HUNTERS UNLUCKY is a hard book to pigeonhole. You've heard a lot of stories that are a little bit like this one -- enough to see the similarities andHUNTERS UNLUCKY is a hard book to pigeonhole. You've heard a lot of stories that are a little bit like this one -- enough to see the similarities and point at them -- but very few books try to accomplish everything that this one does. Even fewer succeed so marvelously, on so many levels.
First of all, this is a talking animal story. You've seen that before -- The Jungle Book, Watership Down, and Redwall, to name a few. But most of Hilton's animals have interesting twists that make them different from anything you've read about, either in the real-world or in more standard fantasy fare. The most prominent species in HUNTERS UNLUCKY, the ferryshaft, occupy an interesting ecological niche: they're omnivorous, capable of subsisting equally well on meat and foliage. While they are prey to some other creatures in their world, they are capable of being fierce and brave in their own right. As one of their would-be hunters remarks at a key point in the story, "Ferryshaft are not deer." This moves them out of the Designated Victim category in the talking animal genre, so that their fate is much more in their own hands (err, hooves) than would typically be the case in a story like this.
Second, this is a Bildungsroman (a coming-of-age story). You've seen those more times than you can count: the hero who starts as a child and becomes an adult, finding his or her place in the world along the way. This may be the most conventional part of the story, as Storm makes the journey from persecuted youngster to proud, charismatic and dangerous adult. But here, too, Hilton surprises, not so much with Storm but with the characters around him: former villains become heroes, seemingly peripheral characters rise up to become leaders, seemingly-wise mentors reveal the ways they are foolish, and even Storm himself transitions from learner to an unlikely mentor and guardian.
Third, this is an epic story: the plot spans generations and affects the lives of thousands of beings, with grand alliances, betrayals, conspiracies, and the rise and fall of entire species. Of course you've seen that before: epics are all the rage in fantasy these days. But how many epics have you ever heard of that focused on beings with no hands, no swords, no armor, no buildings in the traditional sense (though some of them get clever on that front) -- beings whose motivations and drives boil down to "reproduce and try not to starve or get eaten"? Can you really tell a story of epic scope with creatures whose lives and needs are so simple? Oh, yes. Well, maybe YOU can't, but Hilton surely did. And the richness and depth of characterization that she brings to those "simple" beings puts most epic fantasies to shame.
It is my conviction that stories, ultimately, are about people, not events, and Hilton's characters are people in a deep and meaningful sense. They have layers, and flaws, and unexpected virtues, moments of great insight and great foolishness. As alien as their world is, they feel very real. Almost all of the characters are sympathetic and relatable, even when they are at odds with one another. Some of the characters who seemed terrible and threatening at the beginning of the story ended up becoming some of my favorites by the end. Seemingly messianic figures are revealed to have deep and significant flaws. Hilton repeatedly challenges your sense of who the good guys and the bad guys are, and even when you find a character's actions horrible, there is usually some understandable, even sympathetic reason for them. (The one notable exception is something I can't talk about here, for fear of spoilers -- but it, too, is compelling, in a horrific, alien way that actually makes sense within the setting of the story.)
One reason I particularly enjoyed this book is that it not only reached for an epic scope, it actually achieved a satisfying ending. This is something that many writers struggle with, particularly when attempting something this grand. Hilton herself, for all her virtues as a writer, has had difficulty tying things up in a satisfactory way in her previous work. Not so here. The lives of the characters go on -- most of them, anyway -- but by the end of the Epilogue, you have a very fulfilling sense of having reached the end of a complete and magnificent tale.
