Books I Bought in 2009
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 91 books in 2009.
Two collections of maps and walkthroughs for 80s text adventure games.
The first volume is bigger and has all the best games up through
1983. The second volume is slightly barrel-scrapy -- but I cannot
possibly object, because it has a map and walkthrough of a game
I wrote. My first professional recognition! My life followed
- Schuette, Kim R.
- The Book of Adventure Games
- The Book of Adventure Games II
There's no point distinguishing Green fantasy novels. This is a
Nightside one, in which Nightside stuff happens.
- Green, Simon R.
- The Unnatural Inquirer
First half of second story in the Lakewalker universe. Low-key; people
save the world in these books, but they're not about saving the world.
This one is about being on boats. And having teenage kids.
- Bujold, Lois McMaster
- Passage (The Sharing Knife, 3)
Silly, unless I pretend I'm 16 and reading Analog, and then it's all
too familiar. Only it came out when I was 26 and not reading Analog
any more. Whoops. Giant multispecies starship (a la Brin), incursions
from the Eschaton (a la Bear), long arguments about shadow matter (a
la Baen Books and it's 1985 forever), you get the idea.
- Sawyer, Robert J.
Spinoff trilogy from the Weather Fluffer series. Damn, I wish my brain
hadn't generated that term, because I'm never going to get rid of it.
Defrocked genie falls to Earth and learns the joys of fast motorcycles
and designer shoes. I don't remember plot elements, but that's not
going to stop me from reading the rest of the series.
- Caine, Rachel
- Undone (Outcast Season, book 1)
Is it Mary-Sueism when everybody loves and admires you, but that
pisses off your boyfriend's ex? This seemed okay. I probably had more
specific comments but they didn't stick.
- Hanover, M. L. N.
- Unclean Spirits
Fourth book in the increasingly misleadingly named... well, nobody
ever said this was a trilogy. The movies stopped at two (except there
might be a third). (Actually, this book contains a wry jab at how
completely unrelated the movie continuity is.) Anyhow, this is a tidy
little magical thriller, and we learn enough about the underlying
nature of reality to bring the four-book series to a comfortable
- Lukyanenko, Sergei
- Last Watch
Cosy high fantasy about a village household halfway between
East-of-the-Sun and West-of-the-Moon, or, if you like, a bunch of very
normal people who don't know they're living in a game of Civilization.
The narrator keeps house; this is her talent. The fact that she can
see the past and the future all mixed together is not a talent, nor a
curse either, which is an inimitable feat of writing and also keeps
the reader seriously off-balance. Unfortunately the war and the trial
scene put the storyline off-balance too; they are temporally mixed
with, but never really blend with, the quiet (and occasionally
histrionic) growing-up and grown-up depiction of family life.
- Walton, Jo
Poetry. I picked up the collection to remind myself, and wound up
re-reading a lot of it. So it's got that. It's also got the span when
John M. Ford left us and George W. Bush wouldn't go, which makes it a
bit hard to re-read, even this little time later.
- Walton, Jo
- Sibyls & Spaceships
Zelazny's latest -- that is, his last -- short stories. His beautiful
shape of prose is still evident, but the stories don't quite draw
blood. On the other hand, this includes five Amber fragments, set
after the tenth book and clearly beginning to set up a brand-new
storyline. Those are as gonzo-fun as Amber ever was. They might not
have built up to a solid novel, but I'm sorry they're all we have.
- Zelazny, Roger
- Manna From Heaven
A stack of nice ideas in search of a novel. The novel they are in
search of is a band story, and there's some AI hijinks too, and a
Heinlein-riff orbital freehold. The music-industry material seemed
solid, whereas the computer parts were not very convincing; I have a
terrible fear that this is because I know lots about computers and
nothing about the music industry. I remember the bad guy as being a
ridiculous caricature of evil, but I might be mixing him up with the
protagonist of Edelman's Infoquake.
- Jarpe, Matthew
- Radio Freefall
Wry-bitter short absurdity about the other WW2 superweapon project:
giant radioactive lizards bred at Area 51 to stomp Tokyo into
submission. Told from the point of view of a famous Hollywood
man-in-the-monster-suit, roped into the project because -- because --
why should I tell this story? Morrow tells it much better.
- Morrow, James
- Shambling Towards Hiroshima
Collection of 26 insanity/abilities for the Don't Rest Your Head
RPG. (Ants crawling under your skin! Until you tell them to crawl out
and eat somebody.) Each one details what you can do, what happens
when you overdo it, and what happens when you completely lose your
grip. I usually pass over RPG books that are just lists of things,
but this is a delightful nightmare smorgasbord.
