Books I Bought in 2007
I'm afraid book reviews are on hiatus. You will find
here brief reviews of books through 2011, longer reviews through fall
of 2014, and then nothing. Sorry! I got distracted trying to
finish a game and then never got back to reviewing.
I acquired 93 books in 2007.
More of la-belle-dude-sans-memoire, in Egypt. This seemed shallow, but
Wolfe always convinces me that it's my own fault for not getting it.
- Wolfe, Gene
- Soldier of Sidon
Newest Nightside novel? I don't remember anything about the story,
which is fine. You don't read these in order to have your literary
outlook changed forever.
- Green, Simon R.
- Hell To Pay
Private detective learns to see ghosts. Good idea for a series (I
mean, if you've already decided to cash in on the supernatural-romance
sweatshop) but the writing failed to carry it. The pacing seemed all
wrong; I had no sense of what the protagonist cared about or worried
about. Also, her helpful magic buddy and convenient boyfriend were
both too convenient and helpful for any tension. Will not read sequel.
- Richardson, Kat
Some of Reynolds's best stuff. These stories are not set in his
"Revelation Space" universe. This makes them less depressing.
- Reynolds, Alastair
- Zima Blue and Other Stories
More shapechanging mechanic. This swerves sharply towards the median:
our heroine is torn between her werewolf boyfriend and her human
boyfriend, or was it vampire boyfriend? Or a second werewolf? I now
have the plot confused with, oh, about three other series, and whose
fault is that? Still readable.
- Briggs, Patricia
- Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson, book 2)
Urban fantasy from Moscow, where the natural evolution of
light-vs-dark is the business-as-usual milieu of
barely-distinguishable corrupt government and crime mob. Light
magicians and sorcerers are bogged down in a permanent
standoff-and-treaty with Dark vampires and witches -- with countless
deals, alliances, rivalries, and friendships running across the line,
at every level from the petty to the top. Charming and tricksy. Also
made a great movie.
- Lukyanenko, Sergei
- Night Watch
Kid meets intense mythic avatars from the dawn of et cetera.
Present-day setting, and brings in some characters from Kay's early
Fionavar trilogy. This bothered some people who remembered anything
about Fionavar. It didn't bother me, but in retrospect those
characters were a distraction from the plot. But then maybe the plot
needed distraction. Without Kay's usual layerings of historic detail,
the intense mythic avatars kind of came off as twits.
- Kay, Guy Gavriel
I read this on Scalzi's web site Way Back When. Old guy signs up on a
one-way trip to Explore the Off-World Colonies! Up side: restored
youth; down side: it's a military ticket. Most of Earth's old folks go
for the deal. We thus get a war story which isn't the growing-up of
a naive teenager, which is worth the price by itself. Enthusiatically
told and funny, too. The plot of the last section goes off in a
somewhat unrelated direction; you could look at this as a set of
closely-linked novellas, or as the beginning of a trilogy with
long-term plot threads.
- Scalzi, John
- Old Man's War
I think this series needs momentum on its side. I had to wait a long
time for the paperback of this (and the sequel still isn't out in
paperback). When I'm not chewing the series down like candy, it isn't
that memorable. Anyhow, our hero attempts to cope with the tidal wave
of crap that the past several books of bumbling have brought down on
him. (PS: I liked the TV series, so there. Different story, different
characters, but nicely done.)
- Butcher, Jim
- Proven Guilty
Series of short stories in an Australian future -- meaning the mix of
aboriginal and colonial, nation and tribal confederacy, mythic and
scientific. Also a lot of alien and slightly posthuman. (I already had
some of these volumes, but now I have matched editions.)
- Dowling, Terry
- Blue Tyson
- Twilight Beach
Continuation of steam-pulpy kids' series about a boy chasing around
the House of the Architect after God's Will. (Still in probate.) Has a
nice percentage of creepy. I wish these were coming out faster, though --
they can't take that long to write.
- Nix, Garth
- Lady Friday
- Friedman, Daniel P.; Felleisen, Matthias
- The Seasoned Schemer
I never got good at functional or logical programming. I went
through these as a refresher. They're followups to the original
Little Lisper (later rewritten for Scheme); tutorials and exercise
books written in Socratic form.
- Friedman, Daniel P.; Byrd, William E.; Kiselyov, Oleg
- The Reasoned Schemer
Collection of academic articles on RPGs and computer games. Ego
purchase: one of the articles is about my game Shade. Many of the
other articles are excellent, and I only stop at "many" because I
skipped around a lot. Eventually I need to read the rest. Contributors
include Costikyan, GRRMartin, Borgstrom, Czege, Kevin Wilson, Mechner,
Meretzky, Crawford, Ken Hite, Emily Short, ...
