Volume seventeen in this long-running series sees the aftermath of the death of Mister Dark, and is divided between three major storylines:
1. With theVolume seventeen in this long-running series sees the aftermath of the death of Mister Dark, and is divided between three major storylines:
1. With the North Wind dead, one of his grandchildren must assume the title. Snow and Bigby Wolf are not thrilled, since it involves their cubs going on epic quests and/or daily scavenger hunts, the other three Winds drop by to throw their weight around, and there is a general sense that this is going to end badly for someone, especially when it turns out that there is a prophecy involved. One of the children is eventually chosen, and we see a return of Bellflower, the former Frau Totenkinder reborn in a newly hot body but just as powerful (and probably just as devious) as before.
2. Bufkin the flying monkey is leading a ragtag band of revolutionaries in the former kingdom of Oz, which is now ruled by yet another evil emperor, this time the Nome King. The Soviet-style propaganda posters are amusing, but the story drags, even with the comic relief.
3. Rose Red returns to the Farm, as the Fables prepare to migrate back from Haven to their former home in Manhattan... where Miss Spratt is waiting, vengefully.
Aside from the North Wind storyline, there were a lot of cameos by Fables old and new but not a lot of the old characters doing much. This was a decent entry in the series in that we can see setup for climactic events to come, but nothing epic, astonishing, or really funny. Also, Mark Buckingham's penciling seems lazier than usual.
Some of the short stories in the back were more interesting than the main storylines, particularly as we learn about a powerful magician, unmentioned until now, who was really responsible for protecting Fabletown from the Emperor, and Rose Red's quest to determine who she will be as a new paladin of Hope....more
Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are apparently very popular in Russian SF fandom, but only a few of their novels have been translated into English. I loveMarina and Sergey Dyachenko are apparently very popular in Russian SF fandom, but only a few of their novels have been translated into English. I loved The Scar and Vita Nostra, enough to put the Dyachenkos on my very small "must buy" list of authors. Age of Witches is their latest to be made available in the U.S. It's a strange and interesting Russian urban fantasy novel, but it's definitely not my favorite from this couple. Age of Witches, like The Scar, was originally published in the late 90s in Russia, but it seems to have been given a much less professional translation.
Taking place in a modern, unnamed country, the world is one in which witches exist and have actual powers. Girls (all witches are female) don't know they're witches until they mature. A witch then has the choice of being Initiated, which causes her powers to fully develop, but also sets her irrevocably against mankind. Or she can register with the Inquisition.
"Witch, remember that society does not reject you. By renouncing all things foul and registering, you will become a fully legitimate citizen, with all the rights of a citizen ... By persevering in evil, you condemn yourself to misery and isolation ... Under the terms of Article ... of the Codex of Laws ... who are not registered are punished by the compulsory performance of community service ... those involved in evil-doing ... are subject to trial by the Inquisition ..."
The Inquisition is a government agency dedicated to hunting down and registering witches, and torturing and executing unregistered ones. There are many types of witches of different power levels, none of them really explained. Claudius Guard, the Chief Inquisitor who is one of the main characters, can sense the power and type of a witch, and has some sort of mental power of his own (it is not clear if Inquisitors are born with "witch-hunting" powers or are trained) which allows him to sense witches and also to cause them pain in his presence.
There are also creatures called navkas, from Slavic folklore, who are a sort of undead watery seductress, hunted by a separate paramilitary organization called the Chugaisters.
Claudius is still haunted by his childhood sweetheart, who became a navka after drowning. This makes him a tormented, morose character who's not at all the pitiless, implacable zealot you'd expect from someone with the title of "Chief Inquisitor." In this world witches are real and really are trying to destroy humanity, but he has to deal with petty internal politics and answer to political higher-ups while trying to unravel a dire conspiracy centered around an emerging "queen-witch."
Things get complicated when he discovers that an unregistered witch named Ivga is engaged to the son of a family friend. Ivga sort of suspects she is a witch but has been in denial. When Claudius exposes her, she goes on the run, and somehow winds up coming to Claudius for help. Claudius, as we later learn being haunted by the memories of his young love whom he could not save, tries to protect her, which means both of them are now caught between the Inquisition and the coming showdown with the queen-witch. The twist in the climax brings their respective storylines to a close, but I found the plot often a bit non-linear and the thoughts and dialog of the characters did not always make sense.
I will still read anything that comes out in English from the Dyachenkos, but Age of Witches was a bit of a slog to get through. A qualified 3.5 stars; I still recommend anyone who wants something different in fantasy read this, but read Vita Nostra or The Scar first....more
If at first you don't succeed, get rid of the bitch and move on to the next sister.
A Kiss Before Dying is a taut little thriller about a sociopath whoIf at first you don't succeed, get rid of the bitch and move on to the next sister.
A Kiss Before Dying is a taut little thriller about a sociopath who conceives an ingenuous plan to seduce the daughter of a wealthy copper baron. Except she goes and gets pregnant before his plan can come to fruition. Since Daddy is the moralistic disinheriting type, he figures a kid before they are properly married and he's had time to work his charms and soften the old man up will just ruin everything. When he can't persuade her to get rid of it, he's left with only one option - a well-planned murder in which he manages to make it look like a suicide, and then avoid any connection between him and the dead girl.
Which allows him to move on to daughter #2.
But daughter #2 proves a little too intuitive — she starts putting clues together and realizing her sister didn't commit suicide, and wants to find out who murdered her. She figures everything out just a little too late.
And our boy, as long on audacity as he is short on scruples, decides third time's the charm: the rich industrialist had three daughters, and after all that research he did to seduce the first two, he knows the oldest sister pretty well...
As improbable as this story may sound, I couldn't really spot any plot holes. Sure, our protagonist needed a bit of luck here and there, but nothing so overwhelmingly coincidental as to be completely implausible. He's just a meticulous, cold-blooded schemer with a knack for manipulation.
