I’ve read two of China Mieville’s novels previously, both from New Crobuzon series, set in the world of Bas-Lag. The reviews I penned for those booksI’ve read two of China Mieville’s novels previously, both from New Crobuzon series, set in the world of Bas-Lag. The reviews I penned for those books are on GoodReads: Perdido Street Station and The Scar. With each of these books I was overwhelmed by the weird. Mieville is a member of the informal alliance of New Weird fantasists over in Britain. The appellation is accurate: his work is new, and it is weird.
So much so that when I set out to read Un Lun Dun I was prepared for another ride through the possibly drugged haze of Mieville’s imagination. (I am not suggesting that China Mieville takes drugs. Only that his prose invokes in me what I think an opium dream must be like. That said, China Mieville probably takes drugs.) I was also intrigued by the line in the acknowledgments in which Mieville thanks Neil Gaiman for his “indispensable contributions to London phantasmagoria, especially Neverwhere.” I loved Neverwhere, but consider it nothing like what I knew of Mieville’s own writing, thus I was much intrigued.
Un Lun Dun is different than the New Crobuzon novels. It’s a YA novel for one thing. It still has some of Mieville’s patented weirdness, but the haze seems turned down to a level where the story is more accessible. It felt to me less bleak and more straightforward, though well sprinkled with fun oddities. Two of my favorite characters were 1) a man with a bird’s cage for a head, in which a small songbird is the actual “person” and the strangely headed body is just a vehicle, and 2) a deep sea diving suit complete with brass bathysphere headpiece in which something (I won’t spoil it) lives in the alien environment of the open air. And these are two of the more normal of the supporting cast.
Perhaps my favorite thing about the plot was how Mieville continually turned the standard quest story on its head. It felt something like The Incredibles did with respect to superhero stories, except that Mieville took it further. The “Hero” for the prophecy turns out to play a minor role, while the “Funny Sidekick” ends up saving the day. The traditional multi-step quest for items and a magical weapon gets short-circuited, and the all-powerful weapon is both hilarious and effective, but not as expected. Perhaps most fun is the book of prophecy itself, which can speak, and which gets very depressed when it turns out the prophecies are wrong.
It’s hard to say much more without ruining some surprises, so I’ll stop here. Highly recommended, especially for those with a sense of humor about traditional fantasies and young adult un-heroes.
I took twenty-five pages of Hannah’s Tale, a novel project I’ve been working on this year, to the PNWA Conference this past August. Actually, I sent tI took twenty-five pages of Hannah’s Tale, a novel project I’ve been working on this year, to the PNWA Conference this past August. Actually, I sent the pages ahead of me, to Book Doctor Jason Black. I’d used Jason’s services before and found them invaluable. While twenty-five pages isn’t a full doctoring, I hoped it would be enough to get me thinking in new ways about a novel I was a little sideways on.
Hannah’s Tale is set in a fantasy world, and part of what Jason and I ended up talking about during our session was the use of fantasy words to replace regular words in an effort to preserve the illusion. For example, I had described something as being “a foot and a half long”. The use of an English measurement tends to draw you out of the story, causing thoughts of comparison that maybe you didn’t intend. Better to have said that it was “three handspans across” or something like that. Of course, you can go too far.
Then, and this part alone was worth the price of admission, Jason recommended D. M. Cornish’s Monster Blood Tattoo series, as an example of well done language and word creation to build a fantasy world. By the way, that previous sentence is a massive understatement.
I immediately enjoyed Foundling, the first book in the series. From the beginning, Cornish’s word-building was apparent. Mashing together latin-esque sounds with Germanic accumulations and covering the result in straight-up fantasy sauce, these new words are dropped into the story so smoothly that you’re never left wondering about these new words; they just fit, and you are compelled to accept them, their meanings and permutations creeping into your brain through an odd osmosis of the subconscious membrane. In addition to these subtle insertions, the author begins each chapter with an entry from an almanac that the main character carries with him through most of Lamplighter, the second novel of the trilogy. These entries both serve to expand the world and to teach you new words, while also foreshadowing the events and actions of the chapters to come.
I had two frustrations with the series, both due to my own linguaphile obsessions. First, in reading a copy of Foundling borrowed from the library, I was brought up short by the one-hundred-plus-page appendix. I thought I had enough reading material to last the day, and I was instead almost done. Of course, I got to spend several hours perusing the maps, diagrams, drawings, and definitions of the extensive end material.
Second, because I read Lamplighter on an eReader (again a library copy) and had access to a lookup feature, I was constantly being fooled by the author into looking up words that didn’t exist. Or did they? Cornish would occasionally drop a word into the manuscript that was a real word, in the real English language, but of such obscurity that the built in dictionary didn’t suffice. This constant doubting of my own ability to distinguish English from Nonsense was a bit troubling to my ego.
