I. I started this with the audiobook, listening to it during my commute, but my contract is up and my commute is commuted until the summer, and this i...moreI. I started this with the audiobook, listening to it during my commute, but my contract is up and my commute is commuted until the summer, and this is too good to listen to sporadically. So I will be buying it and reading it the good old fashioned way. In book form. More to come.
I give up. I can't go on. I couldn't even make it to page one hundred. I slogged through the first 85 pages, which should have been a stand-alone nove...moreI give up. I can't go on. I couldn't even make it to page one hundred. I slogged through the first 85 pages, which should have been a stand-alone novella (had it been a novella, it would have been a vast improvement, and I may have sped through it had I not been daunted and confused by the presence of the 300+ pages that were still to come). For years I've been longing for a book from the Orc perspective. I wanted a story that actually gave us a hint of Orc culture, Orc life, maybe a story about a humble Orc farmer, just trying to make it while providing grain for the Orc army and living in fear of the nasty humans encroaching on his land. Or perhaps the tale of an Orc warrior, living in squalor and fear because he's part of an underfunded army, and a culture that prizes death over anything else. Or the story of an Orc actor, part of a travelling show, moving through the armies of the Orcs, trying to boost morale. Anything original that told us who Orcs are, even if it wasn't my idea of what Orcs can be, would have been appreciated. Thus I went into Grunts with an open mind, ready to love it (bolstered by the fact that I really enjoyed Mary Gentle's Rats and Gargoyles). But there was no hint of that book I'd been hoping for. Instead, it was just a bunch of idiotic, cannibalistic, hyper-violent degenerates. Just more of Orcs being unrepentantly evil and nasty. But wait, Grunts did provide us with a pair of seriously pyschopathic Halflings, a pair of serial killers if truth be told, and that made me excited for a while, but just when that thread would get interesting, the Halflings would disappear. Which reminds me, the pacing in this book was awful, all over the place, I'd get interested, then she'd move onto something else and drain me of interest. But then Grunts had something else I could get behind: (view spoiler)[the Orcs stumble on a cache of USMC Weapons in a Dragon's horde and turn themselves into a Marine Corp fighting machine. Suddenly it seems like Gentle is commenting on the US Military, and I am overjoyed! But then the mechanized weapons are useless against magic, and the Grunts are slaughtered, and I can't help wondering what the fuck she was doing having these weapons appear so soon in a 400+ page book. Or at all because they seem to add absolutely nothing (hide spoiler)] And then I was just pissed off again, and wishing this book was over. So I put the book down, and I tried to muster the interest to come back, but I've given up on that idea. I can see no reason for the book to continue, I can see no reason for me to read on, so I have stopped and given Gentle two stars. The book is okay at best. I hate it because it didn't live up to its amazing potential, but I will say it's okay because I can't comment on the finished product. I'll say it's okay despite my hate. (you're feeling how disjointed and strange this review is, aren't you? how disruptive the pacing? that's what Gentle did in her book. Seriously). Yep, I hate this book. But maybe you won't, though you probably will. (less)
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement...moreThe Coolness—
• The cover art by Stephen Youll is killer in a cheesy old movie way. So killer that it made me buy this book against my better judgement. The Gill-man on the cover, looking like he’s just risen from the swamp, dripping water from his forearms with some aquatic flora hanging loose from his chitinous armour, is a hoot, and coupled with old B-movie, Creature font, it is impossible to resist.
• Cody and Brice are nude. A lot! That’s what happens, I guess, when you’re back in the Devonian with the one that you love and no society is around to tell you to keep your clothes on.
• Zombie Gill-men!
• There’s this kick ass burial ritual for the “civilized” Gill-men where they liquefy their dead and return them to The Mother. I would love to have seen this used better in a different context. But it’s pretty cool nonetheless.