A lot of people want books with "relatable" protagonists. Well, the protagonist of this book is a murderous, gold-digging sociopath. You want him to trip up and get caught, and you want his victims to get away, and at the same time, the exciting part is finding out how he's going to get away with it.
This book is dated now — it was written in 1954 and it's set in the early fifties, so the campus life described, and the so-visible class distinctions are not the same now, but that just makes this suspenseful novel a period piece as well. In fact, some of the period details are what made it interesting. For example, there is surprisingly little moralizing about the proposed abortion — she doesn't want to do it, but it seems more for emotional reasons than any real ethical or religious qualms. And it struck me that in some ways, the "boy from the wrong side of the tracks" was a thing that would be even harder to envision today — nowadays, we like to pretend that American society is less class-stratified, but that's because the rich are increasingly distant and out of sight. Working class people just don't socialize, at all, with the very wealthy, which makes it easier for us to pretend that there is no such thing as class.
Ira Levin also wrote other thrillers, like Rosemary's Baby and The Stepford Wives, and with this pacey, suspenseful novel, it's easy to see how readily his stories became a part of pop culture. Definitely worth reading, and motivated me to read more by him someday....more
I have a read a lot of superhero novels. There isn't a nerdier, more ridiculous premise, not even dragon fantasy or space opera, and also hardly a fanI have a read a lot of superhero novels. There isn't a nerdier, more ridiculous premise, not even dragon fantasy or space opera, and also hardly a fantasy/sci-fi premise harder to do well as a book. Some authors just revel in the cheesiness of a four-color universe, others try to take them seriously, some tackle superheroes "scientifically" and make them just another science fiction concept.
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain is more towards the four-color end of the spectrum, but it's not cheesy. Instead, it's written as if it takes place in a standard kid's superhero comic universe, and then plays it straight. Every genre convention is observed and taken seriously. Penelope Akk and her friends live in a world with an extensive superhero mythos of its own — there is magic (which Penelope's super-scientist dad refuses to acknowledge) and there was a secret alien invasion that all the heroes and villains know about but most of the "civilian" world does not, there are unspoken rules governing conduct between heroes and villains which most (but not all) of the villain observe, and in Northeast West Hollywood Middle School, there are numerous children of superheroes (and villains).
Penelope Akk's father is Brian Akk, a super-genius inventor, and her mother is the Auditor. Her friend Claire in the daughter of the retired super-seductress the Minx. Her friend Ray is... well, we don't learn much of anything about his parents in this book, though what little we do learn implies that they aren't good.
When Penelope's powers start to manifest, her parents are proud but tell her it will probably take four years for them to develop enough for her to become a full-fledged superhero. Little do they know that Penelope's gift for mad science is evolving at record speed, and soon Penelope is creating gadgets even her father couldn't conceive. When she concocts a formula that triggers Claire and Ray's powers, the three of them decide to get a start on their own superhero careers... except an ill-timed run-in with a sidekick who also happens to be their school's Mean Girl puts them on the wrong side of a public brawl, and suddenly the three of them are... villains!
Worse, they discover they're really good at it.
This is a fun, young adult romp with enough homage to classic superhero tropes to entertain even an adult (if you like superheroes). If your favorite character has always been the mad scientist/gadgeteer/supergenius type - the Reed Richards, the Tony Stark, the Lex Luthor - then this book is for you. Penelope's power has almost a mind of its own as she goes into a sort of trance state in which she starts building things that could only exist in a world with superhero physics, but she also turns out to have a genius for plotting and tactics. She and her friends go from one battle to the next, cleaning the clocks of much more experienced superheroes and supervillains, and making a name for themselves: The Inscrutable Machine.
Richard Robert's superhero universe is well-rendered - it has exactly the feel of a long-running comic book universe with its own history and continuity, established old timers, mighty powers whose names are spoken with awe, old battles and grudges, a big pool into which these three middle schoolers are now wading.
It seems like most of the negative reviewers complain that this book isn't "heroic" enough - Penelope and her friends stumble into being bad guys through mischance, but although they're never evil, and plan to "reform" eventually, they discover they kind of like making chumps out of heroes and proving they can hold their own against grown-ups. Thus, they embark on a number of schemes that are, let's face it, worse than criminal mischief, all while telling themselves they'll just go straight before their parents find out. This hardly makes them the noblest of "heroes" (though they remain rather adorable), but it does make them believable thirteen-year-olds, whose moral lobes haven't fully developed yet.
I actually thought this book treated its middle-school protagonists with surprising maturity - they act like kids, but kids on the threshold of adulthood. They are smart enough to compete with adults, but not wise enough to know when they shouldn't. They are starting to feel the rush of hormones, and you can tell that Claire is going to be big trouble when puberty really hits.
Mostly, though, the powers, the supers, and the battles were just awesome.
I give it 4.5 stars for pure fun, but your mileage will vary unless you are a superhero devotee like me. The book was a little bit bloated - there are a lot of extraneous scenes that were interesting but probably could have been cut. Also, the one point I got hung up on, challenging my suspension of disbelief even in a superhero novel, was the Inscrutable Machine's ability to fool their parents and keep their secret identities. Penelope's parents are both supergeniuses, and as a supervillain, she goes around calling herself "Bad Penny" - now come on!
But, I'm still rounding up to 5 stars because it hooked me hard enough to definitely buy the sequel!...more
You might think a book written in 1941 about Hollywood in the 30s would be too dated to be of interesting to anyone but Hollywood historians. Wrong, bYou might think a book written in 1941 about Hollywood in the 30s would be too dated to be of interesting to anyone but Hollywood historians. Wrong, baby, wrong! This book, a modern classic, is a must-read for anyone who is fascinated by Hollywood, or interested in character studies of incredibly compelling anti-heroes. In the 21st century, What Makes Sammy Run? is essentially a historical novel, but it's still a damn fine character-driven story, and let's face it, Hollywood is surely still crawling with Sammy Glicks.
The title question of the novel, "What makes Sammy run?" is asked by the narrator, Al Manheim, a reporter at a New York City paper who first meets Sammy as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed 15-yeear-old copy boy.