- Baugh, Benjamin; Hicks, Fred
- Don't Lose Your Mind
I said last year that I expected this to be a long-haul series. Wrong;
this (fourth) book mops up the major plotline, as our hero's
unpleasant relatives try to turn the human race into canapes once and
for all. The wrap-up is a little strained, but better to do it while
the characters still have their charm.
- Thurman, Rob
Grumpy old thief (tomb raider, not burglar) takes in street waif.
Street waif learns to trust him; also shows alarming propensity to
adopt more strays. This is an odd remix of the tropes of the author's
Cast In... series (city with hidden magics; politics and petty
nobility; orphans) with the Gang Of Girls Don't Need No Boys Here that
more than one author has concealed in her trunk of teenage first
novels. (Sherwood Smith even published hers.) I'm not sure whether
this is indulging in juvenilia, subverting it, or re-imagining it with
an adult perspective. It works, so far. Not sure where sequels will
- West, Michelle
- The Hidden City
Third book about apprentice wizard/student/detective in Renaissance
Venice. Courtesans are turning up dead; traps, politics, disguises,
chases ensue. Still fun.
- Duncan, Dave
- The Alchemist's Pursuit
I-don't-even-know-how-manyth book about sassy Chicago wizard. The plot
has gotten pretty dense at this point; the author's writing skills are
keeping up. I still wouldn't mind some sort of series conclusion,
- Butcher, Jim
- Small Favor
Study of the history and technology of the Atari VCS ("Atari 2600").
In particular, discusses how the hardware -- intended to support the
full range of games from Pong to Slight Variations Of Pong -- was
brutally hacked by clever game designers, enabling them to write every
game you remember that isn't Pong. Why are all the rooms and mazes in
Adventure horizontally symmetrical? This book explains.
- Montfort, Nick; Bogost, Ian
- Racing the Beam
The authors' afterword takes pains to point out that this is not two
elder statesmen of the field collaboring with a rising young star.
It's two young stars of the 70s tossing a novel idea back and forth,
getting bogged down, putting it in a trunk, and then (twenty years
later) offering it to a new young star to finish. Weird, but less
one-sided than it seems at first.
- Martin, George R. R.; Dozois, Gardner; Abraham, Daniel
- Hunter's Run
Anyhow, this is an entertaining bit of frontier adventure SF. Think
"third-world company-bent mining town" frontier, not "square-jawed
American cowboys". The authors (I'm not going to try to sort them out,
except for a vivid touch of Martin's alien lifeforms) do a nice job of
presenting a mean, self-centered cuss of a protagonist whom I didn't
like, but rooted for anyway. (Which turns into its own set of
problems; you'll see.) Also, nice to have an SF protagonist who, when
lectured by aliens about the central macguffin of the plot, doesn't
respond "Fascinating!" or "That's incredible!" but rather "...You are
a lying whore with breath like a Russian's asshole!"
Lovely Chinese fantasy novel. I realize that this is a mixed
compliment about a book written by a white guy (pseudonym of British
author Chaz Brenchley). But it is utterly lovely, and its created
world is firmly set in Chinese tradition -- someone more historically
knowledgeable than me could probably pick out a date. It's got
emperors, it's got dragons, it's got fishermen, and jade is a magical
substance of immense power. Skips back and forth between several
characters and story threads, all deft and human. I want more.
- Fox, Daniel
- Dragon in Chains
Dream-y, exquisite stream of prose that I didn't care about much. The
central metaphor, or image -- is it a metaphor if you just declare it
to be a magical law of reality? -- rubs me the wrong way, and I won't
pretend the reasons aren't petty and personal. If you like wildly
polyvalent female figures of power, the Orphan's Tales will do just
as well as this.
- Valente, Catherynne M.
Second book about Andrea Cort, political troubleshooter and draftee in
a number of wars, some of them invisible. As with Emissaries From the
Dead, this is a formal murder mystery -- a classic
bottled-up-with-all-the-suspects setup -- which is also a powerful
character story and a political thriller. The series plot-arc bumps
along more steps than you might expect, too. Is it hyperbolic to give
Adam-Troy Castro as the answer to "who is the new Bujold?" Maybe, but
I'll stand behind it.
- Castro, Adam-Troy
- The Third Claw of God
Darling breakout fantasy novel of the year. I got there late, and...
this is a whole lot of fun. But you gotta admit: it's a fun,
well-done, engaging, hell of a Gary Stu. Destiny, red hair, tragic
adolescence, unprecedented magical power -- the lot. I'd have been
hooked even without the buckets of unresolved hinted plot threads.