- Harrigan, Pat; Wardrip-Fruin, Noah
- Second Person: Role-Playing and Story in Games and Playable Media
Standalone novel set in Gentle's "Ash" alternate history. I say this
is her best novel; the plot is coherent (not tight, but plenty of
momentum). It rebounds between political intrigue (petty and dirty,
not world-spanning) and the wonders of Gentle's mad setting, while
remaining tightly focussed on themes of family and gender. In every
combination -- the protagonist is a (true) hermaphrodite, and the
story only more complicated from there. And unlike Gentle's usual take
on family, it's not unremittingly bitter. (Note: currently in print
in the US, but divided into two volumes confusingly titled "The Lion's
Eye" and "The Stone Golem". I read the UK edition.)
- Gentle, Mary
- Ilario: The Lion's Eye
- Rowling, J. K.
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
A pamphlet essay on inventing a secret history for Boston.
- Hite, Ken; Woodward, Jonathan
- Underground Boston
A novel of the Mad Scientists' Club, long unpublished. Boys'
adventures involving the Alps, diamonds, haunted castles, and even
- Brinley, Bertrand R.
- The Big Chunk of Ice
Followup to the deeply confusing, vivid, and authorially gymnastic
Vellum, about which I was ambivalent. I'm afraid I fell off the
wrong side of ambivalent with this one. Duncan is juggling a whole
nest of analogous characters in different settings, trying to spread a
gestalt story across their fragments, but I couldn't get a hold on it.
So I read a bunch of fragments about characters with similar names.
Some of them were really well-written fragments; I hope Duncan writes
a novel next.
- Duncan, Hal
(Not the same Duncan!) Smartass kid in Renaissance Venice runs errands
for his grumpy master Nostradamus. (Not the same Nostradamus!) Because
it is Venice, politics occurs, thence rooftop chases, duels,
poisonings, amorous assignations, demons, and more politics.
- Duncan, Dave
- The Alchemist's Apprentice
Look! More urban werewolves! This is actually an early entry in the
genre, which I didn't pick up until now. Small-time radio talk show
host decides what the hell, let's talk about all that preternatural
stuff that we're not supposed to admit exists. (She is a recent
werewolf victim/convert.) The show strikes a nerve, furries and vamps
start calling in, and it catalyzes the Big Paranormal Coming-Out Month
that's either backstory or futurestory in most of these series. Has a
certain amount of familiar tropage (look! the badass bounty hunter!)
but a good read.
- Vaughn, Carrie
- Kitty and the Midnight Hour
A slightly Lovecraftian Civil War yarn. The Union is building an
extremely peculiar warship, far in the Artic, no cold iron allowed
anywhere and the work crew aren't exactly human... Creepy, though
- Doyle, Debra; MacDonald, James D.
- Land of Mist and Snow
Someone really enjoyed his Mieville. This has a crumbling city
suspended on enormous chains over a pit with a carnivorous god at the
bottom. Unfortunately you now know all the good parts of the book.
Everyone in it is nasty or annoying or both.
- Campbell, Alan
- Scar Night
Conclusion of a trilogy which started with a familiar "young
misunderstood wizard runs away from home" plot, and got progressively
more peculiar. I don't think this one is very successful, but at least
it fails at something distinctive. The various narrators (at least one
of whom is insane) try to deal with all the magical catastrophes that
have befallen their wonderful magical homeland. Including the
catastrophes from ancient history that led to (what we thought was)
the original status quo. The result is a bit too tidy, considering its
magnitude, but you can't fault its ambition.
- McGarry, Terry
Third in a kids' series about a world with homey forms of magic. The
dream-maker (there's just one at a time) is a good-luck charm for
everyone he or she meets, while never being happy him/herself. This
fits into a comfortable adolescent hard-luck growing-up story, with
enough friendship and cheer to avoid pure tragedy.
- Shinn, Sharon
- The Dream-Maker's Magic
Sequel to that coal-mines-in-space novel from a few years ago. This
thankfully drops focus from the gimmicky unobtanium, and sticks to
politics. All right, Israeli politics. But it feels a lot more
relevant than downtrodden blackleg miners. It's got AI politics too,
and spy politics, involving our friends the spy and the AI from the
first book. Also ants (literal and metaphorical). Moriarty is shaping
- Moriarty, Chris
- Spin Control
More Russian fantasy. This series is organized as groups of connected
novellas, and I didn't like all the sections in this book. But,
overall, still good. (I liked the movie Day Watch too, but the movie
is a conclusion -- the book Day Watch is not -- and the movie goes
off in a completely different direction than the novels.)
- Lukyanenko, Sergei
- Day Watch
Sequel to Old Man's War, this time focussing on the more alien parts
of the Colonial Defense Force. The characters from the first book do
show up, but we have a different point of view. Still entertaining,
and I want to know where the third book goes -- we get a broader
perspective on what's going on each book -- but I will (again) wait
for the paperback.