"I'll keep my ear to the ground for you, kid. Maybe in a couple of years I'll have a chance to slip you in as a cub reporter."
That was the first time he ever scared me. Here I was going out of my way to be nice to him and he answered me with a look that was almost contemptuous.
"Thanks, Mr. Manheim," he said, "but don't do me any favors. I know this newspaper racket. Couple of years at cub reporter? Twenty bucks. Then another stretch as district man. Thirty-five. And finally you're a great big reporter and get forty-five for the rest of your life. No, thanks."
I just stood there looking at him, staggered. Then...
"Hey, boy!" And he's off again, breaking the indoor record for the hundred-yard dash.
Sammy runs, runs, runs, and Al Manheim is as obsessed as he is horrified as he watches Sammy shamelessly lie, cheat, and steal (ideas) and promote himself with the unselfaware genius of the truly narcissistic. He stabs his "patron," Al, to get a newspaper column of his own, and when a young writer comes to him with a story idea, Sammy calls up a big-name Hollywood agent, having no idea just how ridiculous the thing he is doing is, and soon is saying goodbye to the Big Apple and hello to Hollywood, leaving behind his friends, his family, his abandoned fiancee, and the guy who wrote the story he's now launching his career with.
Al manages to get snagged into the Hollywood writing gig himself a little later, and soon he's also making more money than he ever did as a reporter, but watching Sammy outstrip everyone. When Sammy becomes a $500-a-week writer (big money in the 30s!), he's seething with dissatisfaction because he knows some writers are making $2500 a week. When he becomes a $2500/week writer, he wants to join the inner circle of $5000/week writers. And when he joins them... well, who the hell wants to be a mere writer, bottom of the Hollywood totem pole, when the big money and power comes from being a supervisor, a producer, a studio head...
Sammy keeps running, and Al is there to witness it. Sammy Glick never writes a word himself or has a single original idea, yet he manages to keep rocketing up into the big time while Al trails behind him, modestly successful, held back by his own basic decency, a trait for which Sammy mocks him contemptuously and yet makes him Sammy's confidant and the closest thing he has to a friend, since whenever Sammy does something lowdown and dirty, it's only Al he can confide in.
Sammy's rise is the epic quest of an anti-hero. He's a louse, a creep, he is... in the immortal words of Daffy Duck: despicable.
Al's obsessive quest to find out what makes Sammy run eventually leads him back to the Jewish New York ghetto where Samuel Glickstein grew up, and then back to Hollywood after being temporarily exiled for his participation in the struggle of the Writers' Guild against the big studios, where he witnesses Sammy's final triumph: marriage to the heiress of one of the Wall Street men who finances the studio, elevation to studio head, being feted and brown-nosed by all, and still, of course, running.
I thought of all the things I might have told him. You never had the first idea of give-and-take, the social intercourse. It had to be you, all the way. You had to make individualism the most frightening ism of all. You act as if the world is just a blindfold free-for-all. Only the first time you get it in the belly you holler brotherhood. But you can't have your brothers and eat them too. You're all alone, pal, all alone. That's the way you wanted it, that's the way you learned it. Sing it, Sammy, sing it deep and sad, all alone and feeling blue, all alone in crowded theaters, company conventions, all alone with twenty of Gladys's girls tying themselves into lewd knots for you. All alone in sickness and in health, for better or for worse, with power and with Harringtons till death parts you from your only friend, your worst enemy, yourself.
Almost as interesting as the story is the historical background behind the novel and the author. Budd Schulberg was a "Hollywood prince," son of B.P. Schulberg, a founding member of the AMPA and a producer for the big Hollywood studios. Budd Schulberg grew up among a Who's Who of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s, so when he wrote What Makes Sammy Run?... it made a splash. A big ugly splash. Louis B. Mayer himself called for Schulberg's exile from Hollywood, and Schulberg heard from his own father those immortal words: "You'll never work in this town again."
Much of the acrimony was over the character of Sammy Glick, whom Schulberg insisted was not based on any one person but a composite of Hollywood personalities and anecdotes he had heard over the years. Yet apparently most of Hollywood thought they knew who Sammy "really" was. However, a lot of it was over what's really just a subplot in the novel, the attempted unionization of the Hollywood writers' guild. Schulberg was called a Red, because of his sympathetic portrayal of an event that was still remembered bitterly by the major studios decades later.
The edition of the book I read included an afterword by the author, written in 1989, 50 years after the original publication of his novel. Besides containing more amusing anecdotes and name-dropping (apparently John Wayne himself was one of those who never forgave Schulberg for siding with the unions, and the two of them nearly had a fistfight in Mexico), Schulberg observes that when the novel first came out, and over the next couple of decades, Sammy was viewed with fear and loathing, a sleazy anti-hero who is the personification of Hollywood's id. Yet in the 80s, young film and writing students started coming up to him and praising Sammy as an inspiration, a role model for ambitious career advancement! Schulberg, still a liberal after all these years, was appalled.
And thus Sammy Glick is not only a fascinating anti-hero, a brilliant portrayal of a rags-to-riches narcissist, but also a textbook case of an author's creation who runs out of control, taking on a meaning and significance his creator never intended.
This Audible freebie is a nice way to hear the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It's not a particularly thrilling fable - boys meets girl,This Audible freebie is a nice way to hear the original Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale. It's not a particularly thrilling fable - boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back - though really, it's the girl who does the getting.
The story starts with an evil hobgoblin (also referred to as a demon) who goes to magic school (why did Rowling not find a way to hook this into her mythology?) and creates a magic mirror which shows "reality" in the harshest, ugliest way possible. It is shattered into a million pieces, and spread around the world, where it becomes smaller mirrors, spectacles, or tiny specks of glass getting caught in peoples' eyes, creating mischief and cold-hearted misunderstanding.
One such shard gets in the eye of a little boy named Kai, who then spurns his childhood sweetheart, Gerda. One day he goes wandering in the woods and is picked up by the Snow Queen. Gerda, convinced that he is not dead, goes on a quest to find him.
