A fun, brisk, pulp novel with its own particular take on the multi-verse. There's scheming, but not too much; there's combat, but not too much; and th...moreA fun, brisk, pulp novel with its own particular take on the multi-verse. There's scheming, but not too much; there's combat, but not too much; and there's nods to real-world mythologies, but not too much. This was just the right amount of everything, with a conclusion that came as entirely unexpected. Good on ya, Roger Zelazny. (less)
I read this nearly 2 decades ago and didn't really enjoy it then. Now that I'm older, wiser, better educated? I despised it. It was a maddening slog i...moreI read this nearly 2 decades ago and didn't really enjoy it then. Now that I'm older, wiser, better educated? I despised it. It was a maddening slog in which Brust retconned his characters' motivations, personalities & histories to force them to fit the new conflicts he wants to introduce -- it's part propaganda, part author-using-art-to-work-through-his-personal-issues, and everything is sacrificed in the service of those goals. You see, Steven Brust is a devout Trotskyite and his marriage had imploded at the time he wrote this. Both are so obvious here that it's almost as though he's trying to hit the readers heads over the head.
What is more, the order of this entry in the series is awful. Book 1 ("Jhereg") was an introduction to the characters, who were happily married; Book 2 ("Yendi") was a flashback tale of how the happily married characters met and fell in love; but now Book 3 ("Teckla") was a massive retcon, informing us that, two weeks after Book 1, their marriage is in shambles, because Cawti was a political fanatic all along and secretly despised Vlad. Never mind everything that went on between them prior to this novel. Never mind the fact that she worked happily alongside the aristocracy -- indeed, her sisterly relationship to the heir to the throne is entirely jettisoned and the heir goes unmentioned during this novel, no doubt because it fails to fit Brust's political agenda and re-imaginings of the characters.
I suppose we're supposed to be impressed with the hollow, childish, anachronistic rhetoric the Revolutionaries spout or Cawti's self-centered, fanatical hypocrisy or Vlad's baffling gullibility... But I certainly wasn't. Not a bit. And I may not re-read the rest of the series as a result.(less)
This is arguably one of Lovecraft's most racist stories, born out of his increasing sense of isolation and negative impressions of immigrants while li...moreThis is arguably one of Lovecraft's most racist stories, born out of his increasing sense of isolation and negative impressions of immigrants while living in Brooklyn. It was this antipathy towards others that gave birth to one of my favorite songs by The Mountain Goats (cf: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MrHgZR... also: http://www.thejeffreylewissite.com/Mt... ).
Lovecraft's racism appears to be a manifestation of modern post-Enlightenment racial theory, but I think that's giving modernity entirely too much credit. Everything he says is perfectly in keeping with the ancient xenophobic writings of the Greeks & Romans; they curse the same races, they implicate the same religions, they use the same descriptive language...Lovecraft's version is simply slathered in a veneer of early-20th century Scientism. When I finish my dissertation, I could probably write a book about the ancient authors who inspired Lovecraft's racial antipathies -- using almost all the same sources.
Aside from all that, this is one of the most effective urban-horror stories H.P.L. ever wrote. The sense that dark things lurk beneath the surface of the urban landscape, that the countless strangers surrounding the urbanite could be -- and likely ARE -- planning something nefarious, that the old world and the new world are alike in venerating things which most humans on their own would shun... Well, it all works extremely well here.(less)
Oddly, the second book in the series is set before the first, which becomes a tradition for Brust's "Vlad Taltos" novels. Every other book, starting w...moreOddly, the second book in the series is set before the first, which becomes a tradition for Brust's "Vlad Taltos" novels. Every other book, starting with the first, is set in the "present", while the rest are all set in the past... So the order should be: 4, 8, 2, 8, 13, 1, 3...
