Newly proposed law: any book which ends on a verifiable Cliffhanger must sport a warning label, in bright orange, which covers noCLIFFHANGER WARNING!
Newly proposed law: any book which ends on a verifiable Cliffhanger must sport a warning label, in bright orange, which covers no less than 25% of the available cover. "Verifiable," in this case, is subject entirely to the judgment of the Minister of Books, ie me.
Seriously, I got into George R. R. Martin's books with eyes wide open. I knew I was going to be left hanging. I have no beef with him. But generally, if you put "book one of a trilogy" on your front cover, I'm not going to read it until books 2 and 3 are already published. I've been burned before
That is why, if you have *not* made any such claims, and you have been writing stand-alone books, with solid-enough endings, you do *NOT* switch gears mid-series and strand your audience on a cliffhanger. That's really, really low.
I am sad to say that any enjoyment I had of the book up until that point was effectively squashed by the ham-handed money-grab represented by the end of the book. This is bad behavior, Novick, and the type of thing that loses you readers. You may consider yourself on notice....more
This, the first of Gladstone's "Craft" series, is a gem. Genre-wise, I had a hell of a time picking which tags to slap on this book: fantasy, certainly, but is it also sci-fi? It has the hard-edged, logical consistency of sci-fi. The dressing is occasionally steampunk, but I hesitate to apply that label, because steampunk is rapidly becoming a very specific sort of aesthetic, and I'm not sure this novel fits into it. This is alternative history, of a sort, but not specifically set in anything like Victorian England. This is *much* more 'alternative' than that, a world in which the essential conflict between factions of humanity is overshadowed by the greater conflict between gods, and the evn greater-than-that conflict between the gods and the humans who exist in an uneasy symbiosis.
Ultimately, this is a character and dialogue powered novel, which makes the genre-specifications less essential than the fact that you really feel for these characters. The villains' motivations are both realistic and downright slimy, which is good. The heroine's motivations are at times noble, at times petty, and her struggle to let the former overcome the latter is one of the book's central strengths.
Really, I have nothing bad to say about this other than, perhaps, that the extended internal monologues of some characters made me want to rush to the next action or dialog sequence, but that is no failing of Gladstone's. It's strictly because I'm a lazy, lazy man. ...more
Peter Straub is one of the best authors of all time, and this anthology is evidence enough to prove it. He writes circles around Stephen King, natch',Peter Straub is one of the best authors of all time, and this anthology is evidence enough to prove it. He writes circles around Stephen King, natch', but then again, one isn't reading King because of that man's fine style (with the exception of Misery), one reads King in order to wallow in a folksy story, pure campfire horror tale. Not so with Straub, whose depictions of twisted human psychology are so internally consistent that they make me suspect that (a) he's psychic and (b) he's been hanging around some terrible asylums or something. You believe every word these characters say.
The opening vignette alone, "Ashputtle," is well worth the price of admission. I read it through in a single gulp, while waiting for my daughter to get out of dance class, and at first I was simply enjoying the bizarre voice Straub gives to his narrator, a totally compelling mixture of self-aggrandizement and guilty whining that he revisits in the excellent "Hunger: an Introduction."
It wasn't until I finished, though, that the full meaning of the story really dawned on me. It's a classic bit of what TV Tropes calls "fridge horror," the moment after the movie or story, when you're at the refrigerator, making a sandwich, and you suddenly 'get' what actually happened. I had to race right back to the beginning of the story and read the whole thing through again, this time through the lens of that realization. Then I had to IMMEDIATELY check on my darling daughter, and I did not take my eyes off of her for the rest of the evening. I checked on her twenty times during the night. I almost could not drop her off at school the next day.
My general policy is to give anthologies 3 stars on principal, since some stories are going to work better than others, and readers' tastes being as vMy general policy is to give anthologies 3 stars on principal, since some stories are going to work better than others, and readers' tastes being as varied as they are, it's difficult to assign any sort of 'objective' measurement to a collection. There are rare exceptions (Skipp & Spector's remarkable Book of the Dead comes to mind) in which the quality of the entries is so universally superior that the entire anthology becomes something else, an entire meal which contains a sub-genre or trope.
Then there are cases like this one. I admire the hell out of Peter Straub. In a completely different voice, and for different purposes, he's a better writer than Stephen King, and a far superior thinker. What he is not, apparently, is a great editor. Other than Straub's own contribution to this anthology, what we have here is a lot of 'gotcha' short fiction, in which an O'Henry twist at the ending, like an old EC Horror Comic, spells Doooooom for one protagonist or other. These stories generally fail to evoke Straub's own deliberate pacing, or consistency of voice, or psychological insight. Even otherwise passable writers like Kathe Koja are not well represented here.