Finally, I must give my enthusiastic recommendation for the audiobook version of HUNTERS UNLUCKY. The narrator, Rish Outfield, is exceptionally skilled: not only does he affect different accents for each species, but there are even sub-types of each accent for high-class and low-class members of those species -- and somehow he STILL manages to give each character his or her own unique voice, full of emotion and dynamic range. That is a LOT to think about for a single book, especially one with this many characters, but Outfield handles it all magnificently. This is a story that was made to be listened to, and with this narrator, the result is a pure delight....more
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to incorporate firearms in their fiction but doesn't have first-hand experience with using them in angerThis book is a must-read for anyone who wants to incorporate firearms in their fiction but doesn't have first-hand experience with using them in anger. J. Daniel Sawyer and Mary Mason provide a comprehensive look at all sorts of instruments of mayhem. Just as importantly, they provide crucial context on what it is like to actually USE firearms, and the differences in psychology between different types of users. This book is never far from me when I'm writing about cops, criminals, or soldiers....more
I've been reading a lot about psychopaths lately -- research for a book, honest! -- and this is by far the most engaging and entertaining book on theI've been reading a lot about psychopaths lately -- research for a book, honest! -- and this is by far the most engaging and entertaining book on the subject that I've read to date. Ronson started out trying to write a book on one thesis -- that the actions of a small number of psychopaths direct the course of human events -- but his research led him somewhere else entirely. I appreciated his openness and honesty about his own foibles and failings; he makes himself a character in his own story, and the end result is better for it. This is a fun read, but also a sobering reminder of the way we are increasingly defining all deviations from conformity as one sort of madness or another....more
This book is as masterfully written as any of Sawyer's books, and it is by far the hardest of hard sci-fi that he has done so far.
But on a personal lThis book is as masterfully written as any of Sawyer's books, and it is by far the hardest of hard sci-fi that he has done so far.
But on a personal level, it really, really rubbed me the wrong way.
This is in no way a flaw of the story. Indeed, the fact that it was able to induce such a visceral reaction is a testament to Sawyer's skill. But this story raises many difficult questions about identity and the self, and I vehemently disagree with his answers to those questions.
Chances are good that you'll either love this story or hate it. Give it a try and see which camp you fall into....more
I listened to this book on Audible. Some of the technical parts were difficult to process this way, particularly when he's describing his "Rubik's CubI listened to this book on Audible. Some of the technical parts were difficult to process this way, particularly when he's describing his "Rubik's Cube" model of the brain; I'm told that the print copy contains diagrams that are very helpful in making sense of these parts. If you want to learn (and retain) a lot of details on brain physiology, this probably isn't the best way to consume this book.
On the other hand, I was listening to the book in order to understand more about the internal psychology of psychopaths. (It's for research on a book I'm writing.) In that respect, the audio version was great. The narrator has a rich, deep voice that spins out Fallon's tale at high speed and with wonderful diction, perfectly conveying the narcissism, glibness and recklessness of this self-described "prosocial psychopath." Fallon weaves together stories of his own personal life, from childhood to his mid-sixties, with the neuroscience that may explain how psychopathy works and where it comes from. Fallon is devilishly charming as he freely admits his defects in one moment and grandiosely brags about his accomplishments in the next. This is a fascinating look inside the head of a man who knows exactly how his brain doesn't work right, and yet has thoroughly embraced who and what he is....more
I can only handle David Sedaris in small doses; that much cynicism and misanthropy just isn't good to steep in for too long. That having been said, heI can only handle David Sedaris in small doses; that much cynicism and misanthropy just isn't good to steep in for too long. That having been said, he is usually hilarious and sometimes even poignant, and the essays in this collection are just the right size. Enjoy them like bittersweet chocolates: a little at a time, so you don't upset your stomach.
It's worth getting the audiobook version, because Sedaris is a master narrator of his own work. The chapters that were recorded live in concert are a special treat....more
I love the idea of a Cthulhu Mythos where the humans fight back. Lumley wrote this in the mid-seventies, and it shows its age in some ways, but it isI love the idea of a Cthulhu Mythos where the humans fight back. Lumley wrote this in the mid-seventies, and it shows its age in some ways, but it is quite entertaining. Necessarily he had to change the mythos somewhat in order to make his story work, chiefly by introducing a moral axis into the cast of Ancient Ones; this allows for the existence of weapons that are effective against the minions of Cthulhu and his allies, created by beings as powerful as they but less inimical to human life. This is very much counter to Lovecraft's own view of the universe as uncaring and inherently hostile to life, but that's sort of the point.