There are talking flowers, talking crows, and a not-really-evil witch, and of course, the Snow Queen herself.
A cute story with perhaps a few too many elements thrown in for the fantasy-minded modern reader, but it would certainly entertain children. Anderson does wrap this tale up with a rather saccharine Christian moral, but it's a story to please those in search of adventuresome girls and magical talking animals.
Now that I've read my first collection of Maupassant stories, I can say that he is indeed a great writer, though being as prolific as he apparently waNow that I've read my first collection of Maupassant stories, I can say that he is indeed a great writer, though being as prolific as he apparently was, I think you probably need to read a lot more to really be familiar with his work. He was a student of Flaubert, the French "realist" school, hence all these short stories being basically slice-of-life stories about (mostly) provincial French life. There are morals, sometimes, but rarely made explicit - in fact, often the stories just end, like one of those writing exercises in which the reader is asked to decide what happens next. The more moralistic tales among this collection include The Necklace, about a French housewife who borrows a friend's expensive diamond necklace for a ball and then loses it. The ending has the sort of twist that O. Henry later became famous imitating. Then there is Boule De Suif, about a group of wealthy French townspeople fleeing Prussian-occupied Rouen, when a Prussian officer takes a fancy to the courtesan in their midst. When she refuses his advances, her countrymen initially praise her patriotism, but when the officer refuses to let anyone travel onwards until he gets his way, they end up cajoling her into sacrificing herself, and then hypocritically turn on her.
All the other stories were likewise enjoyable and interesting, ranging from fireside tales about hunting and farming and jilted lovers and poor peasants and debauched soldiers, to a few, like The Inn, that take the form of a ghost story even if no actual supernatural apparitions appear.
Definitely worth reading these, and I wouldn't hesitate to try some more Maupassant.
The moist, lumpy earthen floor looked greasy, and, at the back of the room, the bed made an indistinct white spot. A harsh, regular noise, a difficult, hoarse, wheezing breathing, like the gurgling of water from a broken pump, came from the darkened couch where an old man, the father of the peasant woman, was dying.
An old friend, known to all of us, M. Boniface, a great sportsman and a connoisseur of wine, a man of wonderful physique, witty and gay, and endowed with an ironical and resigned philosophy, which manifested itself in caustic humor, and never in melancholy, suddenly exclaimed:
"I know a story, or rather a tragedy, which is somewhat peculiar. It is not at all like those which one hears of usually, and I have never told it, thinking that it would interest no one.
"What do you want?" he then asked her. And with clenched teeth, and trembling with anger, she replied: "I want--I want you to marry me, as you promised." But he only laughed and replied: "Oh! if a man were to marry all the girls with whom he has made a slip, he would have more than enough to do."
As he was looking for a place to climb up I showed him the easiest way, and gave him a hand. He climbed up. Then we helped up the three girls, who had now quite recovered their composure. They were charming, especially the oldest, a blonde of eighteen, fresh as a flower, and very dainty and pretty! Ah, yes! the pretty Englishwomen have indeed the look of tender sea fruit. One would have said of this one that she had just risen out of the sands and that her hair had kept their tint. They all, with their exquisite freshness, make you think of the delicate colors of pink sea-shells and of shining pearls hidden in the unknown depths of the ocean.
Sabot (Theodule), a master carpenter, represented liberal thought in Martinville. He was a tall, thin, man, with gray, cunning eyes, and thin lips, and wore his hair plastered down on his temples. When he said: "Our holy father, the pope" in a certain manner, everyone laughed. He made a point of working on Sunday during the hour of mass. He killed his pig each year on Monday in Holy Week in order to have enough black pudding to last till Easter, and when the priest passed by, he always said by way of a joke: "There goes one who has just swallowed his God off a salver."
She was one of those pretty and charming girls, born by a blunder of destiny in a family of employees. She had no dowry, no expectations, no means of being known, understood, loved, married by a man rich and distinguished; and she let them make a match for her with a little clerk in the Department of Education.
She was simple since she could not be adorned; but she was unhappy as though kept out of her own class; for women have no caste and no descent, their beauty, their grace, and their charm serving them instead of birth and fortune. Their native keenness, their instinctive elegance, their flexibility of mind, are their only hierarchy; and these make the daughters of the people the equals of the most lofty dames.
Quartermaster Varajou had obtained a week's leave to go and visit his sister, Madame Padoie. Varajou, who was in garrison at Rennes and was leading a pretty gay life, finding himself high and dry, wrote to his sister saying that he would devote a week to her. It was not that he cared particularly for Mme. Padoie, a little moralist, a devotee, and always cross; but he needed money, needed it very badly, and he remembered that, of all his relations, the Padoies were the only ones whom he had never approached on the subject.
“We were at dinner when a letter was brought in and my father opened it. You know my father, who thinks that he is king of France ad interim. I call him Don Quixote, because for twelve years he has been running a tilt against the windmill of the Republic, without quite knowing whether it was in the name of the Bourbons or of the Orleans. At present he is holding the lance in the name of the Orleans alone, because there is nobody else but them left. In any case, he thinks himself the first gentleman in France, the best known, the most influential, the head of the party; and as he is an irremovable senator, he thinks that the neighboring kings’ thrones are very insecure.
Nothing is more amusing, more delicate, more interesting than the manoeuvring of a balloon. It is an enormous toy, free and docile, which obeys with surprising sensitiveness, but it is also, and before all, the slave of the wind, which we cannot control. A pinch of sand, half a sheet of paper, one or two drops of water, the bones of a chicken which we had just eaten, thrown overboard, makes it go up quickly.
"Very few stand the test of the bath. It is there that they can be judged, from the ankle to the throat. Especially on leaving the water are the defects revealed, although water is a powerful aid to flabby skin.
"The first time that I saw this young woman in the water, I was delighted, entranced. She stood the test well. There are faces whose charms appeal to you at first glance and delight you instantly. You seem to have found the woman whom you were born to love. I had that feeling and that shock.