Also, Brust's writing is rather like Sanderson's in that there is very little description to it. You never really know what anyone or anything looks, feels, smells, tastes, etc. like; the action is bare bones, and even the dialogue tends to be extremely simple. The difference is that Brust can pull it off because his novels are usually 200 pages or less (I haven't read the other three he wrote), so you don't really FEEL how empty they are -- they're fun pulp set in a sci-fantasy world, and that's all they need to be.(less)
A leaner, sleeker MHI novel! This entry in the series is about 1/3 shorter than the previous three and, while miss a lot of that extra detail, I under...moreA leaner, sleeker MHI novel! This entry in the series is about 1/3 shorter than the previous three and, while miss a lot of that extra detail, I understand perfectly why Correia might have left it out. This novel takes place over a weekend at the first annual monster hunter conference in which all the world's hunters (and related parties -- including "monsters' rights" activists, politicians and academics) gather in Las Vegas to network and discuss things relevant to their field. As such, this novel actually takes place during a very limited time-frame and there isn't as much need for all the extra action and information which occupied the other novels. Also, unlike the first two (in which Pitt witnessed excerpts from other peoples' lives) or the third (in which the reader is witnessing things from multiple points of view and reading excerpts from Earl Harbinger's memoirs), this fourth novel involves only a single "memory vision" and no excerpts from anyone else's POV or memories.
So does it work? Yes. It works very well. It weaves together the most important elements of the idiosyncratic third novel with the defining features of the preceding two, and escalates the meta-plot -- things are getting worse and the end of the world looms. Pitt has been trying to avoid his destiny, but the events chronicled in this novel make that impossible; likewise, there have been clear power struggles going on within the various government agencies charged with containing and obfuscating the nature of the "real world", and those struggles lead to an almost untenable situation over the course of this monster hunter conference.
My two complaints? We never learn the fate of "Management" (though i suppose we could guess, it really isn't even clear enough to be implied) or Agent Franks. Dagnabbit, I demand answers!(less)
Unlike the previous volume, I actively disliked the opening of this one. Whereas the first one began...moreThis book was an odd duck, and a very odd sequel.
Unlike the previous volume, I actively disliked the opening of this one. Whereas the first one began with a little bit of normalcy, then rushed immediately into action and followed it with more normalcy (establishing a rhythm and letting the reader breathe as the characters, setting & plot developed), "Monster Hunter Vendetta" rushed right into the action and never really slowed down. I was about 1/3 of the way through the book before the Orcs came on the scene and made it enjoyable again, and that's disappointing to me. It improved from that point on, but I still can't forget how much I disliked the opening.
Like the previous volume there was a plot twist I found immediately obvious from the novel's opening, as well as two revelations about characters, and there seemed to be far less in the way of subversion of (and far more in the way of cleaving to) the cliched tropes of the genres. I'm also not sure whether the author actually intended one of the revelations which tied into the previous volumes, or just pulled it out of...thin air...to explain some things.
The introduction of the gangsta' gnomes helped improve the tone, as well as the scene in which torture is shown as a potentially valuable tool but most of the characters are too squeamish/moral to go about it. The past-reading flashes were an interesting development, as was the revelation of what the tattooed man's mark will do to Julie. There was also a death I absolutely did not expect, which is something I had long since thought impossible in fiction! Mr. Trashbags was a delightful surprise, the final 1/3 was excellent, and the creature "Feeder"...*shudder*.
As I said, this is a very odd sequel. I have all these nits to pick, but I also remember really enjoying the book after the rough first 1/3. I'll definitely read the following volume, but I'm a little warier now.(less)
A big disappointment. I really enjoyed the first novel in this series, Death Warmed Over, but this second volume fell distressingly flat. The plot see...moreA big disappointment. I really enjoyed the first novel in this series, Death Warmed Over, but this second volume fell distressingly flat. The plot seemed scatter-shot; the villains, twists, and revelations were all immediately obvious; and the author's approach to social commentary was heavy-handed and unnecessarily dominated the majority of the narrative. For 90% of the book I felt more like I was reading a thinly-veiled political tract than a detective novel. Tiresome. I kept getting the distinct impression that he's one of those political ideologues (in this case a Liberal) who isolates himself entirely from people with different views, and then perceives the entirety of the opposition as cartoonish strawmen who justify his a priori conclusions. This sort of political propaganda ruins the stories which are stretched loosely over its frame, and actually makes me feel antipathy towards the cause the author seeks to champion.(less)
Light. Fun. The references were great, and the protagonist and supporting cast were equally likable. Suffered from a few cliches, a few predictable pl...moreLight. Fun. The references were great, and the protagonist and supporting cast were equally likable. Suffered from a few cliches, a few predictable plot-points/twists (which at this point seem to be inevitabilities of the genre), but a delightful read nonetheless. I might even pick up the sequel!