- Scalzi, John
- The Ghost Brigades
Boy falls into elf war. Lame. Might have had redeeming -- no. Might
have had non-lame qualities, but I can't remember them, nor how it
- Brennan, Herbie
- Faerie Wars
Third book about a wonderful magical homeland that got invaded by
militaristic assholes. The first two books kicked that cliche into a
puddle, along with any other cliches in earshot, and this one jumps up
and down in the puddle wearing pink polka-dotted galoshes. The
question was not how to repel the invaders -- they're here, they've
been living here for decades. Nor was it how to kill them; the war is
over. It's how to rebuild a country out of whatever it is that war
leaves behind. The series is relentlessly personal, familial, and full
of love. I bet you think that sounds sappy.
- Marks, Laurie J.
- Water Logic
In fact Water Logic is not my favorite of the series so far; it's
a time-travel plot, which is not handled particularly deeply. But
it's got plenty of what I like about the books.
Conclusion to war story on fantasy dodecahedral world. Competent but
not engaging; I read it mostly to see if the dodecahdron had an
interesting explanation. (It doesn't.) I would have thought Duncan was
on a downslide if he hadn't also come out with The Alchemist's
Apprentice this year.
- Duncan, Dave
- Mother of Lies
Collection of stories in the "Revelation Space" universe. Considerably
more bitter and depressing than the Zima Blue collection. I guess
it's just a downer of a universe.
- Reynolds, Alastair
- Galactic North
I ought to remember more about this than I do, because I liked it a
lot. Plus I just bought the sequel (but haven't read it yet). Oh,
right: self-centered drug addict attempts to stay the hell away from
his family and, preferably, the entire world. His family and the world
do not cooperate. Despite my description, the guy is quite a
sympathetic character (it helps that his family is not). He stumbles
across a plot to save the world -- via librarians, always a win for me
-- and everything gets more complicated from there. Magic, scary
elf/nature-spirits, mysterious Dark Lord, and I've just talked myself
into reading the sequel next.
- Berg, Carol
- Flesh and Spirit
Sequel to werewolf talk-show book. This one is exactly what the title
says: werewolf testifies before Congress. It's nice to see the
politics playing out, but the plot goes in a TV-thriller direction,
with TV-thriller levels of plausibility. (Evil politician tortures
hero in front of live cameras!) I am unenthused about continuing to
- Vaughn, Carrie
- Kitty Goes to Washington
More Chinese demon-police noir. The demon partner gets center stage
here, with Detective Inspector Chen not even showing up until halfway
through the book. Still more fun than anything.
- Williams, Liz
- The Demon and the City
Third in series. Possibly intended as the final volume, but then the
movies started appearing and Lukyanenko realized he could keep writing
sequels. (This is speculation; what I know is that he wrote Final
Watch in 2006. It hasn't come out in English yet.)
- Lukyanenko, Sergei
- Twilight Watch
Anyway, this one amps the scope up in an end-of-trilogy sort of way,
as yet another conspiracy threatens to do serious damage to everyone's
favorite status quo. I like my idea for the closing plot gimmick
better than Lukyanenko's.
A variety, of which only some are bitter and depressing. Every time I
consider reading Baker's big Company series, I think "But it's ten
books and what if even a quarter of it is this bitter? That's like two
and a half books that I don't want to read."
- Baker, Kage
- Mother Aegypt and Other Stories
Third Takeshi Kovacs novel. This is startlingly well-written for a
book that passes itself off as gritty techy-action thriller. Kovacs
tries to deal with his recent past, and then more and more of his
distant past runs into him. Plotty as heck. More and more story
threads work into the knot, and every single one is set up, chapters
and chapters before you realize where it's going. If Morgan can keep
writing like this, he's going to be famous or something.
- Morgan, Richard K.
- Woken Furies
The last author I'd ever think of allowing in front of children pulls
off a fine childrens' story. Much creepy scenery and verbal
cleverness; also a deft and deftly-used awareness of the tropes of
kids' fantasy. Easy to compare to Gaiman's Neverwhere, but I'll
happily throw Roald Dahl into the matchup.
- Mieville, China
- Un Lun Dun
Sequel to the only "The Science of..." book I've ever read (or wanted
to read). Pratchett is cheerfully willing to put his characters
through (the usual) absurd escapades in order to demonstrate points
about science, evolution, history, and consciousness. And he can pull
the gimmick off without it even seeming contrived, dammit. Not written
on a level where I learned anything new (or expected to), but I'm
pleased I read it.
- Pratchett, Terry; Stewart, Ian; Cohen, Jack
- The Science of Discworld 2: The Globe
Fantasy Masterworks edition, which I picked up to compare to my old
paperback. (Some typos were corrected; others not.) Resource for the
Dragon Waiting concordance that I put online in September. You read
- Ford, John M.
- The Dragon Waiting: A Masque of History
Excellent romp across a clockwork Earth that runs on giant brass rails
through the heavens. (Don't think too hard about the mechanics of it.)