And soon a rumor began to circulate. People talked of a colossal wolf with gray fur, almost white, who had eaten two children, gnawed off a woman's arm, strangled all the watch dogs in the district, and even come without fear into the farmyards. The people in the houses affirmed that they had felt his breath, and that it made the flame of the lights flicker. And soon a panic ran through all the province. No one dared go out any more after nightfall. The darkness seemed haunted by the image of the beast.
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, the unconquerable sleep of exhaustion. But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name: "Ulrich," aroused him from his profound slumber, and made him sit up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was it one of those strange appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted minds? No, he heard it still, that reverberating cry,--which had entered at his ears and remained in his brain,--thrilling him to the tips of his sinewy fingers. Certainly, somebody had cried out, and called: "Ulrich!" There was somebody there, near the house, there could be no doubt of that, and he opened the door and shouted: "Is it you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his lungs. But there was no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was quite dark, and the snow looked wan.
For several days in succession fragments of a defeated army had passed through the town. They were mere disorganized bands, not disciplined forces. The men wore long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms; they advanced in listless fashion, without a flag, without a leader. All seemed exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching onward merely by force of habit, and dropping to the ground with fatigue the moment they halted. One saw, in particular, many enlisted men, peaceful citizens, men who lived quietly on their income, bending beneath the weight of their rifles; and little active volunteers, easily frightened but full of enthusiasm, as eager to attack as they were ready to take to flight; and amid these, a sprinkling of red-breeched soldiers, the pitiful remnant of a division cut down in a great battle; somber artillerymen, side by side with nondescript foot-soldiers; and, here and there, the gleaming helmet of a heavy-footed dragoon who had difficulty in keeping up with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line. Legions of irregulars with high-sounding names "Avengers of Defeat," "Citizens of the Tomb," "Brethren in Death"--passed in their turn, looking like banditti. Their leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, or tallow or soap chandlers--warriors by force of circumstances, officers by reason of their mustachios or their money--covered with weapons, flannel and gold lace, spoke in an impressive manner, discussed plans of campaign, and behaved as though they alone bore the fortunes of dying France on their braggart shoulders; though, in truth, they frequently were afraid of their own men--scoundrels often brave beyond measure, but pillagers and debauchees.
Did you know that Jack London wrote a post-apocalyptic novel? I didn't!
"The Scarlet Death broke out in San Francisco. The first death came on a Monda
Did you know that Jack London wrote a post-apocalyptic novel? I didn't!
"The Scarlet Death broke out in San Francisco. The first death came on a Monday morning. By Thursday they were dying like flies in Oakland and San Francisco. They died everywhere—in their beds, at their work, walking along the street. It was on Tuesday that I saw my first death—Miss Collbran, one of my students, sitting right there before my eyes, in my lecture-room. I noticed her face while I was talking. It had suddenly turned scarlet. I ceased speaking and could only look at her, for the first fear of the plague was already on all of us and we knew that it had come. The young women screamed and ran out of the room. So did the young men run out, all but two. Miss Collbran's convulsions were very mild and lasted less than a minute. One of the young men fetched her a glass of water. She drank only a little of it, and cried out: "'My feet! All sensation has left them.' "After a minute she said, 'I have no feet. I am unaware that I have any feet. And my knees are cold. I can scarcely feel that I have knees.'
I was expecting a nifty adventure in the tradition of H.G. Wells or Edgar Rice Burroughs after reading The Call of the Wild, but The Scarlet Plague, written in 1912, seems to be from a later stage in Jack London's career when, according to Wikipedia, he was often just churning out stories to pay for upgrades on his ranch. It rather shows - that dialog, above, is hardly realistic, and London's imagined plague, striking in 2013, shows little imagination, and his futuristic world even less.
This wasn't a bad story, it just wasn't particularly exciting or original, and I doubt it was very original even in 1912. There isn't much tension, because it's all narrated by an old man, once a Professor of English Literature at UC Berkeley, telling his savage grandchildren how the plague came over 60 years earlier. His incurious grandsons rudely complain and call him names whenever he uses words they're not familiar with.
It is an interesting early entry in the post-apocalyptic sub-genre, and while I could compare it to any number of later global plague novels, if I had to guess which modern author was most heavily influenced by it, I'd say Cormac McCarthy, with his surprisingly similar (and equally tedious) novel The Road, which like The Scarlet Plague shows little concern about the science of the disease that ended civilization or the details of the world, but is centered on one survivor trying to keep the fire alive. The fact that both novels end on the California coast also seems an interesting coincidence.
That said, you might want to read this for historical reasons if you are into post-apocalyptic novels, but I don't think it was one of London's best....more
A King of Infinite Space is the last book in Allen Steele's Near-Space series. It's a stand-alone novel that does not require reading any of the previA King of Infinite Space is the last book in Allen Steele's Near-Space series. It's a stand-alone novel that does not require reading any of the previous stories, though Working for Mister Chicago and The Death of Captain Future introduce several characters who reappear here.
William Alec Tucker III is, to put it bluntly, a douchebag. He's the son of a status-seeking, desperately-clinging-to-her-dessicating-youth mother and a rich CEO daddy, neither of whom actually want to have much to do with him, so he grows up like most such young men: rich, spoiled, aimless, and self-centered. In 1995, he and his girlfriend, Erin, are riding home from a concert in a car driven by Alec's best friend, Shemp. Shemp is tripping the light fantastic on three hits of LSD, and they meet a truck.
About a hundred years later, Alec wakes up in a white room, with no memory of who he is. In fact, at first he can't even remember how to eat or use the toilet.
Gradually, his memories come back, and he discovers that his father had signed him up for one of those cryogenic suspension schemes back in the 90s. When he died, his head was surgically removed, frozen, and kept in storage for some future date when the technology would exist to revive him. To the surprise of those who are revived, that date actually comes.