- Rothfuss, Patrick
- The Name of the Wind
I really liked Spirit Gate, but I somehow lost the thread when
trying to read this one. Probably would have been fine if I'd read
them back to back, but the broad spread of characters were fuzzy in my
memory, insufficiently reintroduced, and their stories were too
separate for me to get back into. Also, if you have a bunch of people
who are distinguished only by the unique colors of their cloaks --
and they insist on going nameless, for magical reasons -- is it fair
to put one in a scene without mentioning the cloak color? Really?
- Elliott, Kate
- Shadow Gate
Conclusion of the Melusine series. I don't think I'm satisfied with
Monette's pacing. She tends to have stretches of desperate action and
stretches of "actually, we're doing pretty well for ourselves",
alternating in ways that don't make for good individual novels. In
this case, the first half of the book is a flight into exile, and the
second half is... weirdly congenial and low-momentum. Yeah, sheep are
dying somewhere, and everybody's got various kinds of trauma going on,
but it's not tense. Oh, well, the characters (old and new) are
brilliant and lively and I need something to complain about. Worth it
anyhow for the pissy academics of magic.
- Monette, Sarah
Magical intrigue in a vaguely Three-Musketeerine city with bonus fog,
ghosts, and angst. Too much angst for me, and then the author killed
off most of the lower-class neighborhoods (plague, for a start) to
raise the stakes for our heroes. It felt cheap.
- Sperring, Kari
- Living With Ghosts
Best title I've seen in a year. The book was okay. The opening scene
was promising: a young lady of quality (Victorian England) is politely
but obscurely dumped by her fiance. She falls into hopeless despair
for about half a page, and then is off furiously tracking him,
bluffing her way onto a train and then into a masked ball of
positively Goreyan decadence. If the narrative had stuck with her, I
think I would have loved it, but it cycles around through a fusty
doctor and a mercenary skullcracker, who aren't nearly as awesome.
There's plenty of gaslamp gonzo science, conspiracy, and villains with
Prussian accents, but I had a hard time staying interested. I might
read volume two, or I might not.
- Dahlquist, Gordon
- The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters: Volume One
Reminds me a lot of Simon R. Green: titanic battles between primal
powers, with pedestrian prose treading on all the good parts. And a
fetish for the wincingly-lame phrase "so much more than that."
(Really, I went to check that Sniegoski wasn't a pseudonym for Green.
He's not. Or if he is, he's been writing about six books a year, and
needs to be assassinated for the good of the industry.)
- Sniegoski, Thomas E.
- A Kiss Before the Apocalypse
Anyhow, it's an angel slumming as a private investigator. It works
pretty well, sentence-level construction aside. The most important
trick with your typical unstoppable-divine-force protagonist is to
give him some reason not to uncork the wings and flaming sword every
time a vending machine eats his change. This book manages that, and
also gives him convincing connections to the mortal world.
I read these and was able to start writing MacOS and iPhone apps.
Yes, ObjC is a candy-ass language. One gets over it.
- Kochan, Stephen G.
- Programming in Objective-C 2.0
- Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X
Religious galactic empires go to war over lost colony. Rogue AI shows
up, declares intent to devour the universe. Everybody becomes very
sad. I don't actually remember much of this book, except for a vague
notion that a military stalemate that depends on both sides pretending
not to know about an asset isn't very stable. Also, for a
universe-devouring AI to quote the Book of Revelation doesn't really
make it any scarier.
- Swann, S. Andrew
- Prophets (Apotheosis, book 1)
Four novellas: Dresden Files, Nightside, Greywalker, and Remy Chandler
(the angel PI, see above). All good. The Butcher story in particular
is a good follow-on to Small Favor. Green's annoying tics are less
annoying at short length, I liked the Richardson story much more than
her first novel, and the Sniegoski was fine too. If you are familiar
with all of these series, this is worth picking up; if none of them,
this is a good introduction. Well marketed, Roc.
- Butcher, Jim; Green, Simon R.; Richardson, Kat; Sniegoski, Thomas E.
- Mean Streets
A fixup and a story collection, both from the 60s, all classic Nourse.
You know, SF really was blatantly sexist back then. It's the 60s in
more ways than that: the Big Men of society are cigar-chomping
Senators. And the doctors of the Hoffman Medical Center, because it's
Nourse too. I think the stories hold up.
- Nourse, Alan E.
- Psi High and Others
- Tiger by the Tail
There is a certain ballsiness in publishing a musical in graphic-novel
form. Alan Moore owns those balls. It's the Three-Penny Opera, of course.
Entertaining as always, in that LoEG way.
