This is the greatest fan project ever, and it's too bad it's so hard to find in book form(*). If you like Frank Herbert more than a little bit, read iThis is the greatest fan project ever, and it's too bad it's so hard to find in book form(*). If you like Frank Herbert more than a little bit, read it. It's not the kind of thing to read straight through; just start somewhere and wander around.
I can't imagine a better fit of form and subject. Dune was a not-actually-all-that-complicated fantasy-adventure story made unique by tons of atmosphere and a million little sketch lines of allusive background, giving the illusion that Herbert had actually written 20,000 years of future history. The Dune Encyclopedia turns this around and fills so much of the backstory that the plot of Dune almost disappears (or, in some cases, is contradicted: the encyclopedia is supposed to have been written thousands of years later, and they can't agree on what happened), and adds even more tons of atmosphere with a perfect imitation of Herbert's faux-scholarly epigrams. Some of it is just geeky world-polishing, and some of it is really narrative fiction in a different form (and some of it is both: the story of I.V. Holtzmann is a pretty good story, and the article on the Holtzmann Effect is such good fake science that I'm desperate for those things to be invented in just that way). There are several dozen contributors, and the fictional authors of the encyclopedia articles have unique voices too.
Besides being pretty faithful in its prose style, the encyclopedia also preserves a good sense of the feeling of Herbert's universe, which I would describe as textured, dry, savory, and kind of unpleasant. Nothing's shiny, not even in the so-grungy-it's-shiny mode. You wouldn't want to live there, but you'd really love to visit.
There's much too much of everything, and that's as it should be. Something I love about Dune is that as much as it plays up the Muad'Dib story as the biggest thing that's ever happened, it still (especially in the second and third books, which I like a lot more than most people do) acknowledges that none of these people really have any ultimate perspective, even if they live 3500 years; and that even though the people matter a lot to each other, eventually all their dreams and schemes will be misremembered, embellished or buried in trivia.
(* You can also probably find it online if you search for the title. It looks like the online version was scanned and then run through OCR with no editing, so it has some amusing typos of the kind you get with OCR. My favorites are in the entry on "House of Harkonnen": one guy was "murdered by his wife... when be left her for one of his male stoves", and another was "kilted by gladiators".)...more
Having only read Stross's SF/horror/satire Laundry books— which I think are a lot of fun, but also very annoying whenever the humor takes the form ofHaving only read Stross's SF/horror/satire Laundry books— which I think are a lot of fun, but also very annoying whenever the humor takes the form of actual jokes— I figured maybe I would dig him better writing straight-faced space opera. Well... kind of. The two stars above are an average: half the time I liked it pretty well, and half the time I wanted to throw it across the room.
I haven't read the previous one in this series, but the background was pretty clear— too clear, because Stross explains things and then a little while later he explains them again, and again. Characters for whom this stuff is supposed to be ancient history are constantly saying or thinking the equivalent of "the Eschaton, as we know, is a time-traveling AI that etc. etc..." The same goes for the plot: just because half a dozen main characters all find out the same important plot detail at different times isn't a good reason to have them recap it in conversation every time. Worse, in the last third of the book as things get more hectic (and, possibly, Stross starts getting a little careless/bored), characters often have to be reminded of things that they themselves knew just a little while ago— not little details, but things like "the bad guys are able to turn people into zombies, and that's what just happened to your lover." The tell-don't-show approach even extends to the author's own thoughts about writing: at one point, a villain tells the protagonist that villains don't really think of themselves as villains because everyone is doing what they think is right (which isn't just heavy-handed, but also sort of wrong in that case, since up to that point Stross has depicted that character as consciously venal and driven only by self-interest).
Speaking of villains, the ones here are straight out of Space Nazi central casting, complete with German names, blond hair, hubristic monologuing, and the requisite "terrorize and execute some of your own guys just to show how ruthless you are" bit. What they were up to was treated as a huge surprise toward the end; it wasn't.
The non-villains are a mixed bag. They are all pretty familiar types, and they often can't resist making stupid jokes under pressure, but I was OK with all that except for the one who is pretty much just a retread of all the secret agents from the Laundry series (with a little of Iain M. Banks's Special Circumstances agents thrown in)— i.e. the one who does all the super-scary secret dirty work that most people wouldn't understand, usually with the aid of cool gadgets, and is right about everything, and gets no respect from silly bureaucrats. Except since this one is a woman (and this is overall a very straight universe), the dirty work also involves a very unpleasant sexual interlude that reminded me of the less light-hearted side of Piers Anthony.
I've made this sound totally terrible, so, what did I like? I liked the overall feel of the universe, although it's not all that distinctive if you've read any other contemporary books of this sub-genre. There is some really good prose in places. The plot doesn't necessarily hold up if you stop to think, but page by page it's pretty engaging, and makes good use of his rules for space travel and so on (I like that the heroes have to race to stop a thing that will otherwise hit a planet in 35 years). And as with his other stuff, the humor worked for me whenever it was situational/social, rather than people making wisecracks. There's definitely something about Stross that makes me keep resisting the book-throwing urge, and I'll probably read the rest of this series....more
It could be worse; I appreciate that the story is hilariously elaborate-- whereas someone else might've stuck to the basics for a time-traveling-vampiIt could be worse; I appreciate that the story is hilariously elaborate-- whereas someone else might've stuck to the basics for a time-traveling-vampire-hunters story, Aldiss threw in feuding archeologists and nuclear waste disposal inventions and ghost trains and three different kinds of vampire and a ruined Earth at the end of time. It's just horribly written, with characters out of an R-rated Tom Swift knockoff. Since it's a sequel to a book that Roger Corman made a movie of, I suspect this one was meant as more of a quick treatment for a second movie....more
Liked: Interesting idea. Good ear for dialogue. Vividly conveys the absurdities of working in a hospital, and the kind of compassionate impatience gooLiked: Interesting idea. Good ear for dialogue. Vividly conveys the absurdities of working in a hospital, and the kind of compassionate impatience good doctors develop toward difficult people. Attention given to practical things, like research design and where to find snack food. Intense atmosphere of gathering dread in the first half of the book before there's any clue as to what's going on.