• You can’t have a good novel without an issue to revolve around, or at least that’s what I imagine Hackosaurid di Filippo’s creative writing teacher telling him. So di Filippo does the responsible thing and throws in some environmentalism for us. The world’s a mess in 2015 because of of our destruction of the environment, so good ol’ boy Brice wants to splice us together with a Gill-man to save our species from the eventual destruction our industrialization has wrought. Don’t worry, though, there’s no crisis or craziness happening when Brice goes back. Just an increase in temperatures and air conditioning. This could have been an excellent addition if it had been handled with some subtlety, but Hackosaurids are not known for their subtlety. They’re more like T-Rexes trying to be stealthy.
• The stupidity of Cody and Brice was sorta funny to begin with, but then it just gets annoying. What a pair of idiots. Still, it’s really easy to buy their stupidity, so they deserve everything they get. But then the super-genius who created the time machine adds his stupidity to the mix, and the Gill-People are just as stupid as all of them, so the stupidity is interminable and painful.
• There is some really, and I mean REALLY, crappy wish fulfillment going on in this book. Case in point: “You own every part of me now, Brice, whether you ever wanted to or not. Don’t ever forget that.” You see, Cody was almost eaten by a seventy foot, prehistoric shark, but her geeky, marine biologist boyfriend, Brice just happen to nuke it from his kayak with a kick ass automatic rifle, saving her life. Then we get this little vow of personal enslavement, just before a crazy tumble in the bog between the two randy lovers, and all so Brice can daydream about the amazing foreplay that is a near death experience. Gill-man alive!
• AND there is some seriously shitty dialogue. Just consider this gem from Hackosaurid di Filippo when his heroes (and I use the term loosely), lose their iPod time machine and discover they’re stuck in the Devonian: “Brice showed Cody the empty holster on his hip. He tried to be light about their devastating loss. ‘Our ticket home’s been punched already. No mileage left.’” Umm ... need I say more?
• The Gill-folk are telepaths and water shapers and earth shapers and air shapers and aliens! Wow! Don’t you just love sci-fantasy? It’s like the cheesiest X-Men story ever.
• Gill-Folk = Noble Savages = Devonian Utopia. Then the Gill Zombies come and screw it all up. But the “base-line” Gill-People remain so nice and so understanding and soooooo peaceful. Oh joy, oh Devonian bliss. Silly assed foolishness.
• Most of the book. But at least it is better than The Spell of Zalanon. Barely. I better get a good pulpy fix soon our my head is going to explode. Trash is good, but vomit is unacceptable.(less)
I read the first chapter and stopped. I am pissed off. I have rarely felt so manipulated as a reader in my life, and I think the manipulation is more...moreI read the first chapter and stopped. I am pissed off. I have rarely felt so manipulated as a reader in my life, and I think the manipulation is more about the way it is written than what it is written about, although that is, in itself, fairly manipulative. If this is how Foer usually writes, I want no part of him or his work. Still, if this was a short story and I reached the point where the Dad is about to talk to his son before the towers collapse, I would be excited by the cleverness of the moment, would look forward to the conversation, and be pleased in anticipation of the genuine anguish that must be coming. But it's not a short story. It's the first chapter in what is a pretty long book, and I imagine all manner of excruciating crapness is to come. Couple that with a first person narrative in the voice of a "precocious" kid -- so precocious, in fact, that he sounds like a thirty-something man trapped in a kid's body rather than a genuinely precocious kid (I often suspect, when these impossibly precocious characters appear, that the author wants to write as a child but realizes he isn't good enough, so he makes them precocious so he can just write as themselves at their least disciplined and pretend it is a child) -- and I want to tear my eyeballs out after only twenty some-odd pages. Even worse, I didn't know this was about the WTC attack until I got this to the cash register. I just saw it on sale, knew it had good buzz, liked the cover and thought, "What the hell?!" I need to reexamine my impulse buying, apparently, because I would not have bought this book if I'd known what it was about before I did. I think, too, that if I keep reading this book it is going to be lucky to get one star, so it's probably best to leave it where it is for now: on my to-read shelf, buried under that copy of Shogun that's been there for a decade. (less)
It's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking uneven...moreIt's been a while since I've been so infuriated by a read. I am pissed this morning after finishing Bitter Seeds because the book is so fucking uneven. The highs are very high, but the lows tend to be abyssal. I considered giving it five stars at a couple of points, vowed to give it one star often, and finally decided that I had better split the difference.