EDIT: I knew the name Kevin J. Anderson sounded familiar! Turns out he's written quite a few books, but the only one i've read was the book he co-wrote with Dean Koontz, Prodigal Son -- a book so bad i never would have read the sequel if I hadn't purchased them both as a package on eBay. The sequel was actually a really great book, which I suspect had more to do with Koontz jettisoning Anderson and getting someone else to help him co-write it. I never would have thought I'd read something GOOD by Anderson, but here we are!(less)
Fun. Brutal. Clever. Correia works hard to weave together the tropes of military fiction, urban fantasy and horror, and then satirize them. Elves live...moreFun. Brutal. Clever. Correia works hard to weave together the tropes of military fiction, urban fantasy and horror, and then satirize them. Elves live in trailer parks, Orcs are friendly and love heavy metal, and Lovecraftian beings seek entry to our world using immortal conquistadores and former accountants. The pacing is perfect, and the characters are well drawn. The protagonist seems like a bit of self-insertion coupled with wish-fulfillment until you realize he's literally a stammering, bumbling buffoon around women. And, most importantly, the primary male protagonists are NOT white -- and the villain IS! It's fiercely pro-gun and anti-government, but does not shy away from the consequences of those positions.
It's not perfect, mind you. There are several moments where Correia strays from subverting cliches to simply using them, and the final twist seemed immediately obvious to me (perhaps because I read it so quickly?). Likewise, the romance between the protagonist and his love-interest is never really believable (though the author does a good job of making all female leads tough and interesting), and he has a tendency to telegraph things too clearly in advance.
All told, it's a good book with a few weaknesses, but it's also one of the few novels in which you have intelligent, well-educated non-white protagonists and it has a very healthy sampling of religious characters (including one of the best and most accurate LDS/Mormon characters I've encountered in print). I enjoyed it and promptly read the sequel.(less)
A bloody, foul and glorious tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, detective fiction, and the post-WWII American South. Great atmosphere. All in all a fantastic o...moreA bloody, foul and glorious tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, detective fiction, and the post-WWII American South. Great atmosphere. All in all a fantastic opening salvo.
My two complaints: 1) The sexual elements seemed unnecessary. They were effectively disturbing enough that it left me disgusted with the idea of sex acts, but...still unnecessary. 2) The attempt to mix the Lovecraftian mythos with gods like Ahriman, Mithras, Cybele...Interesting, but questionable. Though part of that might be that I study those gods for a living.(less)
I...well, i legitimately don't know what to make of this volume. There isn't a trace of Jack of the Tales in here -- it's entirely focused on an adven...moreI...well, i legitimately don't know what to make of this volume. There isn't a trace of Jack of the Tales in here -- it's entirely focused on an adventure his son Jack Frost had on a world with a weird Barsoomian/Majipoorian feel to it. The world itself is lush and green, but dotted with high-tech ruins and lots of castles built out of what appear to have been rocket ships. The settlers have de-volved to a medieval, feudal culture and routinely take for "magic" or "alchemy" the futuristic sci-fi technology they possess (for instance, a "witch" refers to her android servants as "homunculi"). None of this is explicitly addressed, but thanks to the art it's all plain as day (and appears to have been a nod to Arthur C. Clarke, since the "witch" even quotes him at one point). That made for a somewhat bewildering experience, and I was never quite sure what to expect.