Unfortunately, Alec soon finds that in the intervening century, during which mankind has expanded throughout the solar system, and the politics and economics of 20th century Earth have faded into history, a sinister, wealthy and powerful individual known as "Mister Chicago" acquired the "deadheads" once cared for by the Immortality Partnership, and for reasons of his own, had them brought to his lair to be revived. And upon revival, he puts them all to work - cleaning floors, scrubbing toilets, dusting shelves, changing sheets. These wealthy, elite optimists of the 20th century, hoping to be brought back to life to experience the wonders of the future, find themselves enslaved as house-servants.
It turns out that Alec's friend Shemp also died in that accident and was brought back to life with him. As Alec begins trying to scope out his new surroundings, the world in which he finds himself, and the goals of their mysterious "benefactor," Mister Chicago, he discovers that he and Shemp have changed, and not for the better. Alec wants to find out what happened to Erin, and this, and the betrayal of his friend and the increasingly sinister behavior of Mister Chicago, convinces him to plot an escape.
The rest of the book is a space adventure worthy of Heinlein: Alec has to reach the Clarke County space station parked at a Lagrange point, and eventually, the moon, all while trying to dodge Mister Chicago's minions and the dangerous intelligence service of the Pax Astra.
As a space adventure, this book was great. I really enjoyed Steele's other Near-Space stories, and this novel-length coda to those stories presents a daring, heroic protagonist who survives with a combination of cleverness, courage, and stupid blind luck.
The daring, heroic, protagonist is, however, still a douchebag. Which is a complaint that comes up in a lot of other reviews: Alec grows up a bit over the course of the novel, gradually realizing what a shitty little spoiled brat he was and how badly he treated everyone from the hired help to his own friends, but right up until the very end he's still kind of a dick. It's hard to outgrow an upbringing like his.
Since I thought this was the point of the novel - the former trust-fund kiddie has to man up and figure out how to survive in a universe that no longer cares about his daddy's money - I found it entertaining, especially when Alec got a number of well-deserved ass-kickings.
The twists at the very end, however, threw me a bit, as several characters who've been built up as sadistic villains do a heel-face turn, and I wasn't entirely satisfied by the way everything wraps up in the last few chapters (even if I did guess early on what Mister Chicago was really up to).
That wasn't enough to diminish my enjoyment of the book, though, and I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Heinleinesque space adventures....more
Damocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communicatDamocles is not an action-packed novel. Most of the book is talking, describing the laborious task of humans and aliens trying to establish communications when they share no culture or language in common. The linguistics are not described in detail, but the process of constructing a bridge to translation is realistic.
This is also a "humans are the aliens" novel, in which it's the Earthers who come from outer space, to the shock and awe and terror of a less advanced civilization.
The setting the Earthers come from is barely fleshed out — humans have expanded to other colonies, but the message from an older alien race giving Earthers the secret of FTL travel and telling them that there are other races seeded from the same DNA as humanity is never described in more detail than that. It's a MacGuffin to send the crew of the Damocles out into space.
Damocles is told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Meg Dupris, the linguist aboard the Damocles, and Loul Pell, a socially awkward nerd in a dead-end government job when the Earthers arrive.
Besides the realistic communications problems, the best part of Damocles is the realistic aliens, the Didetos. They are close enough to human that their psychology and physiology is understandable, but different enough that they're clearly not human. Their culture constantly throws the Earthers off-balance with its similarities and differences - Didetos don't sleep, and although they have an industrial society that has begun launching satellites, they have never in their history undertaken to explore their oceans. Yet, they have press conferences, a military-industrial complex, and comic book nerds.
Loul Pell is one of the latter. A disgraced scientist, now working as a cubicle drone because he once presented a paper speculating about alien contact, he suddenly finds himself whisked away by Dideto Men In Black when aliens actually appear, pretty much where and how he said they would. And so he accidentally takes the role of speaker-to-aliens, and befriends a strange, willowy, extraterrestrial named "Meg."
Although there are some misunderstandings and tension over miscommunications, and questions about whether the Earthers will be able to return home, there is no dramatic action in this book. It's a novel about inter-cultural communications, and if aliens ever do visit Earth, I can see Men In Black whisking S.G. Redling off to advise our first contact team on how to communicate with them.
A thoughtful, intelligent sci-fi novel that explores linguistics and alien cultures in a realistic way. Damocles is not a particularly exciting book, but it's a fine work of genuine speculative fiction. 3.5 stars, rounding up to 4, because I just read Fluency, which sucked, so I'm glad to see a SF novel about a linguist making contact with aliens that doesn't suck....more
Wow! I don't know if I've ever actually read a Jack London story before. I suppose I must have in elementary school. But The Call of the Wild, a shortWow! I don't know if I've ever actually read a Jack London story before. I suppose I must have in elementary school. But The Call of the Wild, a short novel of 84 pages, is really an excellent adventure - simple, straightforward, but with crisp prose, rousing adventure, and who doesn't love a dog story? And no sentimental tail-wagging doggie here, but a metaphor for the ancient struggle between civilization and nature, the blessings and disadvantages of giving up our ancestral survival instincts and attunement to the natural world for the comforts of hearthfires and permanent shelter.
Buck, our furry protagonist, is half-Saint Bernard, half-German Shepard. He starts life as the lazy pet of a wealthy California judge, but during the Klondike gold rush of 1897, big dogs like Buck are in high demand as sled dogs, so he is kidnapped and sold up the coast to begin a new life. He soon learns the way of fang and club, as this formerly gentle giant proves to be a sort of Conan among canines. Not just in brute strength and capacity for violence, but also in cunning.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. As the days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.
Jack London made Buck a compelling protagonist — while the dogs are anthropomorphized just a little, depicted as having greater understanding and self-awareness than real dogs probably do, they do not speak, or behave in any other way unrealistically. (Well, towards the end, Buck becomes something of a super-dog, capable of heroic feats like pulling a thousand-pound sled and defeating black bears, wolverines, Indian tribes, and wolf packs by himself. But let's give Jack London some artistic license.) Buck's gradual awakening to his true primitive nature evolves from his understanding of men with clubs, to his fatal duel with a rival huskie, to his penultimate stage of life, at last, with a man he truly loves, and then his final trek into the wilderness.