That said, I so very much recommend you try these books out. In the author bio printed on the inside dust jacket (I eventually bought copies of all three novels for my collection) Cornish claims to have spent the past seventeen years creating the world in which this story takes place. I believe it, and further, I believe it to have been time well spent....more
Growing up in a region where actual cowboys did not exist (nor had they ever, really), and yet where the “cool kids” liked to wear western boots and dGrowing up in a region where actual cowboys did not exist (nor had they ever, really), and yet where the “cool kids” liked to wear western boots and drive stupidly oversized vehicles loosely based on trucks, I have a long nurtured aversion to all things “Western.” Western needs to be in quotes there, because I realize the word has other meanings, some of which I’m very fond of. I think you know what I mean by those quotes.
(Punctuation Nerd Sidebar: remember when quotes meant dialogue? Or that you were quoting something? Now they mean irony. I’m cool with that, but then I’m not an English major).
So I ran into my neighbor Matt at the library last week, and he was checking out a couple books by Robert B. Parker. The covers had unsmiling men standing near rustic buildings wearing period clothing including hats. “Are you reading Westerns?” I asked (Ooh look! quotes for dialogue!). He was. He recommended. I picked up Appaloosa.
Chances are not great that I will become a huge fan of westerns. I like my cowboys battling steampunk zombies rather than punching cows. I raced through this novel though, and plan to read the next couple in the series as well. Western may only ever be a secondary genre that feeds into my first love, but I recognize good stuff when I see it.
The best thing about Appaloosa was the dialogue, and how that shaped the two main characters. One reason the book read so fast was that much of it was dialogue, and most of the lines of said dialogue were one word long. Maybe three, if the guys were feeling loquacious. The incredibly sparse conversations nevertheless carved the characters in sharp relief. It was a masterful depiction of two men, both reticent and showing close to zero emotion, yet very different from each other and not hard to feel connected to. Part of what I’m experiencing is probably the difference in conventions from one genre to another, but at least some of it transfers I’m sure. I’ll be reading more of Robert Parker in an effort to abscond with some of his dialogue skillz. ...more
You know how, generally about the middle of one project, you start daydreaming about the next project? That’s where I was when I decided to read a litYou know how, generally about the middle of one project, you start daydreaming about the next project? That’s where I was when I decided to read a little Seattle history. I’m about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of the novel I’m working on, so naturally I’m already thinking about the next writing project, for which I need some inspiration/research about my chosen setting.
I have this thing about reading history: I really enjoy reading history, but only if the book is quite good. History for the sake of history feels like the parts of school I didn’t like. Creatively written and interestingly presented history (Two favorites are Salt: A World History and The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky) I can devour. Which makes me dependent on good recommendations if I’m going to read me some historicals.
So when I decided I needed a good history of the city of Seattle, who did I ask for a recommendations? Cherie Priest, of course! Via Twitter, mind you, and very respectfully and not at all in a creepy, stalkerish kind of way. Once she replied, and I calmed down, I ordered up Sons of the Profits.
The book is fun, but don’t come into it expecting highly polished prose. William Speidel has a very colloquial, informal style that other reviewers have often disliked. It’s clear he isn’t writing because he wants to be a great writer, but just because he loves Seattle, and its past, and wants to share. He’s got a couple of authorial ticks that can get on a nerve if you let them, but I had no problems forgiving him because I was otherwise occupied enjoying his stories.
In terms of the information shared, it seemed to me (from an admittedly uneducated perspective) that he had done his research. He certainly doesn’t spare the reader the seedier bits of Seattle’s past, which I enjoyed. Speaking of which, the book was published in 1967, which was occasionally jarring: the author was often disparaging of earlier attitudes towards women while simultaneously espousing attitudes towards women that are no longer acceptable. Half the time I couldn’t tell when he was being tongue-in-cheek and when he was being a chauvinist. Oh well.
If you’re interested in the history of Seattle, I’d highly recommend the book, not least because the book and its author have nearly become a necessary chapter in that history. By the way, if you’re in Seattle, the best way to buy the book is at the authors eponymously named World-Famous Underground Tour.
I have never read a book so poorly written that I just couldn’t stop reading.
I learned a great deal from this book, not only about whatWhat the hell?
I have never read a book so poorly written that I just couldn’t stop reading.
I learned a great deal from this book, not only about what it’s like to captain a tramp trader in the Caribbean but also about what truly awful writing looks like. I hope Max Hardberger never reads this review (I am, in fact, a little bit terrified of Max Hardberger at this point) and if he does, I hope he understands where I’m coming from. I don’t get the impression Mr. Hardberger is trying to write fine prose, but rather to tell an amazing story from a fascinating perspective.