Jack Frost is still determined to be a hero, still somewhat naive, and still convinced that everyone is as honest and direct as he is. Young Jack learns a few lessons along the way (including *ahem* THAT lesson), but on the whole this volume really just felt like the author was having fun trying to tell an old-fashioned sci-fantasy tale from the age of pulp. It was a good tale, and a fun read, but completely out-of-character for the series and I'm still not sure what to think. The next volume is the last volume, so I can't help but wonder how the series will end...(less)
Having now re-read this, I feel that my 11 year-old self was too hard on von Daniken; I am forced to add another star and increase my rating from 1 to...moreHaving now re-read this, I feel that my 11 year-old self was too hard on von Daniken; I am forced to add another star and increase my rating from 1 to 2. The author is plainly barmy, does insufficient research, and comes across as extremely insulting and condescending towards anyone who does not share his views. Yet much of this can be attributed to his unflagging enthusiasm for human scientific and cultural advancement, and some of the situations he proposes are -- while not realistic -- certainly plausible. He is also remarkably astute in his observations regarding the..."inclinations" of far too many scientists, archaeologists and historians. Over and over again, I have witnessed scholars and scientists dutifully ignoring relevant -- sometimes even KEY -- evidence and dismissing perfectly valid propositions simply because they do not accord with the a priori assumptions with which these scholars & scientists began their work. (See my reviews of Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? and Romans and Blacks for an example of the problem and an example of the solution respectively)
Also, this book is depressing as a reminder of how much we've stalled in both our attempts and our ambitions to explore so much as our own solar system. Time and again he cites plans which NASA has long since abandoned and statistics which were never born out -- but heck, at least we've got iPods and flat-screen tvs, right?
Originally read in 1993 or 1994. Can't recall. Re-read in 2012.(less)
This is an incredible work, but our literalist culture has failed to acknowledge its complexity. Modern critics read this book (or see the film) and s...moreThis is an incredible work, but our literalist culture has failed to acknowledge its complexity. Modern critics read this book (or see the film) and sneer because it does not match the historical narrative we have constructed for ourselves and passed off as "fact".
Yet Miller's narrative was never intended to be historically accurate or realistic -- even within the work, it's framed as PROPAGANDA recounted by a survivor of the battle and meant to stir his fellow Greeks to arms against the empire which slaughtered his countrymen. Miller perfectly captures Greek self-perception, as well as their quasi-mythological understanding of the Persians. The very word "magic" comes from the Greek belief that the Persians were a race of crazy wizard-kings -- if anything, the book and the film are LESS fantastic than the tales told by the REAL Greeks.(less)
It took me less than a week to finish the first book in the series, reading only in my very limited free time while preparing for my qualifying exams...moreIt took me less than a week to finish the first book in the series, reading only in my very limited free time while preparing for my qualifying exams and writing my dissertation proposal. This book, the second in the series, has taken over seven times that and I am still not finished with it. That should tell you all you need to know right there, but I'll expand on it a bit.
This book benefits from the general absence of the paper-thin character Sadira (who reads less like an actual literary character and more like an embarassing junior high fan-fic) and the Larry-Stu-esque Agis (who has his moments, but is overall too unbelievably altruistic and naive for this setting). However the book also suffers from a surfeit of Rikus (an excellent secondary character but far too simple in his desires and motivations to be a compelling protagonist) and a dearth of the cunning and amoral Tithian. The principal antagonist of this novel, Maetan of House Lubar, feels whiny and dull -- certainly no substitute for the first novel's brutal King Kalak.
As other reviewers have noted, the first book in the series covered enough material to fill an entire trilogy and was the weaker for its hurried pace; Denning seems to have reversed course with the second book, stretching what could have been two chapters of material into an entire novel. The reader is told that matters are urgent, told that things need to happen quickly, but there is no feeling of that urgency in the text itself. Even the battles feel sluggish. The issue of the traitor was tiresome and I spent no time trying to suss out his-or-her actual identity. Denning overall spent entirely too much time telling and entirely too time little showing.
There are interesting elements: the dwarven community's absolute stubbornness is fun, as is the dwarven necropolis; the introduction of the Thri-kreen character was much needed; the wraiths and Rikus's possession were neat. But it's just not enough to raise this book over the "mediocre" level -- I'm only sticking with it because i want to be read up for the next book, which i hope will be an improvement on both previous novels (even if it does apparently focus on Sadira).