- Moore, Alan; O'Neill, Kevin
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910
Suitably cataclysmic wrap-up to the Mistborn trilogy. (Cataclysmic
because they've spent two books finding out how totally hosed they
are, and you don't fix that by chucking a bit of jewelry down the
loo.) This volume had fewer clever twists per hectopage than Sanderson
sometimes manages, but it was satisfying.
- Sanderson, Brandon
- The Hero of Ages
There's no point in distinguishing... sorry. This is a Drood book, not
a Nightside one, which means a different set of hyperbolically-
overpowered lunatics trying to assortedly destroy and defend reality.
My new complaint about Green (without any trace of withdrawing the old
ones) is that he gives absolutely no sense of power levels. Who is
cosmically undefeatable, when doing what, and who is just a hardass
with a line on some magical power? It varies from scene to scene,
according to plot needs. How worried should the reader be, in any
given scene? The author will now tell you. I guess this is why Green
spends so much time tying adjectives into knots.
- Green, Simon R.
- Daemons Are Forever
Standalone novel set in the Glitter Band, some time before the
biological disaster that sets up his original trilogy. In a system of
a thousand orbiting polises, the only global authority are the people
who enforce democracy: Thou Shalt Not Mess With The Polling Machines.
Someone does, of course, and the conspiracy gets more complicated from
- Reynolds, Alastair
- The Prefect
I remember his last novel (Pushing Ice) as having a great
science-wowzer plot, wrapped around a character narrative which
resembled two preadolescent girls sulking at each other for two
hundred years. Reynolds is clearly maturing as a writer; the
characters in this book are solidly adolescent. Even the rookie cop,
who most nearly has an excuse, feels underage. All the rest fall off
the credibility wagon when they fail to arrest the obvious bad guy for
acting like an obvious bad guy in public. Oh, well. There's a plot,
and things explode.
Stand-alone fantasy (although it leaves plot hooks for sequels). This
is not nearly as cataclysmic as the Mistborn trilogy, but the fate of
at least two countries is at stake, and there's some impressive
fireworks. Sanderson does his usual job of inventing an absurdly
detailed magical system and then leveraging it into a lot of nifty
scenes and a decent plotline. In this case, a three-strand plotline of
political skulduggery. I won't say Sanderson's character writing has
gotten good, but it's gotten reliably entertaining; lots of
boldly-drawn, colorful personalities, including the best dismal
merceneries ever, and a sociopathic talking sword.
- Sanderson, Brandon
- Warbreaker [borrowed]
Gaslamp fantasy that starts in a Wellsian mode and veers towards the
Lovecraftian. The owner of a tattoo parlor is visited by an invisible
woman hoping for a pigment upgrade. She is, however, more than she
appears -- har har -- and our heroes find themselves on the run from
the sort of interdimensional terror that makes grandiose threats and
laughs maniacally as it swirls around you. (Not very Lovecraftian, I
know.) This could have been a good book, but the author drags most of
it through a smelly bog of fin-de-siecle who's-who: Arthur Conan
Doyle, William Butler Yeats, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, and
far, far too many more, parading through the plot in press-gangs. (Nor
can you play it as a game, as in Moore's League stories.) When
Aleister Crowley is drafted to be your sidekick, you know the author
has some serious fanboying to get out of his system. Eventually the
plot starts back up again, and comes to a reasonable conclusion,
unless maniacal laughter annoys you.
- MacIntyre, F. Gwynplaine
- The Woman Between the Worlds
It's California, twenty minutes into the future, and Ragnarok. A
recently-recruited Valkyrie is sent out to run genetic assays for the
blood of Odin, to track down more potential Valkyries; other Norse
deities wander the landscape, etc. This had a few great scenes (Hugin
and Munin grumping; the small Midwestern town of the dead) but mostly
I found the tone off-kilter. Not funny enough to be a comedy, not
weighty enough to be a story about the end of the world. Everything
seemed to be either too distant or too small-scale to be Ragnarok.
Bear's Windwracked Stars wouldn't know a laugh if one bit it on the
ass, but at least it felt real.
- Van Eekhout, Greg
- Norse Code [borrowed]
Dragon And His Soldier Boy, book five. Our heroes' march to disgrace
is interrupted by Napoleon's army. Everyone then gets to spend the
book building up resources and plans for the big fight to throw the
Frenchies out of London. The theme of dragon self-determination
simmers under the surface of it all; Napoleon is promising freedom-
equality-and-fraternity to all lizardfolk, whereas the British
government is firmly reactionary. Will the pressures of war begin to
break down social boundaries, or will that be the pressure of a
pissed-off reptilian megafauna with a maximized sonic breath weapon?