Standalone novel, although I believe Lake is writing more in this
- Lake, Jay
One of my favorite illustrators (you've seen Tuesday, right?)
illustrates one of my favorite short stories. He goes dark and rough,
appropriately for the story. The text is unfortunately compressed,
losing some of its rhythm and charm. But this is still a nice
ghost-story picture book; if you know young kids who read, consider
- Wiesner, David; Leiber, Fritz
- Gonna Roll the Bones
A condensed, novella-sized version of The Night Land. (The
condensation was done by Hodgson for obscure copyright reasons,
according to an intro by Sam Moskowitz.) I have not read The Night
Land, and I have not yet gotten to this.
- Hodgson, William Hope
- The Dream of X
More Mieville adulation. I started this, hated everybody in it, threw
it aside after a couple of chapters. Entirely lacks Mainspring's
- Lake, Jay
- Trial of Flowers
Sequel to mythology-bouillabaise fantasy free-for-all. This one has,
among everything else that goes on, Kit Marlowe squaring off against
the Devil. (A Devil. Didn't you hear, they come in six-packs?) Blood
and Iron was a roller-coaster ride but this one seems more of a
meander -- less momentum and less direction.
- Bear, Elizabeth
- Whiskey and Water
Series continues strong. Inspector Detective Chen is back in the
- Williams, Liz
- Precious Dragon
Collection of short stories which I haven't read yet.
- Jablokov, Alexander
- The Breath of Suspension
Beginning of a series set alternately in a future Galactic
civilization and an artificial universe/habitat -- the Biggest of all
Dumb Objects. Random human fell into the Bright during a wee
hyperdrive accident, spent years there, and then somehow returned. His
convenient amnesia gives the author a book's worth a plot which is
completely unengaging; rather than an introduction to the Bright, it
feels like reading the Cliff's Notes(*) stretched out over hundreds of
pages. Also, everyone there is culturally required to be a jerk.
- Kenyon, Kay
- Bright of the Sky
(* Note for modern reader: Wikipedia entry.)
The Wolves of Memory plus a handful of other Sandor Courane stories.
I haven't gotten to this either. Yes, there's a whole stack of books
that I bought in July and then let rot. Sorry, ReaderCon.
- Effinger, George Alec
- A Thousand Deaths
- Donoghue, Robert; Hicks, Fred; Balsera, Leonard
- Spirit of the Century
Two small role-playing games. Well, Spirit of the Century is
medium-sized; I relaxed my rule and bought it even though it contains
skill lists. Designed for fast-setup one-shot games; you create your
character by writing down the titles of his back-story ("Captain
Nemosis and the Radioactive Ruby of the Klondike!") and then yanking
in the other characters as sidekicks or rivals. ("I'll save you,
Captain Nemosis!") The game then rewards all references to the stuff
you've invented. Presto, instant pulp drama, finishable in an
- Hicks, Fred
- Don't Rest Your Head
Don't Rest Your Head is a simple game-mechanic set in a city of
madness and sleep-deprived hallucinations. There's just nothing wrong
with any of that.
A retelling of the Matter of Tombstone (the author's term, not mine).
The primary viewpoints are original characters -- a widowed newspaper
reporter and a wanderer with a knack for magic -- but nearly equal
weight is given to Doc Holliday and his girlfriend Kate Elder. ("Mrs
Holliday by courtesy", one narrator acerbically or thoughtlessly
comments.) Bull is telling the story of the women of Tombstone as much
as that of the men: Kate, the wives of the three Earp brothers, the
writer Mildred Benjamin. She also ties in a glimpse of the town's
- Bull, Emma
This volume does not reach the infamous gunfight (a sequel is
forthcoming) but it sets up the situation, with twisty chains of
magical influence creeping up and over the historical facts. It's not
quite the mode of Tim Powers: we learn the underpinnings of magic
early on. But it does the same job in the end, revealing truths about
Tombstone through explanations that could have been true.
Concludes the story of Severus Snape and Albus Dumbledore, and the
kids they met.
- Rowling, J. K.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows [borrowed]
My judgement is that Rowling carries off her series successfully but
imperfectly. She's built up many characters, plot threads, and themes
across ten years, and a significant fraction of them are shorted or
dropped in the end. Ironically, Deathly Hallows might have been a
much better book if Rowling had been able to pass drafts around. The
fan community (even the tiny slice of it I have contact with) very
quickly came up with comments -- suggestions, connections the author
failed to make -- which should have been beta feedback rather than
As for the oft-vilified epilogue -- I entirely understand why Rowling
wrote it, and once it was written it wouldn't have any value kept in
her sock-drawer. (The value, obviously, was to comprehensively break
the knees of any requests to write the Harry Potter Age 20 novel, or
30, or any such.) (Rowling is perhaps taking for granted that nobody
wants to read Harry Potter Age 50.) It still needed a lot more sense
of time passing and life changing.