Here goes for the Highs and Lows:
High #1 -- The conceit of Nazi engineered superheroes whose presence change the course of the war is a winner. I am loathe to say it is original because an 80s multi-verse timeline in Marvel's Fantastic Four played with that idea, but Tregillis does some original stuff with it, and when he has us hanging out with Dr. von Westarp's damaged children () the book is at its very best. It is, however, partnered by a low.
What we have here in Bitter Seeds is a whole schwack of the silliest kind of Nazis. We have Dr. von Westarp as the creepy, sadistic, human guinea pig using scientist; we have Reinhart as the an overbearing necrophiliac; we have Kammler as a leashed moron; we have Heike as a fragile, suicidal victim.
But then we have Klaus and Gretel, two Nazi Übers, who have real depth and back story. They should bring equilibrium ... except they don't because, you see, they are not "genuine Aryans," not real Nazis, they are Roma, marginalized within their own SS group and treated as other by both their race and their abilities.
Now I don't for a second want the gypsies to change, but some sort of expansion of Kammler or Heike, some sort of explanation for Reinhardt's behaviour (besides the obvious, "he's a Nazi") could have brought the necessary equilibrium. Some time spent defining why anyone else in Germany was the way the were, even Dr. von Westarp, could have pulled them away from caricature and made them antagonists worth spending narrative time with. It doesn't happen, and this missed opportunity is infuriating.
High #2 -- The British Warlocks. I loved the idea of supernatural science going toe to toe with supernatural magery. British Warlocks vs. Nazi supermen?! Sounds fucking cool doesn't it?
Low #2.0 -- But then the fucking Eidolons show up and we discover that the Warlocks have no magic; theirs is a linguistic capacity that allows them to "negotiate blood prices" for the service of the near-omnipotent Eidolons. Midi-chlorians anyone?!
Low #2.1 -- But it got even lower for me where the Eidolans were concerned. The narrative response to England's deals with the Eidolans was to give us Will Beauclerk, sort of the head Warlock working for Milkweed, whose guilt over dealing with the Eidolans leads him to morphine addiction and eventually madness. He feels the terrible pain and gravity of what he "must" do to keep England safe. Slaughtering innocents, making human sacrifices, becomes justified -- or at least rationalized -- in the narrative because there is someone of conscience engaged in the perpetration, which in conjunction with the two-dimensional Nazi caricatures, winds up solidifying the simplistic notion that any Allied atrocity is good because the Nazis were unconscionably bad.
High #2.1 -- Yet the ending, (view spoiler)[Will's discovery of the baby isolation vaults at Milkweed headquarters -- wombs of non-language to spawn a new generation of Eidolan negotiators (hide spoiler)], was a killer moment, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, Tregillis will engage meaningfully in an examination of his England's tactics during his reimagined Second World War.
Low #2.2 -- I don't buy, however, that Tregillis will do anything of the sort in the The Coldest War. I expect Will's lone voice of conscience will continue to be the factor that negotiates audience acceptance of shitty British behaviour, while caricatured Soviets will be evil no matter what they do. A future low, perhaps, but a low that puts a major dent in my enjoyment of Bitter Seeds.
-- Gretel and Klaus and Will. I kept reading (listening) because of them. When Tregillis takes time with his characters, he can do some good things, and these three are the books greatest strengths.