Coming soon: Australia.
- Novik, Naomi
- Victory of Eagles
Second book about down-on-his-luck exorcist in ghost-ridden London.
Demonic portents begin turning up, and everybody thinks Felix Castor
knows a lot more than he actually does. Everybody is trying to stop
him, too. As soon as he finds out what they're trying to stop him
doing, he'll be delighted to help. I like this series a lot.
- Carey, Mike
- Vicious Circle
Stross does sexbots. Let me rephrase that. No, on second thought, let
- Stross, Charles
- Saturn's Children
Cute but fluff. I've heard a few chapters of this read by Stross at
various cons, and that's how I recommend it -- he's having so much fun
that it's contagious, but more so in person than on the page.
Book three of world-spanning prince-grows-up story. Inda is yanked
home from exile, just as the long-threatened Venn invasion is about to
start. Everyone then gets to spend the book building up resources and
plans for the big fight. And I do mean "building up"; there's a big
battle, but a lot more sending messengers around, preparing castles,
sneaking soldiers around, and so on. Don't imagine that's dull stuff.
(The invasion is down a narrow mountain pass from a beach landing,
which gives plenty of opportunity for excitingly delaying actions.) In
the meantime Inda is trying to get used to his home country, which he
hasn't seen since age eleven; his king and his betrothed are trying to
get used to having him home; everyone is trying to get used to Inda's
outlander friends (pirates, mages, girlfriend ten years older than he
is, oh my), and, oh yes, the Venn are secretly having a constitutional
crisis. All these people, on both sides, are intensely real. The
author even manages to get in a side plot about a group of
eleven-year-old girls -- they are just as real as the adult warriors
and princes, in a way that makes me regret my snide comments about
- Smith, Sherwood
- King's Shield
If I have a complaint about this book, it's that the plot bounces
around somewhat unevenly. A lot of threads are packed in, and not all
of them get equal weight. I assume a lot of stuff is being set up for
the fourth and, I understand, final volume.
A new Detective Inspector Chen story. Bollywood tiger demons! Need I
say more? I like the badger teapot more than ever. The hapless
movie-star agent too. If none of this makes any sense to you, you
really need to jump back and find Snake Agent.
- Williams, Liz
- The Shadow Pavilion
Small-press collection of poetry by a friend. Some fairy tale themes,
some Greek history and mythology. Liked it.
- Agner, Mary
- The Doors of the Body
Followup to Elizabethan elf story. This one is way too much of a
history lesson; the author had to work in the Plague and the Fire
and Cromwell's civil war, starting and ending, all notionally tied
together with a faerie plotline. They don't fit.
- Brennan, Marie
- In Ashes Lie
Third Korbal Broach novella. (These have been collected into one
volume now, if you're interested.) Must not have been memorable.
- Erikson, Steven
- The Lees of Laughter's End
Third book in quartet about a civilization committing suicide via
demon. I'm not sure where I got that idea, actually -- I haven't read
the fourth yet -- but everything bad that's happened so far is part of
the "long price" of holding the andat, and this book furthers that
theme, shall we say. The second book didn't engage me but this one
did: a big scheme, undertaken by the survivors of the first book's
mistakes, and oh do they multiply. Very finely written.
- Abraham, Daniel
- An Autumn War
Repairman Jack sees the last few hoops come into view.
- Wilson, F. Paul
- By the Sword
Punk wizard got thrown (alive) into Hell, by being an idiot and
hanging around with other idiots. He has managed to escape. Revenge! I
recall this is being one of the better examples of "nasty but still
- Kadrey, Richard
- Sandman Slim
This series can end any time. This volume has a lot of entertaining
plot-bouncing but I can't remember if it advances the overall story
- Caine, Rachel
- Cape Storm (Weather Warden, book 8)
Near-future social if-this-goes-on-ism: megacorps, street vandalism as
social protest, ebola as a riot-control agent, soft drink companies
sponsoring medical research. This is original cyberpunk updated to the
current year, and like the original cyberpunk, it's full of people
that you don't like and the awful things that happen to all of them.
Did not enjoy.
- Beukes, Lauren
Contains an obscure Bellairs satire of Catholicism (which I already
had), a charming children's story, The Face in the Frost (already
had), and -- the real reason this volume exists -- the pages that
exist of The Dolphin Cross, which is the sequel to The Face in
the Frost. (It feels like roughly the first two-thirds of a book,
although some pages are lost from the middle as well.) Prospero -- not
the famous one -- goes wandering around England, or countries of the
English variety, in search of something very nasty. Imaginative,
varied, often funny, extremely creepy, not entirely cohesive; maybe
cohesive would have been a later draft.