Someone commented that this series (by established fantasy author
Michelle Sagara-and/or-West) was the least romance-ish of the Luna
fantastic-romance publication line. I haven't read enough Luna stuff
to agree with that (I mean, I'd have to read all of them, right?) but
these are straight-up fantasy to my eye. Girl is a rookie cop in a
multi-species city -- elves, cat-people, hawk-people, others -- with
plenty of mysterious wizard lords and such to spice up the mix. Plus
she's a healer. Many a fantasy series has collapsed into sappy woo-woo
with such a premise, but this one is pleasantly hard-headed: magical
healing powers mean nobody ever lets you get a decent night's
- Sagara, Michelle
- Cast in Shadow
- Cast in Courtlight
Anyway, there's politics and ancient magic and an angry teenager
banging the boundaries of her life into an acceptable shape, and it's
all solidly written. It doesn't dig deeply into the meaning of law
enforcement in fantasyland -- that's pretty much as written in our
world, gruff sargeants and all. (Re-read Point of Hopes and
Point of Dreams if you want deconstruction of the cliches.) But I'll
keep reading these as long as the politics and ancient magic are
Hofstadter writes more Hofstadter. I'm okay with that; it's been a
while. He gets back to the ideas about consciousness that were
presented in GEB, without all the mathematical and artistic
digression along the way. (If you liked the digressions, well,
that's what GEB was for.) Like Le Ton beau..., this book is about
his personal life -- in particular the loss of his wife -- as much as
about philosophy. This may seem strange, but all the way back to
GEB, Hofstadter has been the most personal of theorists. I don't
agree with everything in Strange Loop, but whatever it is, I am
interested that Hofstadter thinks so.
- Hofstadter, Douglas
- I Am A Strange Loop
"Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing
Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand
Rooms, and a Red Dog." That's the subtitle, and now you know whether
you need to read it.
- Wilce, Ysabeau S.
- Flora Segunda
Resource for the Dragon Waiting concordance that I put online in
September. You read my
- Rowse, A. L.
- Bosworth Field & The Wars of the Roses
Second book about a ginormous habitat filled with mobile nations and
jet pirates. This one focusses on the evil overlady from Sun of
Suns, last seen falling across the sky. She plots, she schemes,
she bullies, she makes julienne fries of anyone who gets in her way.
Satisfying, but I want more about the big picture.
- Schroeder, Karl
- Queen of Candesce
Con men masquerading as pirates! Could not be better. Well, actually
it could, a bit; this was about one-and-a-half plots worth of book,
and the con got short-changed. Nonetheless, pure entertainment. Begins
with a bald-faced cliff-hanger of a flash-forward, and finishes with a
bald-faced cliff-hanger of an ending -- I can't remember the last
author I found who was so gleeful about his storytelling. (Mind you,
when we got to the flash-forward point for the second time and Lynch
repeated the cliffhanger gimmick, he tripped over his clown shoes.
No doughnut for that page.)
- Lynch, Scott
- Red Seas Under Red Skies
Sequel to fantasy epic about civilization based on, and undermined by,
extraordinarily untrustworthy demons. I loved the first book but found
this one merely acceptable. Not sure why. Two more are coming, and I
guess I'll read them.
- Abraham, Daniel
- A Betrayal in Winter
More pirates! Yes, pirates! are the theme of 2007. Although this
series is really all politics -- four or five different threads
developing across the continent, all in more or less complete
ignorance of each other, as the reader covers his eyes and waits for
the oncoming landslide. (Hopefully next book -- if the series goes on
any longer I won't be able to keep track of it all.) Good stuff.
- Smith, Sherwood
- The Fox
Third in four-book sequence with the best narrator voices in current
fantasy. This one adds the acerbic actress to the aw-shucks thief and
arrogant prick wizard. Like book one, book three sets up much but
resolves little; I presume I'm reading a duology in four volumes.
- Monette, Sarah
- The Mirador
You were wondering what I have against romance novels? Books like
this, that's what I have against romance novels. (Mind you, this one
is from Tor, not Luna.) Fabulously beautiful, successful, and wealthy
authoress meets honest, humble Irish cop. But wait! She is also a
member of the circle of white witches who guard the world from evil
with their crystals and herbal candles! (Pause for careful detailing
of which minerals and which aromatic oils go into each spell.) But
wait! The nearly-as-successful but jealous evil authoress tries to
break them up, in between her S&M sex rituals and stomping
kittens! If only they could see the truth! Every single person and
plot element is festooned with these authorial sticky notes so that
you know what to think. Unreadable. PS: I made up the kittens, though.