Low #3 -- Raybould and Liv. All other poor characters aside, and there are plenty, Raybould Marsh (our protagonist, I suppose), his spouse and their "love" was one of the most ham-fisted relationships I've read. I never bought a moment of their love for one another. I never bought the way they met. I never bought their marriage. I never bought how it motivated Marsh. I never bought their split and reunion. I never the homoerotic triangle that developed between them and Will. I never any of it. Most of the time, it felt as though the publishers (or some outside mentoring source) told Tregillis to add a love story. And this was the best he could do. Well, his best wasn't just "just not good enough," it was destructive to most everything it surrounded.
Low #3.1 -- Raybould? What a fucking stupid name. But that's okay, stupid names aren't all that bad, but it puts me in mind of a personal low for me: the names of Brits and Germans in general. I am a huge football fan, so I know, inherently, the names of most footballers in Germany and England, and most of the supporting characters in this book have a corresponding footballer with their name. This is probably coincidence, but it is a coincidence that made me conscious of the narrator every time my mind pictured a modern footballer rather than a person of the proper period.
High #4 -- The pace was brisk and compelling ...
Low #4 -- ... But the book was way too short. The whole of World War II condensed to this relatively slim volume? A multivolume series could have been written about WWII, let alone his next foray into the Cold War. Bitter Seeds is not anywhere near enough -- it is far too slim -- and with a more languid pace and greater time spent with ALL his characters, many (if not all) of the lows of Tregillis' book could have become highs.
I will go on. I will read the The Coldest War because there were parts of this book I really loved. Its potential was great. I wanted to love it. But if the same highs and lows continue, I will stop splitting the difference and go the way of the lowest possible star rating. And those bits of love that make me want to continue will fester into their opposite. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Sometimes when you discover a new author -- even when your first exposure to their books doesn't blow your mind -- you see the promise of something fa...moreSometimes when you discover a new author -- even when your first exposure to their books doesn't blow your mind -- you see the promise of something fantastic, and you keep reading.
I've been reading many authors with that goal in mind: Ian Rankin (for the last few months) and Stephen King (for most of my life, with perpetual disappointment) and Nick Hornby (for a decade and a half) and Philip Palmer (for a couple of years) and Miriam Toews (since last summer). Only one of those authors has delivered the fantastic, but my love for Arsenal keeps Hornby on the "potential list" because I was predisposed to loving Fever Pitch, and it hardly seems fair to give his writing credit for such an easy victory.
Henning Mankell was on that list until today. I've enjoyed his books, some of them quite a bit, and I have become a big fan of Kurt Wallander (played brilliantly on the BBC by Kenneth Branagh*), Mankell's brooding, anti-social, middle aged, tenacious, Ystad cop. But Mankell finally delivered on the promise he made me in his first Wallander book, Faceless Killers.
Sidetracked is the first fantastic Wallander I've read. It does everything Mankell always does, only better. It's a perfect mixture of Wallander's personal life (his always complicated relationships with his daughter, Linda, his Father, his long-distance, Latvian lover, Baiba, and his partner, Ann-Britt Hoglund), his professional life (this time he's searching for a serial killer who scalps and kills his victims with an axe), and his interior life (full of nostalgia, anxiety, pain, guilt and doubt). Wallander feels, this time, like he's not just a character on the page, but a real cop, a real person, living somewhere out there in the world at this very moment. It's rare for me to find a character I believe in so thoroughly, and it's exciting when it happens.
I had a hard time putting this book down. Honestly. And if it hadn't been for life, I would have read it in one bleary-eyed sitting. Even so, I stayed up late every night for three nights so that I could finish. I loved this book. I wonder if any of those remaining in the series will deliver the same satisfaction. No matter. One book in my personal fantastic range is enough. Mankell has solidified me as his fan.
Long live Wallander.
*Sorry. I had to shamelessly plug old Ken, as I do in every Wallander book review.(less)
Sadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to...moreSadly, I wasn't able to finish The Palace of Dreams. I lost it with only thirty-eight pages left, which was an oddly fitting end to what turned out to be an odd experience with an odd book.