So first, the problems: this whole book reads like terse entries in some scruffy log book. That rule about “show, don’t tell?” The author has not only ignored that advice, but consigned it to the dark and sulfurous depths of hell. It is so close to 100% telling that on the rare occasions when he tries to toss in a little showing the sentence jars me out of my seat.
Then, the narrative flow was extremely odd. He would mention things that had almost no impact on the story (“I got some of the spare parts at the store, but had to track down the others through a guy named Lucky”) in one sentence, then use the next sentence to yank the story a hundred miles down the timeline. As someone who reads a lot of novels, I was constantly saying to myself, “Oh hey, that’s odd, I bet that will come back into the story later.” Only it never did. It was like he was constantly foreshadowing some other story that I didn’t get to read.
Then, and this seems pretty petty compared to the other violations of story-law, he almost never explained anything. This happened a lot with nautical terms. I’ve taken 3 different American Sailing Association courses; I know me some nautical terms, though not all of them. Yet I seldom had any idea what he was talking about. He’d throw down abbreviations and technical jargon all over the place and just expect you to tag along. Or not. I don’t think he cared.
OK, so given these complaints, why read the book at all? I’m not the kind to be squeamish about chucking a book that I’m not enjoying. But I couldn’t stop reading this one. For some reason, completely unconnected to the prose on the page, this story was utterly compelling.
A big part of it, I think, was the insider’s perspective on an industry that is ubiquitous but hidden from most of us. Many of the goods we eat, buy, and use travel around the world on shipping vessels, yet for the most part we are ignorant of how this system works. Even those of us who like boating and boats may never see this aspect of the waterborne industrial complex.
Then there’s the more than passing similarity between the stories Max Hardberger has to tell and the pirate stories that are so popular these days. I often had the impression that Captain Jack Sparrow would have very little to teach Captain Hardberger, besides maybe how to apply eyeliner.
So maybe this book is the exception that proves the rule. In general, you can’t write a book like this and expect anyone to read it. Yet with this particular book, I guess maybe if your story is so utterly engaging you can drag readers along for the ride, nearly against their will. Who should read this book? I don’t know. Maybe English majors or editors looking for an example? Maybe the curious and open-minded with a tolerance for crippled prose? Maybe you? I can’t say it’s a good book, but I can say I’m damn glad I read it.
I’ve never enjoyed short stories as much as novels, though I couldn’t give you any rational explanation of that. I bought Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: StoI’ve never enjoyed short stories as much as novels, though I couldn’t give you any rational explanation of that. I bought Jim Butcher's Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files as soon as it was available, promptly read the last story in the collection (which occurs immediately after the stunning event that ends Changes) to see what new would be revealed, then put the book on the shelf and ignored it.
Over the next couple months my neighbor, also a Harry Dresden fan, kept asking if I’d read any more of the stories. I always said no, that there were other things I’d prefer to read; I don’t really like short stories that much.
Recently I’ve decided I need to try my hand (fingers?) at writing a few short stories. The motivation is purely self-promotional: I want to give people a taste of the world I’ve created in my novel, but I don’t want to self-publish the novel. I also want to give people a reason to come back to my website: not just to support me or to hear about what I’m doing, but to get something for their time. Short stories, being by definition short, can be written faster than a novel. My plan is to write a story a month, posting it in weekly installments.
In order to get my short story on, I figured I better read some of them. Just because they’re shorter, doesn’t mean it’s easier to write them. So I picked Side Jobs up off the shelf and gave it a try, figuring I already knew and liked Butcher’s style.
I really enjoyed the collection. It was particularly interesting for me to read the first story, a project he assembled for an MFA program, showing an early piece of writing by an author who has come a long way commercially. The rest of the stories were very enjoyable, each one giving me a dip into Harry’s world and lasting just long enough to be satisfying. I’d still take a Dresden Files novel over more short stories, but if you are, like I am, waiting for the next novel to drop, I would highly recommend you give yourself a booster-shot of magical ass-kicking in short story format in the meantime....more
This was a first for me: I discovered this book on Twitter, long before it was published. It happened like this.
Last year, at the Pacific Northwest WrThis was a first for me: I discovered this book on Twitter, long before it was published. It happened like this.
Last year, at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference, I pitched my novel, Magic Bullets, to a pair of agents. Subsequent to that, I started following said agents on Twitter. Not for stalking purposes, mind you, but to keep an eye on what they liked, what publishing events they were in on, etc. One of those agents is behind Phoenix Rising and authors Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris.