On a personal note, i've always found Hamanu and Urik to be the most fascinating aspect of the Dark Sun setting -- Denning manages to turn them into boring, stock plot devices. (less)
Overall, I found this book surprisingly enjoyable! It captured the feel of the Dark Sun setting (a brutal post-apocalyptic fantasy world in which unch...moreOverall, I found this book surprisingly enjoyable! It captured the feel of the Dark Sun setting (a brutal post-apocalyptic fantasy world in which unchecked magic has left most of the alient planet Athas a barren wasteland and sorceror god-kings rule the few remnants of cilization with an iron fist) admirably, the plot was legitimately interesting, and the writing was unobtrusive (ie: I noticed the story and characters more than the author trying to impress his readers).
I especially liked the way Denning approaches the complex moral issue of magic-use. In the Dark Sun world all magic is fueled by ripping the life-energy out of a nearby living thing, usually plants; this is why the planet is a wasteland, as reckless sorcerors kept using the planet's life to fuel their conquests and internecine squabbles. There's a middle ground, using only enough magic to fuel the desired effect, but leaving the living things enough energy to recover and flourish; this middle ground is less powerful however and magic-use in general is highly addictive (sort of like potato chips or peanuts). It seems as though the middle ground would be the "good" option, but Denning puts the characters in several situations in which their lives are spared by complete indulgence in unchecked sorcery and others in which the weakness of the middle ground imperils the characters. The three approaches to magic (non-use, reckless use, and guarded use) are presented as little more than amoral approaches to a natural phenomenon, their morality ultimately mediated by the morality of the individual using them.
However the author's style and characterization are also incredibly uneven.
There were several points at which it felt like he was so desperate to move the plot along that he skipped important narrative points and I found myself flipping back through to see if I'd missed a chapter; the escape from UnderTyr and the journey to the Forest Ridge are effectively ignored, mentioned only in dismissive references. This is unfortunate as the first 2/3 of the book moved along at a much healthier pace, and i suspect either Denning was in a hurry to get to the parts he "liked" or he was under pressure to make the book shorter/write it faster.
The prologue involving the templar Tithian and sorceror-king Kalak was gripping, introducing us to the bloody, slave-driven theocracy of the city-state of Tyr and characters who are at once compelling and contemptible; these characters are fascinating and well-written throughout, especially Tithian. Denning does an excellent job of juxtaposing Kalak's seeming frailty and age with his terrible power and cunning, but Tithian is one of the most well-drawn characters i've encountered in literature. He's a priest to a god-king, not because he truly believes in Kalak's divinity but because, lacking the discipline and drive to pursue the ascetic path of psionics, he found that the ranks of the templars promised easier access to power, wealth and influence; once a member of the sorceror-king's theocracy he comes to realize how truly powerful and truly vicious his "god" is, and ultimately regrets the favor he finds in Kalak's eyes. He is loyal to his old friend, Agis, but only insofar as it does not inconvenience or imperil himself -- he himself admits freely that he always does what he believes to be in his own best interests. Agis by contrast is a naive idealist, a man who possessed the discipline and strength of will to pursue asceiticism but who lacks the savvy and understanding of human nature which his childhood friend Tithian posseses; Agis truly believes that he can effect change in a theocracy through senatorial votes, and truly believes that by treating his slaves well he is doing better by them than he would be if he were to free them. Indeed, his failure to understand the value of freedom to a slave costs him dearly. He fancied himself a champion of slaves and the downtrodden, but it is only after he finally becomes affiliated with an anti-slavery, anti-government terrorist cell called "the Veiled Alliance" that he realizes how hypocritical and naive he has really been. The slaves-gladiators Rikus and Neeva and their friends are written with attention to their different life experiences (when compared to the nobility and templar's lives) and the fact that they have been raised to kill or be killed. Oh, and the gaj. THE GAJ! One of the best and most interestingly alien characters I have ever encountered; it lacks all humanity, yet learns to communicate like a human, and there is something delicious about the way in which, when caught in a lie, it responds by simply stating that deception is useful.