The book is about a mysterious ministry in the Ottoman Empire that collects, reads, sorts and interprets the dreams of its citizens as a prophetic means of unlocking crimes and conspiracies against the state. Into this organization goes Mark-Alem, a maternal son of the powerful Quprili family.
I reached a place in the story where I felt myself on the verge of a revelation, where the story was about unfold for me like an origami crane reversing, but now, with space and time, I am not so sure that anything miraculous was about to happen.
I may have been taken in by the fact that I was reading a book about dreams, about interpreting the subconscious night droppings of minds, and that the book was a translation of a translation. Remove after remove after hyperreal remove -- both within The Palace of Dreams and without -- had taken me so far away from Ismail Kadaré's original intent that I imagined myself, impossibly, about to stumble upon some truth that was waiting there just for me, and tucked away in a corner of my mind I think I've dreamt what that truth must be.
But I lost the book, and mow I don't think I want it back. I have a feeling the ending I imagined means more to me than the actual ending of ever could, and to read the last thirty-eight pages of Kadaré's tale would taint my experience. So this mildly creepy, oddly fascinating book will remain (un)finished for me.(less)
i. Shit. This is going into pause for now, until my copy turns up somewhere. It's probably in one of the many laundry baskets. Or somewhere. Rrrrrr. N...morei. Shit. This is going into pause for now, until my copy turns up somewhere. It's probably in one of the many laundry baskets. Or somewhere. Rrrrrr. Now I have to choose another fun book from my shelves.
ii. So nearly two years ago I lost that copy, and it did eventually turn up in the shed, having soaked up water from a tiny leak. It was swollen to three times its size and overrun by fungus. But I brought it in the house, my very own Vandermeer, spore-laden tome, and I put it on the ledge beside the dehumidifier, started drying it out, and promptly forgot all about it.
A few weeks ago I needed a new shower book, and what better than a book already thoroughly water damaged, so I grabbed the book and started reading. I made it through 5 pages in the shower, but when I tossed it through the shower curtain and got ready to wash myself, my hands were covered in black spore. I went straight out and bought a new copy, which I should have done the year before.
Now that I am finished, think I will burn my old mossy copy. Not because I hate the book, but because I think a nice little blast of Fuego would be a fitting end to my wounded copy. Make of that what you will.
As for the story itself, Grave Peril is the best of the first three books. No question. Storm Front was very much a first novel, enticing, weak in parts, but fun enough to carry on. I remember enjoying Fool Moon, but I discovered that beyond a memory of loup-garouds, it was utterly forgettable. But Grave Peril elevated the Dresden books in both the consequences for Harry, and my personal enjoyment.
Harry loses and gains in this book, and not in simplistic ways. When he loses something he also keeps it, making the losing more tragic (I'm thinking the loss of Susan's love here). When he gains something, such as victory over Bianca and Kravos, he loses much more and starts a supernatural war to boot. Even in little moments, the bits of action or seemingly minor plot twists, the gains and losses have these double edges, like Amorrachius, the righteous blade of Michael, God's Chicago Knight.
Better still, Butcher manages to do cool shit with ghosts and everything else from the Nevernever, shit that actually surprised me. Barbed wire ghost torture? Crazy cool. Intentional death and ghostly manifestations? What?! A beautiful, made woman whose pharmaceutical for sanity is sex with a Vampire? Yep, that's what I said. It is all just cool.
So to sum up: cool, cool, cool. For a fun read, Grave Peril can't be beat. (less)
You arrive at your summer vacation, the one your parents keep sending you on, across the country to spend time with your Grandpa. It is only a couple...moreYou arrive at your summer vacation, the one your parents keep sending you on, across the country to spend time with your Grandpa. It is only a couple of weeks, but it always feels like a month, or two, and this year, now that you're older and have so many more interesting things to be doing, you really don't want to go, but you go anyway, and the stories begin the moment you get in his immaculate car. He pulls into traffic and begins talking in that suprisingly soothing tone that won't relent for fourteen days.