- Bellairs, John
- Magic Mirrors
A children's story; has the air of "the story the author made up for
some actual kids", rather than an attempt to enter the Harry Potter
sweepstakes. A girl is shipwrecked and discovers a buried hotel, with
attendant ghosts, pirates, magic, etc, etc. Sweet in a (I swear)
completely unironical way. The cook was awesome.
- Baker, Kage
- The Hotel Under the Sand
Another kids' book. Girl travels to fantasy world; but the story is
rooted in Japanese culture, rather than the usual portal-fantasy
wellspring of British folklore and history. (The author is Canadian
but was born in Japan, I believe.) Vivid; the antagonist is about as
nightmarish as I've seen, in the disgusting mode. My only complaint is
that the teenage protagonist talks a bit too much like a
life-experienced adult, particularly when observing grownups. But
that's a tiny little complaint.
- Goto, Hiromi
- Half World
Police officer gets involved in... what was this one? Oh yes: the
history of the fantasy city itself, particularly the Fiefs. The series
has spent enough time working the protagonist up as a human being that
it can now explore her magical specialness without coming off as twee.
- Sagara, Michelle
- Cast in Silence
We learn more about the greater world of Virga -- including what's
outside it. Fun, except for the local political struggle that kicks
off (and wraps up) the plot; that comes off as cartoon villains out to
smear mud on the world.
- Schroeder, Karl
- The Sunless Countries (Virga, book 4)
Have not yet read this. I know, I bought it at Worldcon. I need a lot
of a particular kind of momentum before I tackle Gilman's prose.
- Gilman, Greer
- Cloud & Ashes
Two additions to my collection of offbeat indie RPGs. The former is a
very lightweight game, with the players all taking turns as GMs
(effectively) as their characters tell Arabian-Nightsian stories, with
a court-politics frame game. Cute; suitable for a one-afternoon game.
The latter is essentially a explication of the author's 2006
fairy-tale RPG campaign, generalized into a full setting and a
framework for other people to "do something like this". Verges on
having too much setting and not enough interesting game mechanics, but
still worth looking at.
- Baker, Meguey
- A Thousand and One Nights
- The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo
Epic fantasy of the nations-in-conflict sort (subtype: princes and
princesses have to cope with it). I failed to like this. The various
nations, although nicely varied, all felt like thin stereotypes; their
political motivations did too. Also the prose was vaguely clunky, and
I kept losing track of which group of terrifyingly irresistable
enemies was which.
- Durham, David Anthony
Imagine if Merlin had stuck around England for all the centuries after
Arthur, to make sure the kingdom ran okay. It's not actually Merlin or
England (although enough names come from that tradition that I spent
way too long trying to figure out if this was alt-history-fantasy or
not). But you get the idea. Ambrosius is ancient, half-legendary, and
possessed of an infinite amount of personal baggage. His sister is
just the same, except she's not a drunk. Both of them are interested
in protecting the young prince from the palace coup that's going
down... Okay, I'll say it: this is the Belgariad done right (as if by
S. Morganstern, maybe?) Cheerfully over-the-top.
- Enge, James
- Blood of Ambrose
Third book about young wizard and her skeleton detective buddy. Still
good fun. The author is making some interesting gestures at the
handwaves he used in book one to write about a teenager adventuring
without destroying her normal family life. I'm hoping the story
angles towards the protagonist growing up.
- Landy, Derek
- Skulduggery Pleasant: The Faceless Ones
Yes, that Barlowe. (He's the artist who invented all the alien
lifeforms in the current Avatar movie. Okay? Okay.) So, a while ago
Barlowe published an art-book of paintings of Hell. Then, it seems, he
decided to write a novel for which they were the art. It's not bad,
but it's not as good as his paintings. Barlowe is (unsurprisingly)
superb at describing sensory detail; Hell is vivid in all its
meat-ridden inverse-glory. The plot and characters, not so vivid.
There's a rebellion in Hell, and all the people (demons mostly) that
he painted get shoehorned in. I liked the idea of a natural ecosystem
of hell, complete with aborigines, from before the fallen angels fell
in; but not much is done with it.
- Barlowe, Wayne
- God's Demon
Necromancer stumbles (or leaps, since she's also a spy) into politics.
This book throws an awful lot of names at you -- people, places,
ethnic groups, political factions -- it's all well-built but it's a
lot to grab hold of. I wound up liking the sidekicks and secondary
characters more than the protagonist, who is supposed to be a badass
but isn't really an interesting or active badass.