Sadira however...every time Sadira and her mentor appeared or the focus shifted to them, it felt like I was reading a different book by a different author. Those pages were HORENDOUSLY cliched and full of needless, flavorless exposition. Indeed, once Sadira and the other characters start traveling together, the book's overall quality dips drastically. It's clearly not that he can't write female characters -- there are at least three other, better-written, far more interesting female characters. It almost seems like he felt he HAD to include her, or saved her portions of the book for last and then just hurried through them without an editor or feedback. Arguably the only interesting thing about her is Sadira's approach to sex/romance; she trained from a young age to use sex against men and, for the sake of espionage, she was not allowed to develop her monogamous instincts. As such she annoys and offends and dismays many characters with her polyandrous desires. But even that is only mentioned a few times. It really does feel like Denning forgot to develop the character and just stuck with a vague outline he'd created.
This book could have been one, two, or three hundred pages longer and would likely have benefited from it. I understand that there are four more books in the series, but the second half of this volume suffers dramatically for the rushed pace and the temporal skips. I enjoyed it, but I hope the rest of the series will be more even and that the author will better develop many of the elements he unfortunately neglects in this one. (less)
This was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a boy. The ending was heartbreaking (so unlike every film version) but felt absolutely true to t...moreThis was one of my all-time favorite books when I was a boy. The ending was heartbreaking (so unlike every film version) but felt absolutely true to the characters.(less)
A generally thrilling (and nauseating) blend of horror and sci-fi. My only problem with it is...well, I wrote a blog post touching on that back in Sep...moreA generally thrilling (and nauseating) blend of horror and sci-fi. My only problem with it is...well, I wrote a blog post touching on that back in September after I saw the film and I think it still applies, both to the film and the book:
"I finally got around to watching The Mist.
"It was an interesting take on one of the few Stephen King stories I actually enjoyed, and I loved the use of Dead Can Dance's "The Host of Seraphim", but all throughout (as with the novella) I kept wondering why the people were buying into the crazy preacher-lady's rhetoric, all of which could be easily countered by...well...reading the Bible. I mean, i assumed that there had to be SOMEONE in that store who had read or heard SOMETHING other than the verses from the Apocalypse of John which she quoted -- but i had to keep reminding myself that not everyone A) has the same educational background that I do, B) has the same memory that I do, C) has the same experiences I do discussing these sorts of topics with that sort of person. But even so, it kept me from really geting engaged in the narrative. I could have forgiven it if it didn't take up SO MUCH TIME.
"I think it'll be interesting when we move past our present cultural need to insert religion (especially Jewish, Christian and Islamic religion) into narratives as either universally bad or universally good -- in a narrative like that, the one-sided-ness just felt false to me. Really? No-one remembers the MANY verses (sometime CHAPTERS) condemning human sacrifice? No-one remembers the ones saying good deeds and obedience and fairness and prayers and loving kindness are all more pleasing to God than even *animal* sacrifice? No-one remembers the verses in the New Testament saying Christ is the final blood sacrifice for humanity's sins "forever"? No-one remembers the condemnations heaped against those who hurt children? No-one remembers the condemnation of those who insult others? No-one remembers the verses which FOLLOW the smoke-in-the-Temple verses she cites (let alone the fact that the "smoke" isn't anywhere near any kind of Temple in the story)? SHE doesn't remember them? I understand that selective readings are common, but REALLY? Nobody else in the entire store had ever read or heard of any of that?
"It's the same sort of problem I have with the second season of Being Human -- yeah, i can definitely see a fanatical religious organization allied against supernatural beings, but it's been done to death. It's cliche. It'd be MORE interesting to see a religious organization presented as cultivating and protecting the supernatural as a means of increasing belief in evil or demons or the afterlife or what-have-you. It's more complex and could be used as either an antagonist or a protagonist. But the urge to present a one-sided religious strawman as an antagonist in our Western post-Enlightenment society is too strong -- plus it's so dang easy to tread where others have trod before you.
"Rant aside, I actually felt the ending of the film was far more wrenching and effective than the ending of the novella...if a bit too convenient."(less)