The Reading Update

I finally finished Larry McMurtry's The Streets of Laredo, the final volume in the Lonesome Dove saga (though the second one written).  It's a grim, harsh story that doesn't so much end as stops.  Much of it feels like linked character studies rather than a coherent narrative, but McMurtry still pulls a good story out of it.  But it is grim. And harsh.

I also went back and re-read Raymond Feist's Magician: Apprentice, one of my "comfort food" reads from my youth.  It still holds up fairly well, but I find a lot of the things that impressed me nearly thirty years ago now seem kind of precious.

Literary Comfort Food

Two posts in the same week?  Unheard of!  But, I finished another book and thought I'd mention it.

Kitty's Greatest Hits by Carrie Vaughn collects fourteen short stories (thirteen and a novella, really) set in Vaughn's world of Kitty the Werewolf.  The stories bounce around in time and location, focusing on a number of major and minor characters from the series, as well as a couple of completely unrelated bits here and there.  Breaking from the style of the Kitty novels, most of these are told in third person, which really provides a nice change of pace and perspective.

Most of all, the book is chock full of bits I've enjoyed in one of my favorite Urban Fantasy series, bits that I felt were somewhat lacking in the most recent novel.  While I know all of these stories were written years ago, I hope that maybe this presages a return to quality for the next volume.

Well, It's Only Been A Few Weeks This Time

I still live.  I still read.  I seldom post here anymore, except to keep track of my reading list.

The Alchemist in the Shadows is the second in Pierre Pevel's excellent "Cardinal's Blades" series.  In the first volume, we met the titular Blades, a secret cadre of swashbuckling operatives in Richelieu's Paris.  In this, the stakes are increased significantly.  Good stuff; I can't wait for the next volume.

Scourge is a Star Wars novel by Jeff Grubb.  I was surprised to find myself wanting to read it, given that it takes place in my least favorite period in SW continuity (the New Jedi Order era), but Mr. Grubb is a game writer and novelist whose stuff I've enjoyed for years, so I decided to give it a whirl.  I'm glad I did.  If nothing else, it was an interesting experience reading the exploits of a basically decent, trustworthy, and honorable hero (I read way too much in the way of gritty anti-hero driven Urban Fantasy). In the end, it's still a Star Wars novel, but it's not by any means a bad one.

More to come soon.

Two Months Later

I never post here anymore.  The last update of Firefox broke the LJ client I used, which means I pretty much have to update on the website now, which is a lot less convenient.

So, since about the only thing I still use this for is to keep track of my reading, I might as well update that list:

Emma Bull, Territory
Tabor Evans, Longarm and the Doomed Beauty
Laura Joh Rowland, Shinju
Laura Joh Rowland, Bundori

Who Wants A Library Full Of Books He's Already Read?

Lately, I've accumulated a big pile (virtual and real) of books in various stages of "read." So, of course, the next book I've finished this year did nothing to reduce its size.

Imagine a world where people suddenly manifest incredible powers.  Add in the destruction of a cherished national monument, a world on the edge of crisis, and governments using military responses to these new and terrifying individuals.

Contrary to what you may think, I'm not describing Marvel's X-Men franchise.  Shadow Ops: Control Point is the debut novel from Myke Cole.  While Cole's "latents" (not mutants) manifest magical powers in rather specific flavors, the world's reaction is a very believable mix of paranoia, fear, and overreaction.

This book surprised me.  First, because despite the fantasy elements, a lot of this book is squarely in the military fiction genre, one of my least favorite subjects.  I picked it up because too many people I respect said it was good, but I expected to have to put my blinders on and swallow a lot of Tom Clancy rah-rah bullshit along the way.

Didn't happen.

Mr. Cole is a former soldier.  That much is clear.  It's also clear that he loves the military.  However, he doesn't shy away from portraying the bad along with the good, whether it's individuals or policies.  And there is some serious bad going on in this book.  One might even use the word "dystopian" to describe it.

