Pratchett is amazing and prolific, but like so many that are prolific he's not always as amazing in every outing as he has been in some other one. For...morePratchett is amazing and prolific, but like so many that are prolific he's not always as amazing in every outing as he has been in some other one. For me, the story arc of the Ankh Morpork guards and their iconic leader Sam Vimes ends with 'Night Watch', which was an amazing novel (despite the time travel trope) filled with novel ideas and observations. Ultimately, the 'Guards' stories proved for me to be Pratchett at his best and his most solid series of stories within the larger cycle. Nothing further needed to be said on that account. A story ought to end somewhere, and since it must it should end at a dramatic and satisfying point.
Snuff just seems superfluous. There is little here that Pratchett hasn't done before and better in previous excursions with Vimes. I felt I was accidently rereading one of the other novels. Vimes does no further growing as a character nor is focus on goblins doing anything intellectually for Discworld that Vimes and stories of some other trod upon or misunderstood species hasn't done before.(less)
Stross continues to churn out nerd flavored popcorn, but its beginning to taste a bit stale. When a work becomes this long, it either has to grow or b...moreStross continues to churn out nerd flavored popcorn, but its beginning to taste a bit stale. When a work becomes this long, it either has to grow or become stagnant. So far the work isn’t maturing.
On the good side, Stross does for the most part manage to actually give this story an exciting and not anticlimactic ending. And Stross’s RPG sensibilities, and the intersection of information technology, secret services, with Cthulhu Mythos continues to charm on a basic level. I just wish the stories still felt like they belonged in the Cthulhu Mythos. Stross is bordering on committing travesties on par with Brian Lumley attempting to insert benevolent deities in to the canon, though obviously this would be far from Stross’s own instincts.
In this adventure, our fearless IT professional/computational demonologist/Her Majesty's Secret Servant is once again involved in trying to stop a plot organized by the mind of the thing slumbering in the Black Pyramid on the Leng Plateau. This time the mind has hijacked a darkly comical band of evangelicals from America, who in the name of the false Christ proceed to act out various nightmare scenarios on the poor benighted populace of Colorado. Once again we have all sorts of geek name dropping, so that with a little research you could probably figure out the specific articles and blogs Stross has been reading over the last year. But all that techno-babble – even if it is real world technobabble – more and more feels like dull exposition that we really should have been over with by now. Even more so, the story is departing further and further from its Delta Green roots, and with it from its Lovecraftian roots. The story is becoming noticeably less dark and less like a horror story, and more and more like a comic book or superhero caper with a bit of non-comic book code approved violence and adult themes. Stross is mainstreaming his story, but in the process he’s losing the numinous horror that makes a Lovecraftian story work.
One of the rules of a Lovecraftian story is that the human mind simply can’t handle the universe. The more knowledge you gain, the less stable you become. Humanity has no choice but sheltering in helpless ignorance. Lovecraftian heroes are doomed. They may save the world, but always at the cost of themselves. Bob however is increasingly sane and resilient. Faced with cosmic horrors beyond imagination, Bob is unflinching and increasingly treats his horrorshow world as normal, relatable, and even controllable. The unknowable fear becomes known. Ultimately, the high point of the series was way back in the Atrocity archives, with the young Bob running like heck to escape from a monster that threatens to eat the entire universe. The human villain of the Apocalypse Codex by contrast is a laughable sad trope TV Evangelist with a Guy Smiley grin, who never quite manages to get past chewing up the scenery and for me never got passed the really bad image on the cover.
Far from being a horror story, the novels are beginning to boil down to geek wish fulfillment. There is a lot of having your cake and eating it going on here. It’s not enough to impose your will on the cyberspace universe, wouldn’t it be great if you could hack and program the real world too? Bob is devotedly married to a hot loving wife, but he keeps being forced – forced mind you – into these situations where he has to be intimate with some hot geek spy. She even had to full tongue kiss him, entirely for his own good and against his will naturally. There is lip service given to doom and gloom about the future, but not the real existential fear of it. Bob is not even faced with as much doom and gloom as your average civil service zombie, or corporate code monkey in a cubical farm for crying out loud. Nothing threatens to overturn or undermine Bob’s basic belief systems. There are no hard choices. His hands can stay clean of the blood of innocents – and even for the most part enemies - even in the middle of a potential megadeath event with the existence of humanity on the line and everyone out to kill him while working for an agency run by Lovecraftian sorcerers. There is no life of meaningless drudgery. Life has a purpose – even if it is only fighting back the alien horrors from the dungeon dimensions (that now even get to have some dialogue). In villains, it is increasingly less Nyarthalotep and more Dr. Doom. The sidekicks have more to do with Modesty Blaise than Robert Olmstead or Henry Armitage. Bob has to deal with the fact that he sorta kinda has to give up his atheism, but not in any way that causes him real pain or difficulty. Rather, Bob gets to give up the religion he doesn’t want in an exchange for a life filled with meaning and purpose that he does want.
It’s all so far from the weighty consciousness burning all consuming horror that is found in the originals. Everyone gets their action hero shining moments of awesome, including now our affable put upon IT nerd. Indeed, it’s hard not to believe that the writer is having so much fun that he is deliberately taking steps to distance himself from all of that horror stuff. The only problem with all of that is that it makes the series far less original and far from introspective. Where Lovecraft was channeling everything from his fear of miscegenation to a phobia of fish, Stross is channeling what? Fear of Americans and organized religion? You think he could do better than that. Bertrand Russell channels Lovecraft most potently when writes, “Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.” Now that is someone channeling the fear of mankind in the face of the faceless Azathoth. Stross is more and more just channeling his geek cred. (less)
After a scintillating first novel, Huso goes into something of a sophomore slump here. The second book clearly has higher literary ambitions than the...moreAfter a scintillating first novel, Huso goes into something of a sophomore slump here. The second book clearly has higher literary ambitions than the first, but in the process it loses the charm that the first one had. Personally, I think that Huso would be better off sticking to innovation in heroic fantasy and writing stories with a happy ending. His gaming roots make him more suited than that. Not since ‘Eyes of the Calculor’ have I ever been so upset at the treatment given to two characters by their author. If you liked ‘The Last Page’ it was because you were rooting for his highly sympathetic characters. But, in the sequel, while it can perhaps be justified to say that the events of the first novel have changed the characters forever, you never really wanted them to be changed and certainly not like this.(less)