- Rawn, Melanie
Third in rookie cop fantasy series. Elf politics always have
- Sagara, Michelle
- Cast in Secret
Sixth (cripes) book about weather wizards and djinn. Our hero
continues to gain elemental power, and she also has amnesia now. Both
of which are really strong hints that the author needs to wrap the
- Caine, Rachel
- Thin Air (Weather Warden, book 6)
Mind you, I've never classed these books as real Mary-Sue-ism --
mostly because they make clear that the most powerful human wizard
alive rates like an irate cricket when compared to some of the
elemental powers that are currently pissed with humanity. On the other
hand, I can't understand why she hasn't turned her creepy
sociopath human stalker into meat paste. Twice.
Satisfying but not electrifying sequel to Going Postal. Further
adventures of Moist von Lipwig, petty criminal whose notion of
self-interest keeps being enlightened by the Patrician. We gain more
hints of Vetinari's plan for Ankh-Morpork (which has been in play
since at least Thud) and which I really hope gets completed, given
the recent rotten no-good very bad news about Pratchett's health.
- Pratchett, Terry
- Making Money
Dragons-and-Napoleon book four: boy and dragon visit Africa. I'd say
this is a pedal-churning series extension, except that it ends with an
even bigger cliffhanger than it begins with. Overall plot arc is
happening. Needs more Iskierka, though.
- Novik, Naomi
- Empire of Ivory
Bear continues to write books faster than I can read half of them.
This one has a human colony on an aquatic world, with some odd
professions (quantum luck wrangler) and some odd indigenes (the
Froggies, used as cheap labor, who are -- wait for it -- More Than
They Appear...) The story unabashedly takes fantasy tropes (curses,
geases, magical natives, the finitely-delayed wrath of the gods) into
a science-fictional setting. It's the Corporation, not the Dark Lord,
whom you have to watch out for -- and yes, that's a real distinction;
it behaves like big corporations everywhere. Including wanting to own
your soul. And when the metaphysical shit, or quantum caca if you
like, hits the fan, it's appropriately kaleidoscopic.
- Bear, Elizabeth
Urban fantasy which fails in ways that are more interesting to me than
the book itself. The protagonist would be the Evil Overlady in any
other book. She is power-hungry, selfish, vengeful; she secretly rules
Nameless East-Coast City(*)
with an iron claw; she mind-rapes mundanes
without a hint of restraint (she's proud to have the entire Nameless
City police force as her puppets); she never lifts a finger for anyone
(including her allies and servants) unless she's bored or feels like
convincing herself that she's the good guy. This would be a fantastic
setup, except that I don't think Pratt knows his character is a
monster. I think she's supposed to come off as bitchy-but-charming.
Certainly the book doesn't hint that she's got any justice coming to
- Pratt, T. A.
- Blood Engines
Anyhow, someone is challenging Miss Tyrant for control of Nameless
City. She cannot allow this ("You don't care about my city the way I
do," she tells her challenger, in the most unintentionally hilarious
line of the month) and so she stomps into San Francisco looking for
power-ups. This brings us to the second failure, which is that she has
years and years of backstory, all of which we have to be told about,
none of which is relevant to the book. We get not one page set in
Nameless City (the ostensible driving force of the plot). We meet the
protagonist's servant and get the paragraph precis of all the crap
he's been through because of her. We learn about her Cursed Cloak of
Ass-kicking (the Curse of which is, in practice, a mild headache for a
few minutes after she uses it). We don't care about any of it. I
imagine that Pratt has written all of these stories, and maybe
they're even published somewhere, but in this novel they're concrete
All that said, there is a lot of running around mystical underground
San Francisco and kicking mystical ass. These scenes are not badly
written. There are funny bits (intentional ones). It's possible to
enjoy this book; it's just not possible to do it without wanting to
yell at the author.
(* Actually, it has a name, but it's fictional and I can't remember it
Did not read is the read.
- Eggers, Dave
- What is the What
I seem to have read only the earliest Kate Elliott and the latest --
Jaran and Spirit Gate.
I really liked both of them, which
leaves me wondering why I haven't filled in the middle. Maybe in 2008.
Anyhow, here is the start of a big fat fantasy series with politics,
various civilizations invading each other, nations slowly slipping
into chaos, hints of lost gods... Just what I like, as long as it's
narrated by a bunch of vivid and memorable voices, and by damn this
is. Will read sequel.
- Elliott, Kate
- Spirit Gate
(* As a matter of fact,
I did read The Labyrinth Gate, but I
didn't like it much, so it doesn't fit into my little narrative here.
I kept hearing that Buckell was the new awesome. Turns out he is. A
human colony is beset by war, an Aztec-model blood-hungry religion
coming over the Wicked High Mountains. (That's what they're really
called, and I pretty much bought the book right there.) We quickly run
into hints of an alien invasion, centuries ago, which was blocked when
the human starship captains intentionally fried most of the tech in
the system, including the wormhole gate. The surviving
Caribbean-paradise civilization is warped around the remaining aliens
(playing gods) and the few old-timer humans whose nanotech is still
ticking. The aliens are winning, but there might be a surviving
starship... Good old-fashioned lost-starship chase plus land war with
alien demon-gods. Read it.