In short, this book surprised me.  Check it out.

Speaking of Quality

Last night, I finished Thief's Covenant, the latest novel from Ari Marmell (mouseferatu)  Marketed as Young Adult Fantasy, I found nothing juvenile about it at all.  Adrienne Satti, orphaned as a child rises from street urchin to a society debutante (trust me, in the book it makes perfect sense), only to find herself back on the streets, a thief calling herself Widdershins, and charged with an horrific crime.  Also, there's a god living in her head.

The story dances back and forth between flashbacks and the present, slowly giving the reader the story of Adrienne's life and how she got to her present situation.  The setting, a city reminiscent of Musketeer-era Paris, provides a nice break from the nigh-obligatory pseudo-medieval with elves and dwarfs fantasy settings.  While there is magic in the setting, it's subtle, a quality that again brands this a different sort of fantasy.

If I were to compare it to anything else out there, I'd say it strikes similar chords as Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint or The Privilege of the Sword, though not quite as elegantly crafted (no offense intended, Kushner is a rather singular talent when it comes to this style of tale).

It is, beyond a doubt, my favorite book he's written to date.

All I Use This For Anymore Is Updating My Reading List

But, at least I still use it for that.

Two more entries, neither of which I am particularly proud of.  First up Ed Greenwood's Spellfire, a D&D tie-in novel from 1988, featuring Mr. Greenwood's greatest contribution to the world of fantasy gaming, The Forgotten Realms.  Spellfire is, in all honesty, not a very good book.  The characters are straight out of Central Casting.  The plot, while fairly straightforward is interspersed with a lot of "Meanwhile, one hundred miles away..." moments.  Coincidence reigns supreme.  Nudity and titilation substitutes for dialogue.

And yet, the book has its charms.  The Realms began as Greenwood's home campaign, and Spellfire provides the reader with a look at something close to his original vision, without the layers of editorial mandate and marketing rewrites.  It gives a sense of place, of actual danger, something may complained later iterations of the Realms lacked.  In that respect, it's possibly the best book to come out of the early Forgotten Realms novels.  Despite its flaws, it's certainly my favorite.

I'm similarly conflicted about Shelly Mazzanoble's Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress.  To be fair, I am not remotely the target audience for this book.  Hell, I bought it for Jane and she's not the target audience for this book.  The author, a self-proclaimed "girly-girl" (whatever the hell that means, I think maybe it has something to do with watching "Sex & the City" religiously or something), tells of her introduction to Dungeons & Dragons by way of her job, a marketing gig with Wizards of the Coast.

On one level, her story is kind of charming.  She'd never played D&D before taking the job, fell in love with the game, and gives off this fiercely protective vibe about it, even trying to run a game for her decidedly non-gamer girlfriends.  On the other hand...

Well, let's just say that the women who inhabit this book are so alien to any women I know, it was like reading a bad work of fiction with completely unbelievable characters.  I salute Ms Mazzanoble's intent, which was to explain D&D to the overly washed and manicured masses, but it felt like watching someone trying to explain a caricature to a stereotype.

On to less onerous reading!

Biased Review Is Biased

(While I don't suppose I really need to add a disclaimer on books I review, I think it's worth mentioning that I am an above-entry level supporter of the Kickstarter project that spawned it.  I'm a big believer in the project and predisposed to like it.  Also, virtually every author in the collection is either a friend or a friend of a friend.  So take that as you will.)

