I have to give the Lensman books at least four stars for their nostalgia value, and that they began me on a life of love for science fiction. I'll hav...moreI have to give the Lensman books at least four stars for their nostalgia value, and that they began me on a life of love for science fiction. I'll have read them first in my very early teens, probably around the time of the original Star Wars trilogy, on which they are no doubt a huge influence. I think these are probably the finest of 'Doc' Smith's ripping space adventures - powered by derring do and the fight for justice, with square jawed heroes and their beautiful women, a World's Fair-type optimism of technology and a complete lack of regard for the laws of physics.
The good guys practically wear white hats, perfect physical and mental specimens that could adorn a recruitment poster for the US Army or the Wehrmacht. The women are strong and intelligent, too - strong enough to tell the men off for being overly macho (with a glint in their eyes that says how much they love it really) and smart enough to know that they should let the menfolk go off to do their duty while they stay behind to make sure the home is looked after.
Smith told the stories with a vibrancy that left the reader breathless at the adventure and heroism, with enough scientific gobbledygook to instill a sense of wonder - silvery teardrop shaped spacecraft powered by and 'intertia-less' drive that could fling them out of the solar system in a matter of seconds, ray guns that dealt death to the bad guys (but only after refusing the chance to change their ways, of course) and the mighty Lenses - weapon, communication device and symbol of the Galactic Patrol's righteous power, handed to humanity by the ancient peace-loving alien civilisation the Arisians to fight the evil Eddorians.
I've been meaning to re-read them all for some time, but perhaps they should be left in the past, infused with the fond glow of childhood discovery, remnant of a mythical time without cynicism and postmodernism, when we could ignore the complexities of the real world and pretend that all problems could be solved if people would just accept that granite jawed white men were always right. So I'll just remember watching a couple of episodes of Flash Gordon on Saturday morning TV (with Larry 'Buster' Crabbe, of course), maybe see Errol Flynn best the Sheriff of Nottingham, then ride my bike to the top of the hill and sit reading about the noble Lensmen.(less)
I wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this, but thought i'd give it a try. I confess I'm a bit averse to the whole urban fantasy thing at the mo...moreI wasn't sure how much I was going to enjoy this, but thought i'd give it a try. I confess I'm a bit averse to the whole urban fantasy thing at the moment. Even where it isn't the dreaded 'dark romance' *shudder*, mainstream urban fantasy – as opposed to the Good Stuff like Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll, early Christopher Fowler – generally leaves me cold in its ubiquity and lack of originality. Yes, I know there's a whole girl-power vibe going on with a lot of it – the Kelley Armstrongs and Laurell Hamiltons – but this seems to have already been hijacked by the money making machine spotting a new segment of consumer and a lot of the female oriented urban fantasy seems to cater toward the erotica/S&M taste (which is fine if that's your thing) or the truly offensive willing victimhood of Twilight (which IS NOT ALL RIGHT).
Anyway, that's really nothing to do with Harry Dresden books, but a more general stain that contaminates, rightly or wrongly, my view of the genre. Another mental barrier I had was that I'd sat through a few episodes of the TV series, hoping it would stop being utterly banal. But you can't blame the shortcomings of a screen adaptation on the source material, as Johnny Mnemonic testifies among many others.
So, cut to the actual review. Modern day Chicago. Harry Dresden is wizard for hire; an honest to god wielder of magic who uses his talent and training as a private investigator, his speciality finding lost things. The writing flows nicely, a first person voice in the style of your classic PI novel. The set up is classic Philip Marlow; attractive woman turns up wanting Dresden to find her missing husband. Dresden is also on retainer Chicago PD, and gets a call to look into a gruesome double murder that could only have been committed by powerful magic. One of the victims works for a local mob boss, and on the way back to meet his client Dresden gets a warning to leave the case alone. Could all the threads be connected?
The writing flows well and the narrative voice is nicely laconic (I listened to the audiobook, and James Marsters does a excellent job, truly inhabiting the role in a way too few readers manage). Dresden is not a tough guy private dick in the Philip Marlowe / continental op mould; he is quite insular and self-dependent, as a good PI should be. The shadows in his past aren't the broken marriage and heavy drinking of most detectives, but centre around his magic. It is this that makes him a loner (or this is the excuse he gives, at any rate) and the shadow is that when he was young he used his magic to kill someone. Even though this was in self-defence, it means that he is being watched by the Council, a body of elders that governs the use of magic in the world, and there are some who believe he is a danger.
The world set up was one of the things that didn't quite work for me; sometimes the setting seemed to be our world, with magic existing alongside the mundane (a rare, hidden talent of which most people are unaware) but the differences jarred slightly. Dresden says he got annoyed with explaining to people that he was an actual wizard and didn't pull rabbits out of hats or perform at children's parties (I did like the humour, by the way), but the new street drug is one that gives mundanes the illusion of second sight and magical awareness; when magic gets flung around in public people flee in terror, but there are less consequences than in the aftermath of a gunfight. It seemed to me that Butcher was undecided, or possibly unclear in his own head, whether the magical world is hidden from the mundane or integrated into it – although this is the first book and perhaps the world will become more defined as the series continues.
Storm Front was a light, fun read, with decent writing and some nice, low key jokes. There were aspects of the story that could have been stronger – Butcher could easily have made more of the wider effects of the street drug which is part of the plot, and I think he needs to make more of a decision about how gritty or light the series is – but I'm definitely intrigued enough to continue with the series.(less)