Limyaael

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10:10 pm: More mini-reviewlettes
Because I did say I would.



Not in chronological order, at all. (For example, the first three are actually the last three books I read).

1) The Dying Earth by Jack Vance (science fantasy): …Okay, so there is officially one book with lots and lots of traits of sword-and-sorcery (barbarian kings, crazy sleeping gods, demons, evil wizards, tempestuous barbarian swordswomen) that does not annoy me.

I had heard Vance was humorous, and I didn’t find a lot of that in this book, but I’ve also heard his humor was quiet. The Dying Earth is really more a series of linked stories than anything else, wandering from character to character. For example, the first three are pretty tightly linked, as they concentrate on people all introduced in the first one, but after that it goes to a character who’s briefly mentioned as an antagonist in the third story, the nephew of a minor character in the first story, and so on. All very, very strange, with a huge waste of history behind and the constant refrain that the Earth is dying, and everyone left there knows it. Not quite like anything else I’ve ever read.

2) Ilium by Dan Simmons (hard sf): What do you say about a book set partially among sentient robots from Jupiter who have arguments about Proust and Shakespeare, partially on a seemingly paradisical Earth where exactly one human being can read and every human lives exactly one hundred years, and partially in Asia Minor where the Trojan War—yes, that Trojan War—is being played out for the amusement of beings who may or may not be the Greek gods, while resurrected Homeric scholars from past ages watch the War and report to the gods on how it diverges from The Iliad? I can say “I loved it,” but I think you’ll see why that doesn’t quite cover it.

I loved Simmons’ first two Hyperion books, and I loved this, for the same reasons: literary resonance, an attempt to have this massively complex future history that does not focus on just a galactic empire and its politics, and numerous scenes that made me sit up and say, “You are shitting me.” I’m running through Olympos right now, and it’s doing the same thing to me. Other than some typos, there was nothing to distract me from Ilium or make me wish that it had been different, and I am very glad to find stories like that.

3) Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton (Victorian fantasy)- If Victorian novels had draconic characters instead of human, you might have a book like this. I really liked the way the gender choices were justified, what differences might arise among the dragons based on who was born with what, and the shadows lying behind the surface history. (For example, while it’s hinted that humans once conquered dragons and were driven back, we don’t get a whole history of the war). It’s light, tripping fantasy that doesn’t trip up. The only limitation was that I found myself not caring much about any of the characters on an individual level, but that’s almost certainly a function of the detached style; I would have been much more irritated if I couldn’t care about the characters because of poor or lifeless writing.

4) Phoenix by Steven Brust (noir-ish fantasy, reread): Someday I must find a better description of the Taltos books’ subgenre, but I haven’t found one yet. This is the fifth-published Vlad book, and, uh, something like the sixth chronologically. (Do not try to read them in chronological order, as it will slaughter you messily).

It’s also my favorite of the series. This is not solely because it contains the line, “I think, when a god does something reprehensible, it’s still reprehensible,” or because it has some of the funniest Vlad lines, or because it shows what burning all one’s bridges at once really looks like, or because the title and the themes match the best of any of the Vlad books, or because the ending hits every button I have at once. But those all help.

5) Orca by Steven Brust (noir-ish fantasy, reread): I hadn’t read this in years, and had forgotten how immensely complicated it all is. Most of the Vlad books are straightforward (ha!) first-person Vlad. This one is first-person from Kiera the Thief, one of his friends, with nested first-person sections from Vlad; dialogue-only interludes where Kiera talks to Vlad’s wife, Cawti; and prologue and epilogue that are letters from Kiera to Cawti. We know, from various things that happen in the narrative, that there is absolutely no way that Kiera is telling Cawti everything. The book packs two enormous stings in its tail that aren’t related to the main plot at all, and yet cast a different light on the whole series after you’ve read them. And the whole thing centers on a back scandal.

A bank scandal.

Brust made me read about economics, and I liked it.

6) The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (crossover fantasy): I got, um, 130-some pages into this and put it down. There was an excess of characters who served no purpose that I could see (and whom I had difficulty keeping straight), a too-obviously-nasty antagonist whom the good characters all feared for no reason I could determine, and a sense that many great opportunities to attack the high fantasy subgenre tooth and nail were passing by in silence. Jones is so hit-and-miss for me that I’m going to have to wait a while before trying to read another book of hers.

7) Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Death Masks, Blood Rites by Jim Butcher (dark urban fantasy): More adventures with Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard. Having inadvertently gotten spoiled for a few of the major surprises, I probably didn’t enjoy these quite as much as I could have, but I enjoyed the hell out of them, so this is not a problem. I would forgive a great deal more than I had to forgive for books with such a unique conception of vampires—there’s one breed whose venom is narcotic, for example—a uniquely nasty and three-dimensional Queen of Air and Darkness, and a main character who is as screwed-up and suffering and tarnished as Harry is.

8) Red Death by P. N. Elrod (vampire historical fantasy): Set in England and the American colonies just before and during the American Revolution, this book whirled me along where I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it much; I read it because I had it lying around. The narrative is first-person, always a plus for me, and it has dysfunctional family dynamics to go along with the vampire stuff. Also, there are vampires here who enjoy unlife, who are not either brooding monsters or whining angst-bitches. Once again, I’m going to forgive a lot for that.

9) War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (urban fantasy): This is a book I’d heard about for a long time before I read it, and tried to read at one point, at which I backed away because there were hints that the heroine was Speshul. This time I sat down and read it all through in one sitting, and I think that helped.

Pluses: the band scenes rang true, the lyrics actually scanned, the villains were scary for about ¾ of the book’s length, and I liked the heroine enough not to mind the romantic aspects of the book’s plot. Minuses: There were several major revelations concerning secret identities in this book, and I got all of them chapters before the heroine did, which annoyed me. Also, I wish like hell I had met someone who could have told me not to read the last 20 pages and just imagine my own ending. The ending is far too rushed. It didn’t ruin all my enjoyment of the book, but it came close.

10) Ten Points for Style by Walter Jon Williams (space opera, reread): This is actually an omnibus of three novels--The Crown Jewels, House of Shards, Rock of Ages. They’re laid in a far-future galactic empire where the Khosalikh, the conquering aliens, conquered humanity and other races, and had a genteel and calm relationship with them until the humans had the bad taste to rebel. Now the humans are free and nominally independent, while in practice still retaining a lot of Imperial customs (and some humans are scheming to bring the Empire back). One of those Imperial customs is Allowed Burglary; under certain rules, thieves can take a victim’s property legally, and as long as they keep it for a certain period of time, it’s theirs free and clear.

Drake Maijstral is an Allowed Burglar. He’s one of those “I am so goddamned cool” characters, which means I like the books already, especially since they’re light and bouncy and don’t take themselves too seriously. But Drake is also a very self-knowing man; he’s a physical coward, and will do anything to avoid a duel, and relies almost exclusively on his cunning. Williams also has this neat tactic of following a bunch of minor characters throughout the story, and giving character development to almost all of them. Also, while there are twentieth-century icons in this book, they’re suitably warped—Elvis is the focus of near-religious worship, for example, and considered a great artist—and there are characters named things like Prince Joseph Bob of Texas. These books are uniquely themselves.



That’s enough for right now.

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