Disliked: Lots and lots of wheel-spinning while waiting for characters to figure out what the reader already knows. POV characters often pausing for 2 lines of internal monologue to clarify why they feel guilty about something, when this is really obvious (Willis did this a lot in Doomsday Book too, but it didn't bother me as much there because the momentum of that book was so strong). An amount of transparent sentimentality that's a stretch even for me (I'm a huge softie, but I think if you have a dead person in the bardo rescue the phantom of a cute puppy dog, that's fine, and if you want them to also meet a sad-eyed orphan child, that's fine too, but I'm not sure the sad-eyed child must then adopt the puppy dog)....more
Most of this is as strong as the first book, and Carey keeps on raising the stakes of the story in surprising ways, but there's a (very lengthy) subplMost of this is as strong as the first book, and Carey keeps on raising the stakes of the story in surprising ways, but there's a (very lengthy) subplot that I thought wasn't just disappointing but kind of gross, where a bunch of demons pretending to be European aristocrats get involved with a human spirit in hell. For some reason, whenever Carey writes demon characters, as opposed to other kinds of monsters, I find them boring and the whole thing becomes more generically "Vertigo comic with tits and swears, heh heh"; in this case there's a major character whose entire personality is that she's super slutty and kinky, and the other demons never get tired of talking about this, and it's got a weirdly juvenile Piers Anthony vibe. I'm not sure what Carey had in mind there, but it didn't work for me at all (especially since I still don't like Peter Gross's art and even less so when he's trying to draw Sexy; it helps if I squint and pretend that they got the other Books of Magic illustrator I liked, Peter Snejbjerg). However, the rest of the book is great....more
This is my favorite of the zillion Sandman-spinoff series. Carey's writing is heavily influenced by Gaiman, and I think there's also a fair amount ofThis is my favorite of the zillion Sandman-spinoff series. Carey's writing is heavily influenced by Gaiman, and I think there's also a fair amount of Clive Barker in there (more like his later fantasy stuff, though there's a little gross-out horror too), but he makes the material his own pretty quickly.
Like The Sandman, it's got a big potential narrative problem: how do you tell interesting stories about conflicts between cosmic forces who are all nearly omnipotent, in a universe with almost no clear rules? Carey manages to do it in several ways: constantly expanding the world, pulling in more and more mythologies; using diverse and lyrical imagery for the magical events, so it feels like there's an underlying dream-logic to them; giving some time to less-powerful characters (the human ones are mostly cannon fodder, but they're taken seriously); and giving the cosmic forces strong personalities. Gaiman's Lucifer was memorable, but kind of one-note and a familiar Romantic type; Carey goes further in making him seem like someone with all kinds of incredible potential, someone whose ridiculously high opinion of himself may be accurate, but also an unpleasant and dangerous person whose flaws have serious consequences.
I wish Peter Gross weren't the main artist-- I liked him okay in The Books of Magic, but there's something a little goofy and sloppy about his figures that I don't think works for this. But you can't have everything....more
This isn't my favorite of Peter Carey, and I'd hesitate to recommend it to people who haven't read him; it's definitely a first novel, stuffed with diThis isn't my favorite of Peter Carey, and I'd hesitate to recommend it to people who haven't read him; it's definitely a first novel, stuffed with digressions and minor characters that don't quite work, and also the satirical tone has an aspect of contempt and despair that could be off-putting even if you like that kind of thing (sort of an early Martin Amis quality). But it's often beautiful and surprising, and it covers a lot of territory— Carey seems equally interested in the emotional and practical concerns of his characters whether they're in an ad agency or a backwoods hippie survivalist commune. And I like stories about people who go through a life-changing experience and reinvent themselves, but then aren't finished changing for all time, and hesitate and renege and have to reinvent themselves some more....more
I liked the idea of this so much, my enthusiasm for what I wanted it to be carried me most of the way through the second book before I realized I wasnI liked the idea of this so much, my enthusiasm for what I wanted it to be carried me most of the way through the second book before I realized I wasn't actually into it.
I still like it in theory. A secret history of psychic spies and super-damaged people all around the world; action scenes interleaved with interviews and training manuals and reportage; loose watercolor art in the mode of several indie artists I like... could be cool. I think I just really don't like Matt Kindt's writing. The narration is terribly clunky and repetitive, it always has the same strained hard-boiled tone (Sentence fragment. And then another one. And another.), and there's a lot of it. The dialogue is flat and mostly expository. The textual fake background material isn't much fun to read because it's just... very badly written, in my opinion. I don't know, I've managed to enjoy plenty of other things whose prose isn't great, but this seems awfully padded out to me; the first two books easily could've been one. I'll probably keep picking it up to find out what happens....more