- Downum, Amanda
- The Drowning City
Spinoff of the Cal Leandros "monsters in NYC" series. (But with new
characters -- the other series doesn't cross over, except for a phone
call to Robin Goodfellow, and a comment about why demons avoid New
York.) This book is demons in Las Vegas. Enh. The narrator is
unreliable (if you didn't guess from the title and her name being
"Trixa") and while the author sets up some nicely multilayered
sleight-of-narrative, it's at the cost of me really buying into the
story. That is to say, I didn't.
- Thurman, Rob
- Trick of the Light
This is the one you haven't heard of (unless I commented on your blog
about it). It's a self-published quartet of fairy tales about a city
where you can go to tie down your fate -- to a person, to a goal. Is
this a good idea? The answer is ambiguous, as four different people
undertake four journeys, each under the tutelage of the proprietor of
a shop that sells knots. (Not rope, mind you.) The stories vary from a
sort of tragedy to a sort of triumph, and how you take the whole will
depend on what order you read them in -- the books quite overtly leave
this up to you. It's an interesting experiment, but the experiment is
less important than the author's deft, wry, and eminently readable
narration. Ordering this will cost you some cash (shipping costs to
the US particularly bite) but I recommend it anyhow. Get together with
three friends and you can all read it at the same time.
- Whiteland, David
- The Knot-Shop Man
A set of puzzle books from the 1970s op-art maze master, Larry Evans.
The first two have some regular mazes and some logic mazes, such as
mazes with missing bits or visit-each-node-once rules. The Gorey book
is a general puzzle collection done with licensed Edward Gorey artwork.
(Gorey obviously had nothing to do with it aside from giving permission,
but whatever. It is what it is.)
- Evans, Larry
- Great Book of Lateral Logic Mazes
- A Super-Sneaky Double-Crossing Up, Down, Round & Round Maze Book
- Gorey Games
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series. There is magic out there;
and it's a really bad idea. If your power doesn't come directly from
the world-devouring extradimensional demons, it's liable to attract
their attention. Therefore, the Twenty Palaces Society go out looking
for nascent magicians -- and shut them down. Hard. They are not nice
people. The protagonist in this book is not a wizard, although he has
a couple of tricks; he's the henchman, or hench-stalking-horse, of a
shit-scary Twenty Palaces operative. She's a sociopathic goal-obsessed
magic hunter; he's a chauffeur with "expendable" tattooed on his
forehead; they fight crime^H^H^H^H^H demons! This is a great start for
a series; both the main characters and the small-town multi-sided
old-bad-blood drama they stumble into get a lot of depth, and the
demons (and other nasties) are satisfactorially awful. Yes, I'm
including the scary wizard lady in with "nasties", and yet we see
where she's coming from as well. I look forward to learning more about
- Connolly, Harry
- Child of Fire
Stephenson has finally done it; he has invented an entire planetary
institution of people who spend their lives giving each other
lectures, in order to justify all the lectures he wanted to put in his
book. I enjoyed this, after being utterly bored by Quicksilver,
after enjoying Cryptonomicon. I think it's purely a question of the
subject matter. The storyline in Anathem is better-constructed than
usual, with a genuine no-shit-there-it-is ending. On the other hand,
the SF gimmicks were all utterly unconvincing to me, from the
alt-matter oxygen that was only "sort of" breathable to the
quantum-consciousness theories (I hate them, every one). Overall, fun,
but it was aiming for "awesome" and missed by miles.
- Stephenson, Neal
Ten marks out of ten for the opening paragraph. The rest of the book
does not hold the pace. It's the kind of story whose fun is in holding
lots and lots of unrelated pieces in your head, and then trying to fit
them together. It does this adequately, but without any sense that I
should be rooting for any of the characters. And, weirdly, there are
no major revelations at the end (or anywhere else). I would have
thought revelations were a genre convention, in jigsaw-puzzle plots.
- Banks, Iain M.
I wish it were possible to think about this book without thinking
about Pratchett's illness, and how it might have affected the work. I
can say that I liked this one better than Making Money, but not as
much as Going Postal or Thud. Can I say that the plot felt a
little too wandery? Maybe, but then I was looking for symptoms, and
that's too easy to do when an author hasn't been formally diagnosed.
Anyhow. A terrific batch of new characters, an acceptably evolved
visit to the Unseen wizard crew -- some of them have actually moved on
to new things -- and no, I don't care that the footy-ball has never
been mentioned before in the series.