A much better work, if you're in the mood, is Straub's own self-edited one-man anthology Magic Terror, which ALSO contains the Straub story ("Hunger") which is the only redeeming part of this book. So go read Magic Terror instead. I'll see you over in that review. ...more
This is a rather workmanlike entry from Scalzi, neither as hyperkinetically witty as he can be in works like Redshirts, nor as old-school Space AdventThis is a rather workmanlike entry from Scalzi, neither as hyperkinetically witty as he can be in works like Redshirts, nor as old-school Space Adventure as he is in the superior Old Man's War.
If OMW was Scalzi's (I think largely successful) attempt to channel Robert Heinlein, this comes across as his homage to Arther C. Clarke. It's 'big idea' sci-fi, with a number of vaguely floating questions about morality, identity, and so on, many of which I suspect were occasioned by fan reactions to OMW wondering about how that universe would change what we mean when we say someone "is" such-and-such when their bodies and brains are as interchangeable as LEGO parts.
The problem is, Scalzi is not really a 'big idea' author. He's a writer of potboilers, and he's good at that. But just as Redshirts fell to horrible pieces when he tried to turn that frothy bit of entertainment into a Meaningful Book about metatextuality, so this one falls a bit to pieces when the characters start sounding less like space soldiers and more like late-night philosophy graduate students. The tone doesn't fit, and there's no real conclusion that's reached on the basis of the characters' in-world actions, so it just comes across as masturbatory, or worse, as filler.
In some ways, I feel quite guilty about awarding Sanderson's return to the Mistborn series only 3 of 5 stars. In its way, this is a better book than tIn some ways, I feel quite guilty about awarding Sanderson's return to the Mistborn series only 3 of 5 stars. In its way, this is a better book than the rest of his Mistborn works, a series which has managed to garner the title "saga" due to both its length and the depth of its worldbuilding. It's clear that Sanderson can't help but systematize his writing, and all of his fantasies benefit from this tendency. The geography is consistent. The magic system is logical. It's not hard to imagine him, writing away, constantly checking his work against a notebook of 'rules' he has made up for each fictional universe, and that kind of dedicated uptightness *should* make it easy to sink into the faux-reality of the novel, its diagesis.
However, its only "should." That very attention to a detailed set of mythical rules for his fantasy universe means we're constantly being reminded of what those rules are, and after a while the book can feel a bit less like a story about people, and more like an instruction manual in which the characters are functional cogs that fit into the narrative only along certain prescribed pathways. That may be more apparent in this shorter work, where the dicta of the Mistborn world take up a consequently larger percentage of the available space.
This is tautly plotted, if that's your thing. If you're looking for character development, well...we start off with a great psychological set-up, a flawed hero whose confidence has been shattered...but that's really dropped off about a quarter of the way through, and the rest of the novel is a pretty predictable, by-the-numbers walk to the finish line. One shouldn't be feeling anticlimax only a third of the way through a book.
I almost forgive everything, however, on the basis of the absolutely STELLAR supporting character of Wayne, who deserves an entire franchise to be built around him. I am not going to try to describe Wayne. He must be experienced. ...more
After threeorso books in which Kitty Norville was getting her ass handed to her in an increasingly distressing fashion, Carrie VaughnWhat a relief.
After threeorso books in which Kitty Norville was getting her ass handed to her in an increasingly distressing fashion, Carrie Vaughn has returned the character to what made this series really kick in the first place. Kitty's makes a good werewolf den mother for the same reason that she's an excellent self-help talk-show host. It's not that she's physically the toughest, nor that she (mis)uses sexual allure to get her way (ahem, lookin' at you, Kresley Cole). It's her rock-solid strength of character, a reliable moral compass that tells her what the right thing to do is, even when it's tough.
The problem in recent books in the series has been that while Kitty may know what's right, she's been thrust into situation after situation in which 'right' simply isn't an option. That's bleak territory. To Vaughn's credit, the difficulties Kitty has found herself in have been completely logical developments in the diagesis of the novels. As one of the very first openly declared supernaturals in the country, Kitty has put herself in the front lines of fire from both other supernatural entities that want her (a) to shut up, or (b)dead, as well as humans who see her kind as a scientific curiosity to be vivisected, or a challenge to human supremacy. The parallels to actual human conflicts, from suffrage to the feminist movement to the gay rights movement, are both conscious and cogent.
But logical as such stories are for this point in the series, they make it difficult for the character to really shine as she ought. Finally, in this novel Vaughn returns Kitty to where she belongs, in a fairly stable environment, with threats that are very real, but which are as much about Kitty's helping people to do the right thing as they are about simply surviving physical attacks on her person. That's the Kitty Norville we fell in love with in the first book in the series, and it's a relief to remake her acquaintance. ...more
In brief: Wool's merits are obvious. It manages to be an almost entirely character-driven novel in a universe which could have easily devolved into a One-Damn-Thing-After-the-Other plot-heavy event-driven spectacle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But the skill with which Howey *does* keep so much of the focus on character, rather than event, is refreshing.