This is a very masculine, adventuresome book and I can see why it's popular with kids, especially boys. Jack London clearly idealized the wilderness and the life of a primitive, though it may have contributed to his own early demise. In reality, of course, the life of a dog turned loose in the wild is likely to be brutal and short, but you can read The Call of the Wild and imagine Buck running free in the Alaskan Yukon, howling with his wolf-brothers.
It's a great little story, not all that deep, but it does resonate with clear and powerful themes, and Jack London's prose goes down surprisingly well....more
This is a set of four interlinked short stories in post-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles.
The first story is about one woman, traveling alone, who is suppThis is a set of four interlinked short stories in post-zombie apocalypse Los Angeles.
The first story is about one woman, traveling alone, who is supposedly immune to the virus that creates "Junkies" (so-named because they eat literally anything they can stuff into their mouths). She acquires a traveling companion, another woman. Trouble ensues.
The second story is about a biological researcher who is brought to a research facility that is trying to develop a cure. He uncovers the Horrible Truth.
The third story is about a band of professional scavengers in the post-apocalyptic city who run into something more dangerous than Junkies.
The fourth story is about a mercenary/assassin who's still doing his thing after the apocalypse.
There is some cleverness in the way each story feeds into the next, but there is nothing really new here for zombie fans. Peter Clines's Ex-Heroes series is more interesting, as he mixes superheroes with his zombies. This is a fun, short read, but it's nothing you haven't seen before....more
A short story in the Old Man's War universe, originally a freebie on Audible. Jane Sagan, the genetically engineered supersoldier who we first met inA short story in the Old Man's War universe, originally a freebie on Audible. Jane Sagan, the genetically engineered supersoldier who we first met in Old Man's War, is the narrator of The Sagan Diary, and she refers to events in that book, so it won't make a lot of sense unless you've read OMW.
Basically, this was a literary experiment by John Scalzi, trying to write from a female POV - albeit not a normal woman. Jane is chronologically only nine years old, but she was born "adult" and is now sorting through what it means to be in love and desire a normal life. There is some musing about life and death and killing aliens and being a supergenius who has to deal with slooooooow moving and thinking and talking normal humans, and then the obligatory love and sex bits which were well written, but not as interesting as Jane talking about how she decided to become a xenoanthropologist, studying the cultures of the aliens they've been sent to exterminate.
This was an okay short story, but there's not much story to it and it doesn't expand the OMW universe much. It's a decent internal monologue of an unusual soldier, but pretty much only worth listening to if you want some OMW extras....more
This is clearly a bit of filler between trilogies, and a contrived excuse for Larry Correia to write a battle between a giant robot and Godzilla intoThis is clearly a bit of filler between trilogies, and a contrived excuse for Larry Correia to write a battle between a giant robot and Godzilla into his Grimnoir trilogy, but like the rest of his magical-superhero alternate universe stories, it's fun and action packed pulp adventure that just doesn't bear too much thinking about.
Taking place about twenty years after the end of Warbound, Tokyo Raider stars Joe Sullivan Jr., a chip off the old block. Having joined the Marines, just like that he is whisked off to Japan at the direct request of the President (who is not a historical figure but instead a familiar face from the previous books). Even though the US and the Imperium are clearly headed for war, at the moment the Imperium is at war with their mutual enemy, the USSR. Stalin's sorcerers have summoned a giant monster that's devastating Japan, and Imperium scientists and mages have built a giant robot that, conveniently, none of their own magically-gifted warriors can operate. Somehow our old friend Toru, now in charge of the Imperium, figures his old frenemy Jake's son is the man they need.
This doesn't really make sense, but like I said, it's just an excuse for a battle between a giant robot blazoned with a rising sun pumping the Star Spangled Banner from its speakers, and a Godzilla-sized demon with the Soviet hammer & sickle burned into its chest. Fix that image in your head and have fun. It does make me look forward to the next Grimnoir series....more
While I really liked Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, I'm not that fond of urban fantasy gun porn, so I probably would have passed on MHI, except that AudiWhile I really liked Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, I'm not that fond of urban fantasy gun porn, so I probably would have passed on MHI, except that Audible put the first book on sale for $1.99. So why not?
Monster Hunter International is a great big cheesy action flick, and more than any book I can ever recall saying this about, it really, really read like the author had the movie visuals in his head as he wrote. He wants MHI to be a big-budget summer blockbuster movie, and I admit it probably would look pretty cool. It would also be one of those big dumb movies that are fun for the special effects and the action scenes, and probably feature pretty actors who can't act and care even less about consistency and suspension of disbelief than the book.
Don't get me wrong - MHI was fun. I probably liked it better than I liked Harry Dresden. Owen Pitt bears suspicious evidence of being a bit of authorial wish-fulfillment (great big guy who used to be an accountant, a gun nut, and of course an almost unkillable action hero who gets the hot girl by virtue of True Love and not actually doing much other than shooting lots of things to impress her), but if you want an urban fantasy hero who's all testosterone and none of that whiny faux-gallantry of Harry's, Pitt's got all of that plus a dose of Chosen One.
Oh, the plot? Well, Owen gets attacked by his weenie middle manager boss, who went and got bitten by a werewolf and thinks this is the path to upper management or something. Pitt throws him out a window, and wakes up in the hospital being grilled by federal agents who slap a bunch of made-up secrecy laws on him. Then a mercenary shows up and gives him a business card for Monster Hunter International. This leads to him joining a monster-hunter organization, killing lots of undead, and having to save the world from a medium-weight Big Bad who wants to summon Cthulhu. (Not actually called Cthulhu in the book, but same basic idea.)