The thing that really sucked me in was that the authors (I assume it’s the authors, I guess it could be some lowly intern) are running a Twitter feed that purports to be written by the main characters of Phoenix Rising, Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. The novel is set in an alt-historical/steampunk world, but somehow the idea of these characters running around the world commenting via the “aethertweets” is really exciting. This isn’t precisely twitter-fiction, as they definitely break the fourth wall often, but it works. When I preordered the novel, largely because I’d enjoyed following @BooksAndBraun, I mentioned the fact on my own twitter feed and got a reply from the characters thanking me for the purchase. This was entertaining all out of proportion.
So that’s how I found the book, but was it worth it? Oh yeah. Definitely.
Phoenix Rising is a rip-roaring tour de force of Steampunk adventure. The main characters, bookish Archivist Wellington Thornhill Books and Field Agent/Pepperpot Eliza D. Braun, begin as template character opposites but quickly develop enough depth to avoid the cardboard cutout accusation. The story is at once quaintly Victorian and intriguingly modern, with plenty of action and sensuality to spice things up as we go along. There are also some unanswered questions and motivations left hanging, which I’m sure is merely teaser material for forthcoming installments.
Phoenix Rising is available in Mass Market paperback and Kindle editions for exactly the same price. I don’t care for either of these formats, but I went with the digital copy. What do you call an eBook page turner? A button pusher? A page clicker? Whatever you call it, it was that. I’m looking forward to more, and I’ll be keeping @BooksAndBraun on my following list indefinitely. Cheers! ...more
I was nervous about this book. The last one was fine (book #3, Blood of the Mantis), but too short, which left me feeling a bit uninterested. I starteI was nervous about this book. The last one was fine (book #3, Blood of the Mantis), but too short, which left me feeling a bit uninterested. I started this one feeling the same: worried about the short length and having a hard time getting pulled into the many, many different plot strands.
Turns out, the only thing wrong with books #3 and #4 in this series is that they should have been the same book. I don't know if it was an author decision or a publisher decision or what, but from my perspective as a reader this series is a trilogy, not a quartet, and books #3 and #4 belong in one volume. Salute the Dark naturally completes all the plot threads in Blood of the Mantis, giving it the proper narrative shape of crisis and climax.
Having finished the series (though I imagine the author intends more, this novel completes at least the first major story; though future possibilities are hinted at, much of the story is concluded) I can now heartily endorse the whole thing, I'm just warning you to make sure book #4 is on hand before you finish book #3, and to pretend they're just the one novel conveniently split for ease of carrying, or something.
I particularly enjoyed the bittersweet endings in this volume. I don't like depressing books, but I'm also a little too jaded to really enjoy the novels in which absolutely everything comes right in the end. Salute the Dark struck the proper balance between victory and sacrifice for my tastes.
Thanks Mr. Tchaikovsky! I look forward to more of your work....more
AMAZING! Damn, the hardest thing about reading this book is knowing the wait for the next one will be long. Sometimes I try to wait until an author haAMAZING! Damn, the hardest thing about reading this book is knowing the wait for the next one will be long. Sometimes I try to wait until an author has finished an entire series before starting it (I've got four fat novels by Tad Williams on my self, unopened) but if you suffer from a similar predilection don't let it ruin your experience with this novel. Lynch's website claims that there will be seven of these "Gentlemen Bastard" novels, and I welcome them all, but the first two (#1 was The Lies of Locke Lamora) stand alone well enough. Or perhaps I should say that, even though the two main characters carried over from book 1 to book 2, I never felt like I needed to go back and review book 1 to catch a reference in book 2.
The world Lynch has created is wonderful. A precursor civilization gives the cities a fascinating depth and structure while not impinging on the plot as of yet. There's enough alchemy and artifice that the novels don't feel like over-done sword and sorcery fantasy, while still stopping well short of the steam-punk genre. The guild of thieves element from the first novel remains in this one, including the excellent use of religious devotion to season that part of the story. Red Seas adds the further element of piracy, and does it compellingly.
If you're looking for an original voice in fantasy, do yourself a favor and check out this novel. Unless you haven't read Lies, in which case read that one first....more
The third book in this series and my only complaint is that it was so short! It felt like an episode of television more than a novel, picking up whereThe third book in this series and my only complaint is that it was so short! It felt like an episode of television more than a novel, picking up where the previous installment left off and then ending without a great deal of conclusion-y bits.
I liked the atmosphere of the thing especially. It was primarily set in a foreign port city. In fact, now that I type that I'm realizing that it reminded me a great deal of Casablanca, not in terms of plot obviously, but in the sense that most of the action happens in a supposedly neutral exotic location while a larger war swirls around.
I'm still very much fascinated by the insect-affiliation and "art" powers, as well as by the unique shape of the steam-tech elements. Bring on book four!...more