- Pratchett, Terry
- Unseen Academicals
Prequel to emo Norse technofantasy series. This explains how the world
got to the apocalyptic point where Windwracked Stars began. This was
decent but just a little bit pat, and I'm not sure whether that's
because it was set earlier (so I knew where it was going), or because
the author had worked over the ideas so often, or just because it's a
simpler book (both in storyline and in setting). So I think I will
shift away from my usual "always read in publication order" stance,
and say that By the Mountain Bound should not be read second in
this trilogy. But should it be read first (chronological order) or
third (the order that the author wrote them)? I'll let you know after
I get my hands on The Sea Thy Mistress.
- Bear, Elizabeth
- By the Mountain Bound
Third in ongoing series of inter(-stellar-)national intrigue
thrillers. A dame walksh into the protagonist's office, tries to hire
him, and is found dead scant hours later. Is it a plot? Yes, it is a
plot. I am starting to disbelieve that the alien menace is beatable --
it seems to be able to mobilize unlimited numbers of rich people to do
its bidding, and what can threaten a large group of corrupt rich
people? Don't try to answer that. This book brings in some interesting
other factions, anyhow.
- Zahn, Timothy
- Odd Girl Out
Alien clockwork lifeforms have been sprouting in Victorian London; now
they've conquered the Whitechapel district. Falls into the New Weird
trap of having the main characters be jerks -- and also, the story
takes way too much glee in having New and Weird things happen to the
main characters. It's hard to stay engaged in the story when any given
viewpoint character has no better than even odds of surviving his
viewpoint chapter. Also, most of them are psychotic jerks.
- Peters, S. M.
- Whitechapel Gods
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series, only this one is set in
Boston, which I appreciate. Once again, magic is bad for you (although
not quite so likely to destroy the world); it's cast as addiction, and
way better than Buffy did. The author gives good feel for Boston
history, and ties the many currents of her magical world into that
history in a way reminiscent of Tim Powers.
- Ronald, Margaret
- Spiral Hunt
I didn't buy this to read; I bought it so that Elizabeth Bear could
sign it. Now I just need to get Sarah Monette to.
- McCaffrey, Anne
Not a book, but a collection of prints of Leonardo's illustrations of
the Platonic solids. (And Archimedean solids, and some stellations
- Leonardo da Vinci, Luca Pacioli
- Il Codice Della Divina Perfezione
New urban fantasy (but not romance) series... this is a more
conventional take. The gimmick is that our hero has a magic dog. Not a
wolf, mind you, but a little mutt critter. It's cute, but the story
didn't do much to differentiate itself from its genre, and coming down
to a heavily-foreshadowed duel of magic at the end didn't score any
- Levitt, John
- Dog Days
Re-release (presumably somewhat updated) of one of the
background-setting books for the Repairman Jack series. This one is
"current" (that is, it takes place right after Ground Zero) and
concerns a doctor who is abruptly possessed of a miraculous healing
touch; the price for each use is the rapid erosion of his mind. The
story unfortunately fails to develop any tension whatsoever, because
the setups are all gimmes: will the good-hearted doctor sacrifice
himself to save the cute girl on dialysis? the cute autistic boy? the
evil exploitative politician? No points for guessing right.
- Wilson, F. Paul
- The Touch
This one works much better; it concerns the attempt of the big evil
avatar to get himself incarnated circa 1968. It works because the
characters are put into situations where there are genuinely no good
answers; every choice is awful. That's horror.
- Wilson, F. Paul
Re-read, but I happen to have not read it since the book came out (and
that was a library copy, which is why I bought it for the revisit). I
like this one a lot. It has the right level of choice, immanence, and
revelation in a theology that we thought we knew pretty well. Also a
multitude of awesome ancilliary characters -- Jokol and Fafa, Hallana
and Oswin. However, the limits of the series become apparent when the
author has to drop in a list of all the things that aren't going on,
which are all the possibilities raised by the first two books. If she
ever writes a fourth, the list will only get longer.
- Bujold, Lois McMaster
- The Hallowed Hunt
Chapbook of short stories about the Templar super-secret agent (from
The Apocalypse Door) and his rival-or-ally, the Fun Nun With the
Gun. (I never get tired of quoting that.) The stories are each quite
simple, a bit of action and a bit of magic and then it's done. I
prefer the novel-length form, of which I hear a new one is coming out
- Doyle, Debra; MacDonald, James D.
- The Confessions of Peter Crossman
Have not yet finished.
- de Pierres, Marianne
- Dark Space
It's time to stop buying these. I've reached the point where I can
skip half the text -- because I've read it before, or close enough to
make no never-mind. Sometimes I've read it before in the same volume.
- Green, Simon R.
- Just Another Judgement Day
Have not yet started.
- Keck, David
- In a Time of Treason
Last updated January 1, 2010.
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