- Buckell, Tobias S.
- Crystal Rain
Collection of essays on the possible factual origins of myths: the
phoenix, Hyperborea, mermaids, Prester John... All fished out of
Davidson's flabbergasting storehouse of historical erudition, and told
in an indescribably vocal voice; it's impossible to read without
hearing the guy harrumphing and waggling his eyebrows and littering
the room with quotations. Reading this book is like meeting the man,
and I can only imagine that meeting him was like meeting three of
- Davidson, Avram
- Adventures in Unhistory
Note: reading this explained a joke in The Dragon Waiting. Must
Stross thumps out books nearly as fast as Bear; unlike Bear, most of
Stross's are in hardback, and I finally said "Dude, gotta start
waiting for the paperbacks here." (Except for Bob Howard stories, of
course.) Then I learned that Halting State was written in second
person, and I caved. It's my turf, man, I have to keep an eye on.
- Stross, Charles
- Halting State
This is a fast-running novel of gamers gone bad in near-future
Glasgow. As usual, Stross can write technobabble for the techies --
his picture of distributed virtual worlds, used for everything from
RPGs and LARPs to police work, is entirely convincing -- even when an
odd sort of crime sets both the gamers and the cops digging into the
programmers, development houses, and venture capital firms that make
it all go. Where it all goes, unsurprisingly, is to hell in a
The second-person storytelling did not bother me. (Mind you, as I said,
I'm used to that sort of thing; it may bother you more.) There are
several narrators, but they're distinct enough that the trick rapidly
became transparent. Stross uses it essentially the same as
first-person prose. I don't think it would be a very different novel
if it were in first person. In other words, it's just a style thing,
and it works for me.
I did wait for the paperback on this one, but not because Spencer has
become prolific; it's because I thought Tinker sucked. This one
kinda sucks too. It's elf politics done big and sloppy. The plot
steers like a barge; the Pittsburgh landmarks are not interesting. The
protagonist continues to go through crap that would give any real
person screaming shell-shock, but she doesn't show any other qualities
of being a person either, so it's okay.
- Spencer, Wen
- Wolf Who Rules
I liked Spencer's first two books; what happened? Maybe it's the
editing. One more thing to blame Baen for.
Funny science fiction. Why is that such a jolting combination these
days? People used to do it all the time. This one starts with a man
doing his best to fart up an interstellar war, and rapidly moves on to
electric-blue sheep, the most ridiculous religion since Douglas Adams
got out of the game, and the kind of book-long chase scene that can
only end by facing down an entire planetary government. Sheckley and
Laumer would have been proud.
- Scalzi, John
- The Android's Dream
Set of short stories about a socially short-circuited nerd working in
a museum. Ghosts, demons, and the rest of the pulp-horror panoply
occur. This is Lovecraft pastiche (and pastiche of the rest of that
period); it works because it digs into the neurosis/trauma/sexual
wellspring that the original pulp writers couldn't name out loud.
- Monette, Sarah
- The Bone Key
Accidental re-read -- I forgot I owned the hardcover. (Sorry, Ken.)
Amusing, though not world-changing, first-contact story in a galaxy
littered with posthuman remnant tech, being scavenged and used by
everyone in sight. Including the contactors and the contactees, in
non-identical ways. Details of politics, fashion, and culture
(folk-singers! Bad folk-singers!) ring true in the presence of life
extension and mind-storage. Also, not part of a series, which I
- MacLeod, Ken
- Newton's Wake
Graphic novel follows the conceit of the first two -- pulling together
zillions of old story premises into a patchwork history -- but drawing
from the early to mid-20th century. Orwell, Wolfe, pulp adventure,
James Bond, and a vast array of others. Most of it was lost on me; I
was a lot better at the original League books (Stoker, Stevenson,
Verne) than on pre-war British comic strips. You may wish to seek out
a hint book. The strikes that I did register were clever.
- Moore, Alan; O'Neill, Kevin
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier
Dizzying -- well, it's not a novel, it's a collection of -- no, it's
not a collection of stories; it's not even a cycle of stories. (It's a
tree of stories, says the inner geek.) A young outcast girl lives in
the palace garden; she was born with stories tattooed across her face.
A boy creeps outside to listen to her. She tells a story about a
prince, who meets a witch, who tells the story of her grandmother, who
once learned a story... and so on. It's nested, not an infinite
regress; we jump up and down, over and over again. Some stories span
many pages, wrapped around the stories inside them; some are only a
page or a paragraph. None are related, until the connections start to
appear -- a familiar name here, a returning character there -- not
- Valente, Catherynne M.
