before switching to The Arctic Adventures Of Mick And Friends, and only after a large portion of the book is it revealed that Mick and Blaine are in fact the same character. Perhaps this is just a side effect of having read too much* of Gene Wolfe and Steven Erikson, two authors who thrive on strategically withholding information from the reader. But sometimes it’s worthwhile not to let the reader in on everything. (*I’m kidding, there’s no such thing!)

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but one of the other conceits of Ice Forged that was new to me in the genre was its use vampires. To the best of my knowledge, vampires have traditionally been used as a fantastical element in otherwise-contemporary settings. Here, Martin deploys more-or-less traditional vampires in a fantasy setting. Apparently, this is also true of her other series(es). I found out about this beforehand via the Author Q&A in the back of the book, and went in expecting to hate them. To the contrary, the vampire characters made for one of the more intriguing aspects of the book. Although I should say, Martin may have taken too much of her readers’ knowledge of vampires for granted, and not have explained them as thoroughly as she could or should have: I remember being jarred out of the story at one point when one of them was implied to be flying, and I couldn’t figure how that was possible, and certainly couldn’t remember it having been mentioned before.

But those are minor nitpicks. When you get right down to it, the end result is that Ice Forged is a well-written, enjoyable fantasy. Sometimes, that’s all you want. [3.5 out of 5 stars]

2013 Reading List

January 7th, 2013

Books read in 2013, listed by month finished. Books in italics are still in progress. As always, you can follow along with my reading journal @ LibraryThing, where you can also see my complete reading list, or just my 2013 reads.

January

Shardik by Richard Adams
Ice Forged by Gail Z. Martin

February

Pogo: Through the Wild Blue Yonder by Walt Kelly
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Blood and Bone by Ian C. Esslemont
Cold Days by Jim Butcher
The Devil Delivered by Steven Erikson
Fishin’ With Grandma Matchie by Steven Erikson
Revolvo by Steven Erikson

March

American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett
Archimedes’ Claw by Theodore Morrison Homa
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines
Lord of Darkness by Robert Silverberg
The War Hound and the World’s Pain by Michael Moorcock
Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont

April

The City in the Autumn Stars by Michael Moorcock
Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines
The Dragon in the Sword by Michael Moorcock
Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks

May

Star Wars: Apocalypse by Troy Denning
The Chosen by Ricardo Pinto
Pandora by Holly Hollander by Gene Wolfe

June

The Standing Dead by Ricardo Pinto
The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe

July

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Ex-Communication by Peter Clines

August

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
The Book of Sand by Jorge Luis Borges
Shakespeare’s Memory by Jorge Luis Borges
This River Awakens by Steven Erikson
Star Wars: Crucible by Troy Denning
Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

September

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson

October

The Third God by Ricardo Pinto
Lord Foul’s Bane by Stephen R. Donaldson

November

Runner by Patrick Lee
The Illearth War by Stephen R. Donaldson

December

The Power That Preserves by Stephen R. Donaldson
The Lurking Fear & Other Stories by H. P. Lovecraft

The 2012 Salty Awards!

January 2nd, 2013

I was quite pleased with how last year’s Salty Awards turned out, so let’s do it again! Again, this is stuff that I read for the first time last year, even if it was published earlier (and usually it was.) Here’s a link to my 2012 reading list for reference.


Statistics

Look out, here come some stats! Quickly now:

Total books read: 41
Re-reads: 8
Non-series reads: 8
Novels by female authors: 1
Short story collections: 4
Ebooks: 2
Reads that were also acquired in 2012: 13
Borrowed (unowned): 0


Best Short Story Collection 2012:

I only read four short story collections last year, and only two of them would even be worthy of a top five list. But I have to give props to:

Endangered Species by Gene Wolfe
Another year, another Gene Wolfe short story collection. This one is particularly large, with 30 stories. Some of them didn’t quite grab me, but there are still plenty of amazing stories in here. It’s been close to a year since I read them, so I don’t remember much, but just looking over the table of contents, I can recall the following as being standout stories: “The Map” (taking place after The Book of the New Sun), “The HORARS of War”, “All the Hues of Hell”, “Procreation” (very Borgesian), “The Tale of the Rose and the Nightingale” (this one has lingered the most), and “Silhouette”. I’ve got one more collection left to read this year, and I can’t wait!


Best Comic Book 2012:

I didn’t read a ton of graphic novels this year, besides the collections of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8 that I got for my wife (which were very good, by the way.) But no self-respecting Best Of list can omit this:

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
This book is considered such a classic in the field that it’s a miracle I put off reading it for so long. And it’s so absolutely mind-blowingly amazing that I actually feel bad for not having read it years ago. It is not a light undertaking (I was all but useless for two days straight) but it is so very, very worth it. The absolute pinnacle of superhero comics.


Best Novel 2012:

It was a down year for me, for novels, probably on account of how a few of them were quite long (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin) but also because of a number of weeks that saw me spending my nights playing video games, instead of reading. Of course, when I say “a down year”, I’m talking quantity, not quality; it was a very good year for those books that I did manage to read, and here are the best of them:

Runners-up:

5. Caine’s Law by Matthew Stover
I’ve loved all of Stover’s previous Acts of Caine novels, and this was the long-awaited fourth and (for the foreseeable future) final installment. Like the books before it, it is totally unlike any of its predecessors. Stover abandons entirely the conventional linear narrative and goes for something Completely Different, and the result is almost incomprehensible. And unequivocally kickass. As always.

4. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kinda funny that this made the list, when I had to set it aside for a month because I just couldn’t get it into it. But when I dove back in again, I was surprised how it felt like I hadn’t been away from it at all. In a good way. It’s a slow burn of a novel, but it’s very worth it. There’s a beauty to the thing that I have a hard time putting words to. And the end caught me quite by surprise. I will definitely be reading more of Kay’s work in the (hopefully near) future.

3. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien
I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings back when I was 10 or 11, and then again in my early 20s, but I was always wary of this one. It was supposed to be dry, textbook-like. Boring, in other words. So I avoided it. But this year, when I decided to do a full Middle-earth re-read, I planned for The Silmarillion, and was both excited and apprehensive to try tackling it. The full re-read never happened, but I did read The Silmarillion, and wow. Now granted, my reading tastes have evolved considerably over the past dozen years, but why did I never read this before? Yes, it was a little slow in a couple of spots, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is a work of staggering imagination and beauty.

2. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
Yep, I’m slow, I finally got around to reading the Song of Ice and Fire series just now. (Funnily enough, the waiting list at the library for a fifteen-year-old book is hundreds of people long, thanks to the current TV show.) Anyway, the first book in the series was great, but it didn’t quite make the cut for this list; it was well-written and engrossing, but it was just one downer after another. The second book, though…oh, this book. Besides the fact that it doesn’t have a proper beginning or end, this book is practically flawless. It was hard to imagine how Martin could even improve on this installment, but…

The best novel I read in 2012 was…

1. A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
I suppose it might not seem fair for Martin to take the top two spots, but shoot, he almost had three books make my top five. Up to the very end, I didn’t think there was any way this book could surpass A Clash of Kings, but then Martin started tying some arcs up in such satisfying ways. And then the epilogue hit, and left me breathless; I still get chills thinking about it. It was the perfect spot to end the book: at a place where the story can pause and take a breath, but with that edge that leaves you thinking, “Holy crap, what happens next?!” Absolutely brilliant.

Honorable mentions: A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock, Ghost Ocean by S. M. Peters, When She’s Gone by Steven Erikson


Book review: Vale of Stars by Sean O’Brien

December 20th, 2012

I’ll come right out and say it: Vale of Stars is a frustrating book. It’s not well-written. It’s heavy-handed. It tries to do to much. The characters are obnoxious. The science is laughable.

And yet.

In a nutshell, the story follows four generations of women, with each woman being the protagonist of her quarter of the book. It begins aboard a generation ship as it approaches its destination world, skips ahead in time to the planetbound colonies, and then expands out from there to the wider world beyond the colony domes.

From the very beginning, the characters drove me crazy. The bad guy(s) are bad guys just to be bad guys; sure, we get more insight to their motivations as the book progresses, but it turns out to be nothing more sophisticated than “I hate these people, so I’m going to be evil.” The good guys (or gals, as it were) are just as unsubtle, always interpreting every action or opinion taken by the bad guys as this totally evil thing—not because it would make any sense to do so, but simply because these are the good guys, those are the bad guys, and this is the thing that needs to happen for the plot to go, and also because the author has his points that he needs to hit you over the head with as unsubtly as possible.

There is so much in this book that doesn’t make any sense, beyond the non-existent character motivations. At one point, there’s a biological transformation that’s completely ridiculous. A little girl gets banished to the planet’s surface, where she somehow founds a complete society including technology and infrastructure.

But buried inside all of the ridiculousness are some genuinely-interesting sci-fi novel concepts, including a halfway-decent first contact story, and the exploration of the worship of more advanced beings as divinities. And that’s the most frustrating thing about this book: it takes three-quarters of the novel to get to the truly interesting stuff, but those ideas feel like distractions simply because of the way they’re shoehorned into the rest of the story.

I would love to see some of these concepts expanded into their own proper novel (or novels) but I can’t actually recommend this one. [2 out of 5 stars]

Chris hates A GAME OF THRONES

September 24th, 2012

A Game of Thrones
George R. R. Martin
(1996)

This is a book about terrible things happening to good people. It’s a book where decency is punished, and the bad guys win. It’s depressing and horrible…and I loved every minute of it. And now I hate myself.

Chris hates DEEP SKY

September 13th, 2012

Deep Sky
Patrick Lee
(2012)

The concluding volume of Patrick Lee’s “Travis Chase” sci-fi thriller trilogy literally made my brain explode. Yes, I said literally. Now I’m dead, and can only blog from beyond the grave. And you know what’s hard? Typing out these posts with ghost fingers, that’s what’s hard. Thanks for nothing, Patrick Lee.

Chris hates THE BOOK OF THE NEW SUN

May 28th, 2012

The Book of the New Sun
Gene Wolfe
(1980)

So I’m starting in on this one, and it seems very much like your standard sword-and-sorcery fantasy. And then weird stuff starts bleeding in… Is—is that a raygun? Are those…aliens? Waitaminute, is the Matachin Tower actually a grounded rocketship? No no no no, science fiction and fantasy are two distinct genres for a reason! Gene Wolfe, you got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter in my chocolate!

Chris hates CAINE BLACK KNIFE

May 24th, 2012

Caine Black Knife
Matthew Stover
(2008)

Matthew Stover is a f***ing fantastic writer, and his Acts of Caine are awesomely, brutally violent. But Mr. Stover has a fatal f***ing flaw, and it is this: he doesn’t use the word “f***” f***ing often enough. Is it too f***ing much to ask that every f***ing paragraph be seasoned with no fewer than 10 “f***“s? F*** no, it isn’t! Stover tries his best, but f*** if I still can’t help but hold this f***ing failure against him.