The premise is basically that all the monsters of myth and legend are real, more or less. As is usual in these sorts of stories, somehow you've got a world full of vampires, werewolves, faeries, ghosts, chupacabras, and eldritch horrors, but the general population remains unaware of them. MHI makes money by hunting down and killing supernatural creatures. There is a lot of kvetching about the government and bureaucracy, with the government Men In Black being obstacles to the MHI actually getting stuff done. This is actually kind of funny since MHI gets its money from government bounties on the creatures it hunts. ("The government sucks! Except when we can get rich off of taxpayer-provided subsidies...")
There's nothing special about the writing or the setting, but for fast entertainment (despite the length of the book), Monster Hunter International was enough fun that I'll probably try the next book in the series. This is really a book for genre nerds, as in-jokes abound and no trope goes unexploited. And the trailer park elves and heavy metal-loving orcs were pretty funny. 3.5 stars....more
I found book one in the Destroyermen series to be fun and entertaining, if a bit flat and cheesy, style-wise. Book two, though, actually had me wantinI found book one in the Destroyermen series to be fun and entertaining, if a bit flat and cheesy, style-wise. Book two, though, actually had me wanting to stand up and cheer. Not that it's any less flat and cheesy, but there are some quintessential qualities that Taylor Anderson brings to this series that I've been missing in sci-fi and military fiction lately.
Duty, honor, bravery, sacrifice, and heroism. Men acting like men. (Yes, the women - both human and Lemurian - are pretty brave too.) A war that feels like a war.
This book is very similar to an old WWII movie - the ones made before we got cynical and stopped presenting Americans as the good guys. The USS Walker and its sister ship the USS Mahan have allied with the Lemurians, a civilized race descended from lemurs in the alternate Earth in which the two destroyers find themselves. They face the Grik, an almost mindlessly violent race descended from reptiles or dinosaurs. In Crusade, we learn that the Japanese battleship Amagi, which chased the two American destroyers into the storm that brought it to this world, followed them, and is now allied with the Grik.
This makes the two sides pretty starkly black and white: Americans and friendly lemur-people vs. Japanese and evil crocodile-people.
But, the Americans and Lemurians are not universally good, and the Japanese are not universally evil. There is in-fighting among the various land-dwelling and sea-going tribes of Lemurians, some of the Americans get themselves into trouble with bad behavior, while in addition to Lieutenant Shinya, the captured Japanese officer who has now become effectively a part of the Walker's crew, Anderson also writes some scenes from the point of view of the Amagi's crew, and specifically, its unfortunate executive officer. The Japanese are Imperial Japanese. They have a duty, and an enemy. But while their captain is evidently going mad, the rest of the crew is starting to have doubts about whether they'd really rather be allied to cannibalistic lizard men than Americans.
Crusade is a series of battles, political alliances, and chases, with the tension ramping up as they discover that the Grik are invading the home of the Lemurians in a massive swarm, and worse, accompanied by a Japanese battlecruiser. The climax, in which the Walker faces a vastly more powerful ship it can't possibly defeat, is worthy of the most rocking naval adventure. As they are trying to evacuate thousands of Lemurians in the face of the Grik invasion, and no matter what they do, they must cope with the inevitable losses of thousands more, the tragedy and heroism of both humans and Lemurians is rousing, inspiring, a real edge-of-your-seat adventure.
Removed from the geopolitical considerations of Earth, the Americans in this world are a little pocket of America all their own, and it's what they make of it. And so far, they are what you'd expect from a red-blooded US Navy crew - sailors, heroes, not untarnished with the occasional scoundrel, but good men worthy of respect and admiration without the author doing a lot of jingoistic chest-beating.
The technical details all seem to be authentic and well-researched, from the advantages and disadvantages of the two American "four-stackers" vs. the huge, ultra-modern Amagi (which is struggling with damage of its own and the difficulties of getting repairs and fuel from its Grik "allies") to the aerial duel between a salvaged seaplane and a Japanese spotting biplane, to problems with American torpedoes. Throw sailing ships and the Lemurians' giant seagoing "homes" into the mix, and you've got a blend of Horatio Hornblower, Battlestar Galactica, and Midway.
I'm giving this book 5 stars because it was exciting all the way through, and I was worried about the heroes at every step of the way - when the Amagi shows up, you really feel the "Oh, shit" moment as Captain Reddy realizes how badly they are screwed. This book improved the last by adding depth to Lemurian culture (including more, ah, relations between humans and Lemurians - some good, some very much not), and even a little bit to the Grik, although so far they're still pretty much just a mindless horde of barely sentient monsters led by evil overlords.
It's not literary, it's just the modern version of a pulp adventure, but damn, I like it, even if I am looking at the length of the series (9 books and counting now?) and reviews of later books in the series that seem to indicate that the author is no hurry to wrap it up....more
This short story, set after Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, was an Audible freebie, and will be quite enjoyable to anyone who enjoyed the previous GrimnoiThis short story, set after Correia's Grimnoir trilogy, was an Audible freebie, and will be quite enjoyable to anyone who enjoyed the previous Grimnoir books. Jake Sullivan is back, and by fairly arbitrary plot manipulation, he's hanging around in Casablanca doing a bad Bogie impersonation when his old "friend" Dr. Wells, the sociopathic mastermind who's now running China's organized crime syndicates, asks if Sullivan wouldn't mind hopping a ride on his expensive new zeppelin full of international high-rollers and figuring out who's brought a bomb on board before it blows up.
Sullivan agrees, with the sort of reasoning that makes sense when the GM is telling you, "Look, if you say no, we're just gonna have to play Munchkin or something tonight instead." Thus semi-railroaded into the plot, the Player Character proceeds to sniff out the villains, of whom there are plenty to choose from, since Wells's zeppelin is carrying Imperium agents, NKVD spies, a mysterious German working for a more mysterious organization which is apparently being set up as a future nemesis for the Grimnoir Society, and various other rich, powerful scoundrels.
Correia enjoys inserting historical figures into his alternate history: here, Lavrenti Beria (one of the original Soviet secret police chiefs) makes an appearance. The story is short but of course ends with a super-powered battle and hints of future conflict with the real Big Bad (or rather, the minion of the real Big Bad) getting away. Nice to see that the Grimnoir series will continue....more