- In the Night Garden
Maybe this is what Hal Duncan was aiming at. If so, Valente gets it
right. These are not fragments, but stories, each one sparkling, each
with a teller and a beginning and an end (or as much of an end as some
stories get). As with Ink, I had trouble keeping track of the
overall structure. (In fact, I found it hard to read the volume in
long takes; I broke it up with other books.) Unlike with Ink, this
didn't hurt the reading a bit. Nothing is incomplete if you forget a
name or a role. The inner geek wants to diagram and hyperlink the lot,
and I imagine somebody's inner geek already has. But it's not
Imaginative; colorful; dense with unexpected words; full of tales from
all over the map, fairy tales to Scheherazade to fanciful Roman
zoology, all twisted into spirals and set loose on each other. A
second volume has been published, which I will devour after another
First of the Repairman Jack series about which I've been hearing for
years. Man attempts to live outside society in New York, fixing
injustices for cash (or exacting revenge for hire, depending on which
side of the transaction you're on). He runs into other things that
live outside society, namely a nest of millenia-old demons. This book
predates the modern urban-fantasy-horror genre, and feels it -- Jack
is not caught between the mundane world and the magical, but between
his weird quasi-Batman world and the magical. (Or, to put the
distinction more directly: he has exactly one friend -- his weapons
dealer -- and not a network of cops and coroners and allied vampires.
Mind you, Wilson restarted the series in the mid-90s, so maybe that
changes.) Anyhow, it's a good read, and now I have to find more Wilson
in original publication order.
- Wilson, F. Paul
- The Tomb
The only Whittemore novel I didn't already have. This meanders across
pre-and-post-war Japan in the same way that the Sinai Quartet does the
Middle East. I've already described Whittemore as "there is nothing
else like him", and this remains true.
- Whittemore, Edward
- Quin's Shanghai Circus
This was Whittemore's first novel, and it has a perceptibly different
tone than the Quartet: darker, proffering human love and cruelty and
compassion and madness in equal measure. (Not that the later books are
free of cruelty and madness -- the atrocities at Smyrna are one pole
of that narrative, as Nanjing is of this one -- but the Quartet is
much more about love and compassion in the face of a world which
includes cruelty and madness.)
Quin's Shanghai Circus is, nonetheless, full of wonderful things,
wonderful people, drunks, pornography, saints, buddhas, a man with a
wasabi habit, spies, circuses, mothers, and things shoved up people's
butts, all in a wild tangle of storylines that cross decades. Nothing
else is like this.
Young healer is drawn into a war, gets magical telepathic bird
companion. I was prepared to approve of this book for showing a
society with healing as a non-mystical profession -- no magical
healing, but a tradition of herb knowledge and antisepsis, with
apprenticeships and social support for people with this valuable
training. The magical animal companions are a separate thing. They
come to people meant to handle law and justice, but it's still up to
the humans to decide justice; they get no magical support other than
a link to a potentially useful scout animal.
- Francis, Diana Pharaoh
- Path of Fate
Anyway, I was all pleased about solidly human-centered magic-animal
fantasy, and half a chapter later the protagonist gets magical healing
abilities. At this point the floor drops out of the narrative. Her
biggest problem turns out to be whether the Goddess will give her
superpowers fast enough to deal with the ostensible crisis (a
political kidnapping). Feh.
Oddly contrastable to Blood Engines. A dude with serious magical
mojo and a closet full of backstory: years of training at a magical
academy (Hogwarts it ain't), a sweetheart lost escaping the place, a
mansion with secrets, powerful artifacts, an angel and a demon who
drop by to offer inscrutable aid. But this time it all works, because
all these elements fall into the plot, one at a time. Again, there may
be a bunch of stories written about this stuff, but this one can be
read as the start of a series.
- Reaves, Michael; Bohnhoff, Maya Kaathryn
- Mr. Twilight
Plus, it's in the fandom of pulp horror fandom; the story concerns the
legacy of a writer, a (fictional) member of the Lovecraft/Derleth/Lin
Carter/etc circle. The writers are clearly fond of All That Stuff, and it
Small RPG: players are faculty in a Miskatonic-oid college, and half
of them are infested by a mind-controlling cockroach from the depths
of time. Everyone is tussling for status points, but you have to not
be a roach slave at the end of the game. The catch is that the
cockroach gives you a fat bonus on your status rolls.
- Morningstar, Jason
- The Shab-al-Hiri Roach
The game is structured by a deck of cards, which everyone gets to draw
from periodically. The free-willed draw opportunities to forward their
schemes for tenure or revenge or whatever; the roach-ridden draw
random maniacal commands. You can draw the roach, or the opportunity
to free your mind (this costs, of course). The setup ensures that you
don't have any real hope of long-term planning -- if you avoid the
other schemers and the chaotic fallout of the roach commands, you're
just as likely to be roached yourself. So, enjoy the free-for-all.
Should be good for a session or two of evil hilarity.
- Berg, Carol
- Breath and Bone
- Bear, Elizabeth
- Mieville, China
- Looking for Jake
Currently in my to-read pile. See? I meant it about the Berg.
- Williams, Sean
- Saturn Returns
Last updated January 6, 2008.
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