In the time it takes to drive from the airport to his home in the willow trees you've discovered everything you need to know about the summer ahead. Every piece of information, every bit of knowledge concerning the trip's outcome, every person you will meet (except for those two who are a surprise, but even the meaning of the surprise is known) is known in those first minutes of driving and traffic lights and highway slow downs. All that will change over the course of your time are the words and actions he uses to inform you. They will amount to the same content, but they will take wild shapes, fantastical shapes, or tame and banal shapes, or whatever shapes the old man feels like conjuring at any given moment.
And there will be times when his words will amount to silence and you will simply be in his presence, a presence that begins annoyingly enough, but slowly becomes exactly what you need. You will wake up to the magnificent coffees he makes to order, espresso, latte, americano; you decide what you want before sleep, and it is there when you awaken, even though you awaken at different times everyday because he lets you sleep in, knowing it is something you don't get to do all that often. His voice goes along with those morning drinks, those drinks and the pastries he somehow sneaks in without you seeing, and you are happy to hear the same tales again with tweaks and twitches and turns you were fully expecting. You're always happy to know you're right about your expectations.
You follow as he takes you through chilly malls, waving to friends on benches in the halls; as he takes you through humid golf courses, both of you exerting yourselves as minimally as golf allows; as you and he relive zoo trips and museum trips and walks down park paths together, all the while he relates the stories you love more the more you hear them, stories of your past and his present and your future.
You mash the potatoes that night, that penultimate night before your parents come to fetch you, while he barbecues the chicken breasts, and you hear him through the screen, talking to himself or someone you can't see, and his pleasure to be speaking is as plain as it ever is, and you sit together at dinner and realize something is different when the silence you sit in together is real silence. His face radiates its usual calm and contentedness, but sound has stopped, and he is quiet. You see the stories are still running in his head, but while he eats he stops sharing. Then he begins again, the same old man you feared joining then learned to relove -- as you always do -- so together you clear the table, do the dishes and take the cards to the verandah where you play what he calls Spite and Malice, but what you've heard others call Cat and Mouse, and you trade wins back and forth, playing with buckets of pennies he's collected over the years.
When the game is over and you retire to the den to watch that show he hasn't missed in forty years, he goes to pour himself his nightly dram, that which will give him the single malt cologne you love to smell when he hugs you goodnight, but he surprises you again, this time with a dram of your own. He says nothing about what he's giving you. Simply passes you your glasses, clinks it with his own, and sits to watch the show with you, sipping his scotch between bits of commentary and remembrance.
And you go to bed without brushing your teeth, wanting that taste, that first taste of your Grandfather's prized drink, to stay on your tongue, and you fall asleep until he surprises you again, waking you up in the dark with a kiss. Not a kiss on the forehead or cheek, but a kiss on the lips, the sort of kiss your father and grandfather and uncles and brothers stopped giving you in your childhood, the sort of kiss that says without words that you are loved and cherished and that just your being makes the man kissing you happy. You feel the light kiss and the scratch of his growing beard, the beard that is always freshly shave before you even wake up, and you open your eyes to see him smiling in the nightlight he still keeps in this room for you when you visit. He brushes back your hair. His lips remain close in his knowing smile. He winks. You know that what he told you that first day, and that thing that kept slipping into what he told you for twelve days, is happening now. You fall back asleep and know that in the morning there will be no coffee waiting for you.
And when morning comes and there isn't you can't be sad. You feel the loss but you don't feel lost. You feel glad that you had this time you so dreaded, but you don't feel bad about the time you will not have because you know he wouldn't want you to feel that way.
When everyone weeps in the days to come and all you can do is smile, you feel their anger with your reaction, and some will never speak to you again, declaring that you are cruel and cold and selfish, but you are not; you simply know that you and he shared something profound and that cannot be taken from you, even in the delirium of old age, because it is now part of your fibre.
You are better for having known that man. His voice will always be inside you. And you are okay because you knew his love. (less)