Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ok, so...

Let's see...books I've read so far this year:

City of Dreams and Nightmare, by Ian Whates
Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, by Jonathan L. Howard*
Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson*
New Amsterdam, by Elizabeth Bear
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde*
Kraken, by China Mieville
Widdershins, by Charles de Lint
Changes, by Jim Butcher#
Magic Burns, by Ilona Andrews#
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke*
Welcome to Bordertown, edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner*
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith
The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack, by Mark Hodder
Elsewhere, by Will Shetterly*
Nevernever, by Will Shetterly*
Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen*
Soulless, by Gail Carriger
The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo
Hard Spell, by Justin Gustainis
Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett*
Johannes Cabal the Detective, by Jonathan L. Howard*
The Strain, by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine*
Rosemary's Baby, by Ira Levin
In the Suicide Mountain, by John Gardner*
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

Books that I've actually bothered to review...1.

Quick review: all the books with * beside them are books I'd recommend to someone else. All books with # show up late in a series, and I'd recommend the whole series. Start at the beginning.

Most of the books without a recommendation aren't necessarily bad, just...not good enough to try to pressure anyone else into reading. Some of them weren't good, or were almost good, or were really good up until they totally dropped the ball.

On a side note, books I've started, but haven't finished yet, and may or may not finish before the year is out, and so may or may not count toward my total:

Heat Wave, by Richard Castle
Side Jobs, by Jim Butcher
Bonk: the Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach
What We Eat When We Eat Alone, by Deborah Madison
The Hangman's Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch
The Definitive HP Lovecraft, by HP Lovecraft
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

The top two I only have in hard copy, and so they're picked up when I'm not busy reading on my kindle. Also, I can't decide if Heat Wave is deliberately that bad as a statement of opinion on Richard Castle by the ghost writer, or if it wasn't worth any effort because it was going to sell the exact same number of copies whether it was brilliant or...what it is.

Bonk is excellent, but I discovered that my library now offers kindle books, and I checked on out before finishing Bonk, then realized I only had one week to read the book, so Bonk got shelved on account of being mine and available to read whenever I've run out of library books.

What We Eat When We Eat Alone...is, um, entertaining, but only as casual reading.

I'll cop to losing interest in The Hangman's Daughter and moving on to other things. I might pick it up again, if only because I paid money for it.

Finally, Lovecraft and Doyle are amazing. They're forces unto themselves. I started reading them just because I felt like if I was going to be influenced by them, it might as well be direct influence. I didn't expect to enjoy their work as much as I do, but mostly a story or two at a time. Especially Lovecraft. I'm turning into a genuine fan of his, but if I tried to read his entire works in one go, I'd end up like one of his characters. And no one wants that.

Well, I don't.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

CBR-III #1: City of Dreams & Nightmare, by Ian Whates

Oh, City of Dreams & Nightmare, how did you let me down? Let me count the ways:

This is a story that opens with a brutal murder, committed before the eyes of the Chosen One. Since there's no real reason offered to care about any of this, I can only assume it's supposed to matter because someone died. Lives are cheap in fiction, however, and as a reader, I need more in order to engage with the characters. Here we're barely given characters hastily sketched on paper genre stereotypes and given a heavy dose of telling instead of showing.

The titular city is built into a mountain, a hundred levels tall with the wealthiest at the top and the poor stuffed underground in an overused metaphor that's given nothing fresh or new here. It's filled up with improbable tech and weak magic (they have escalators...and they call them that. "Calling a rabbit a smeerp" is a problem in spec fiction, but can be wisely employed, and this would be a good time), and all of it's badly explained by an author who clearly has a weak understanding of what he's trying to explain.

We're given an assassin with a reputation for sadism because no fantasy story is complete without one of those, but we're never given a reason to believe he's all that evil or sadistic. He engages in some light torture, but in the grand scale of fantasy worlds, he doesn't do anything especially objectionable. He met up with one of his contacts--a prostitute who had been recently roughed up and robbed by a john. He laid out what he needed from her, then proposed a trip to her place. When presented with her injuries, however, he backed out, gave her the money to recover, and hunted down the guy who hurt her. If he were the sadist we'd been told he is, he'd have gotten a thrill out of seeing her all roughed up, and then he would have hunted down the man who hurt her because he has to take care of his contacts. I guess he was set up as an anti-hero, though, and no one wants their anti-heroes to be too anti-.

We're also given a Chosen One with an inexcusable ignorance of his own city, because the author wanted a reader surrogate to get him out of the 'As you know, Bob,' trap, but he still indulges in enough infodumps to distract from the weak story. The narration is also peppered with terms and descriptions that don't fit the characters who are supposed to be narrating, and it jumps around the timeline often enough to make keeping up annoying and break the reading spell.

I was prepared to be far more gentle with this book when I set out to write the review. There are the seeds of good ideas here. The kite guard, with capes that allow them to fly, are interesting. The big bad deployed a virus that was capable not of subverting one's will to its whims, but rather of fundamentally changing the victim so that he or she wants and believes what it wants. That's terrifying...

And yet the seeds of that good idea were destroyed when a little convenient magic was deployed that neatly wiped out the whole thing and reversed its effects. All of the main characters were wearing such obvious PC halos that there was never any genuine danger or suspense. Injuries were handed out when they were convenient to the plot, but there was always a handy healer nearby to make sure the injuries didn't get in the way. There were lots of deaths, but only to nameless, faceless paper dolls that didn't mean anything. The bad guy never had any motivation to explain why he was willing to murder to achieve his goals, and in the end, it was revealed that there was no compelling reason why the entire book had to happen.

This book has a few good ideas, but it never rises above rote genre stereotypes. It's a sad example of everything that makes people dismiss fantasy as a shallow, childish, indefensible genre. I'm not going to defend this book. I am going to ask that if you're not familiar with fantasy, to ask around to find a better book to start with.