On the other had...I'm maybe too optimistic to enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction much. Well, and too old. The apocalypse is a poetically attractive metaphor for the 17 year old, who views all revolutions as both necessary and good. The 43-year-old...not so much.
I'd preface this with "spoilers," but I strongly suspect that the only person who was likely to not know all about this tIn Defense of the Red Wedding
I'd preface this with "spoilers," but I strongly suspect that the only person who was likely to not know all about this topic would have been me, about a month ago.
That's when, as I noted in my last post, HBO aired the now-infamous episode of Game of Thrones, "The Rains of Castamere," containing the 'Red Wedding' sequence from A Storm of Swords. And lo, throughout the land was heard a great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the people did howl at the injustice of it all, and many there were wearing black armbands, and many a fan didst smirk knowingly, and sorority girls did cry most unhappily, for Rob Stark was kinda cute, and verily the Late Night Comedians didst have material nigh unto a week thereof, and the birth of a goat with two heads was reported, but then it turned out to just be two goats really close together.
Now the tendency has been to nail George R.R. Martin to Whedon's cross. "How dare you," rage the critics, "kill all these nice people?" He is presented to the public as a grimdark fantasist, offering us a bleak, even nihilistic, universe, in which Bad Things happen to Good People. Paul & Storm beg him, "stop killing our favorite characters, please," and after the Red Wedding, everyone in America seems to be joining in on the chorus.
I disagree. Of MAJOR characters - and that's a key point - Martin hasn't killed anybody who hasn't thoroughly deserved it.
Westeros certainly isn't a benevolent universe. It won't go out of its way to take it easy on you. Being polite at the dinner table does not guarantee a longer lifespan. This is not a Disneyfied landscape. But, then again, neither is Nature, out here in the real world. We went hiking into the Grand Canyon last week, and being less than two feet from a 950-foot drop will clarify things in a real hurry if you have any depth perception at all: nature does not like you. It will not make excuses because you're a nice person. Gravity works the same for Mother Theresa as it does for Osama bin Laden, and anyone who thinks that their monthly charity work will get them a break if they step too near the crumbly cliff edge will have a longish while to contemplate the flaw in their reasoning, though they will likely be too busy screaming to appreciate it much.
Ned Stark does not get whacked because he is a nice guy in a mean universe. He gets whacked because he's foolishly expecting mercy from people who have demonstrated, right in his face, that they aren't going to offer him any. He'd dumb. Importantly, the corollary is true: his kids who act intelligently by either accommodating the Lannisters until they can get away (Sansa, thus beating the Lannisters at their own game) or running off to gather their strength (everybody else). Only a complete idiot would think Joffrey Lannnister would do anything other than what he did. Ned, who has already by this point in the narrative demonstrated a remarkable ability to misread people from Robert Baratheon to Tyrion Lannister, qualifies.
In point of fact, there's good evidence that Martin is actually penning a supremely moral universe, if morality consists not only of empathy, but wisdom about when to apply it. Arya, stuck in much more horrific circumstances than most characters, manages to be both as honorable and generous as her father (note how she treats the other prisoners during her march north from King's Landing) but smarter about when to keep her mouth shut and be honorable in secret (see her actions in Harrenhal). She thrives. By contrast, the chief victims of The Red Wedding brought their fates entirely on themselves. Frey broke the implied oaths of the laws of hospitality in his attack? Guess who broke their oaths to Frey first.
Very importantly, in Martin's universe the moral consequences only hit those generally capable of making moral decisions (at least as far as major, named characters). Much of the outrage about the broadcast version centered on the fate of Rob's pregnant wife, Jeyne Westerling. 'Hey, what's her crime?' you might ask. Nothing at all. That's why, in the book *She Doesn't Die.* In the book, she gets away, entirely. Fades off into the distance. Because in a moral universe, you don't get plugged full of crossbow bolts just for being young and falling in love. That was a change introduced by HBO in order to maximize viewer torment. It was a bad one, aesthetically but also didactically, because it means a lot of people are blaming Martin for creating a universe much more awful than the one he actually created.
Now, two important caveats, one public, one personal: I've noted that this moral law only applies to major, named characters. As with most allegorical, or even semi-allegorical (i.e, fantasy) fiction, the 'little people,' the lesser, unnamed hordes who make up the background, peasants and such, get shot, raped, mutilated, burned alive, eaten by wolves, and generally run roughshod over by the named characters for little more reason than to provide a scorecard for which of the major characters is the biggest bastard. That's not good, but it may be a limitation of the genre rather than of Martin's writing.
On a personal level, I'd emphasize: just because I see a moral law at work in Martin's Westeros doesn't mean I'd want to live there. I had to get dragged down to that trail into the Grand Canyon by my braver family, too. ...more