Tonight, I finished reading Tales of the Far West, a collection of short stories set in the titular Far West, a setting for fiction, games, videos, possibly even larger scale projects, created by Gareth-Michael Skarka with assistance from TS Luikart.  The setting is a fantasy world that draws inspiration from two disparate, yet oddly compatible genres: the Spaghetti Western, and the Chinese Wuxia tradition (both film and prose).  Perhaps, on the surface, the two seem at odds, but the shared elements are startling.  In both, the stories tend to take place on the fringes of civilization, the wilderness, the frontier.  If not an actual frontier, then a place where the rules of society have broken down.  Into this setting comes the outsider (or outsiders), someone of remarkable puissance who can make things right again.  In the Old West, it's the gunfighter, the man who must descend to barbarism to fight the barbarians (cattle barons, the railroad, corrupt officials, renegade indians).  By picking up the gun, he forsakes civilization in order to preserve it, and in doing so, sets himself apart from it.  In the Chinese tales, wandering martial artists, who live outside the world of social hierarchies and pious behavior who must protect those who live within the rules from others who would exploit them.

Tales of the Far West takes this notion and runs with it.  The collection begins with "He Built the Wall to Knock it Down" by scott_lynch, a fantastic introduction that is a joy to read.  It's been a while since I've read anything by the esteemed Mr. L, and I'd forgotten how cleverly he can turn a phrase, starting with the opening lines, "He called himself False Note.  It wasn't his real name. Hell, it wasn't even his real fake name."

(Also, "The gun went down, and then it went back beneath the counter, and that's why Tychus Sload lived long enough to leave this story on his own terms.)

Each story reveals a little piece of the setting and its inhabitants.  We learn that there's an Empire out to the east somewhere, and they're not particularly nice folks.  Especially, the Imperial Marshalls, who can pretty much kill whoever they want in the name of the Emperor (and who are skilled enough to back it up).  But even so, we get a favorable portrayal of a Marshall.  Likewise, the Double Eagle Detective Agency is clearly all about the money, but that doesn't mean its agents can't be morally upright (or utter bastards).

The sense of moral ambiguity that drives just about every story makes for a great array of characters, and the stories wisely don't tell the same tale over and over.  Some are quite short, nearly vignettes, but each left me wanting to see more of this place.

In short, it's two hoots, a holler, and a half-dozen Kiiais!  And it's only five bucks for the electronic edition on Amazon.  You ought to check it out.

Long Weekend With Words

I'm off today, which allowed me to lie-in and finish another book. Tricknomancy is another self-published eBook from Michael Stackpole. This one is more of an Urban Fantasy Noir thing. Patrick "Trick" Molloy is a bouncer at a strip club. He used to be a cop until he got framed for bribery and busted off the force. He's also a powerful magical practitioner in a world where such folks exist, but aren't particularly loved by society at large. It's a decent set-up and the book, a collection of short stories, runs with it quite nicely. As the stories are chronological, the character and his relationships develop almost as well as most novels. The only real downside is some unresolved business from the longest story, which is perhaps a tale for another day.

The book does suffer a bit from self-publishing in the same ways In Hero Years, I'm Dead did: occasional typos. The text is leaner, probably due to the content being short stories. Stackpole nails the noir tropes and the magic system is interesting. All in all, four of five stars.

New Year, New Books

Or, more precisely, old books finally finished.

First up, the final fourth of Marion Harmon's Villains, Inc., his follow-up to Wearing the Cape.  As with the previous book, the world-building is generally better than the plot, which is, in turn, more interesting than the main character.  It is pretty good world-building, though I felt it ended rather abruptly (a consequence, I fear, of his decision to serialize the novel).  He's got one more book in this series forthcoming, but as it focuses on an entirely different character in an entirely different place, I'm not sure I'll pick it up.

Next, and still in a superheroic vein, is Mike Stackpole's In Hero Years, I'm Dead.  This too is an e-book only publication, telling the story of a superhero who's effectively been "on ice" for the previous twenty years coming to terms with a very different world than the one he remembers.  One part midlife crisis novel, one part social commentary, one part rip-roaring superhero yarn, it's a pretty good read.  With a few caveats:  it's self-published, and even though Stackpole is a veteran bestselling author, he needs an editor.  There are a lot of annoying typos throughout the text and parts of it could have been leaner.  Also, the social commentary is pretty heavy-handed.  If you agree with Stackpole's politics, that's not necessary a bad thing, but I can see where it would annoy folks who don't.