One definite plus to Lumley's version of the Mythos: the abhorrent racial attitudes of Lovecraft are nowhere to be seen. I guess an extra fifty years of progress helps in that regard....more
Classic Gaiman. I can tell it's one of his earlier works -- the Gaiman "voice" isn't fully developed, and he makes some choices in the way he narratesClassic Gaiman. I can tell it's one of his earlier works -- the Gaiman "voice" isn't fully developed, and he makes some choices in the way he narrates that I don't think he'd use today -- but the richly imagined characters, clever dialogue and vivid, fantastic settings that characterize his work are all here. I enjoyed the story greatly....more
Okay, so there have been some criticisms that this book doesn't advance the plot of the Dresdenverse that much. Blah blah cliches, blah blah deus ex mOkay, so there have been some criticisms that this book doesn't advance the plot of the Dresdenverse that much. Blah blah cliches, blah blah deus ex machina, blah blah status quo.
Listen. If you're a fan of Harry Dresden -- and if you're not, why the hell are you reading book #15? -- none of that matters.
Because SKIN GAME is a BLAST.
I actually had to look this up, but apparently "skin game" is an old slang term for a con, a swindle, a rigged gambling game. It's very appropriate here. Mab, Queen of the Winter Court of the Sidhe, loans out Harry to his arch-nemesis Nicodemus to take part in a grand heist from a god's treasure vault. This goes about as well as you would expect, and the initial exposition is barely out of the gate before the scheming, back-stabbing and double-crossing begin.
I love a good heist story, and this one plays all the tropes of the genre beautifully -- with the added dimension of Harry's long-running feud with Nicodemus and his Denarian soldiers. The Denarians have always been the best bad guys of the series, since way back in Book 5 (Death Masks), and they're in top form here. The interactions are especially fun because Harry, being Harry, is constantly needling, antagonizing, and talking back to Nicodemus, who has to put up with it because he NEEDS Harry if this job is going to have any chance of success. Watching the Evil Overlord's nerves gradually fray down to their last thread because of the mouthy hero's antics is schadenfreude of the best kind.
Most of the series's favorites are back for this book, with the notable exception of Thomas and the Alphas. Karrin Murphy gets some good character development, and Michael gets the most screen time he's had since SMALL FAVOR, which is a definite plus in my book. The breakout star of this book, though, is Waldo Butters, the polka-loving medical examiner who has been Harry's back-alley doctor since Book 7 or so. Waldo has to wrestle with some real and entirely valid doubts about Harry, and there are times during the book when his own sense of right and wrong clashes with Harry's in pretty dramatic fashion. It's very gratifying to watch him maturing from a spectator and occasional spear-carrier (or, rather, drum-carrier) into his own brand of heroism. He'll never be Harry Dresden, but the little guy has a lot going for him, and the ways he comes through for our heroes in this story are very gratifying.
I loved this book from start to finish. Is it the best story in the series? No. Is it without flaws? Certainly not. But if you love these characters like I do, it's a damned good ride....more
Have you ever had a friend who nurtured a vice to the level of art form? Maybe he's always got a story about the times he's gotten royally wasted -- tHave you ever had a friend who nurtured a vice to the level of art form? Maybe he's always got a story about the times he's gotten royally wasted -- the one where he passed out naked on the steps of the fraternity house with all of his body hair shaved off and a dozen penises drawn on him in Sharpie. Maybe she's the party animal who breathlessly tells you about the time she was tripping so hard she saw Jesus riding a unicorn while Bob Marley played a funky reggae rendition of "Ride of the Valkyries". Maybe he's the guy with a hundred stories of nearly getting shot, stabbed or pummeled by jealous lovers as he escaped from some late-night tryst with yet another pretty face. Whatever the misdeeds, they'll finish their story by shaking their head and saying, "I've gotta stop doing this" -- but you see that glint in their eyes, the grin they can't quite wipe off their face, and you know they love it way too much to give it up.
That's the feeling I get from listening to This Town.Mark Leibovich describes the antics of the DC crowd -- variously called "This Town," "The Club", "The Gang of Five Hundred", or most blandly, "The Establishment" -- with the same rueful glee as your friend with the unhealthy love of the bottle, the pill, or the conquest. Leibovich is self-aware enough to realize that his community is ethically bankrupt, outrageously out of touch with reality, and contemptibly self-involved ... but his Serious Face keeps slipping, and he can never muster the outrage that is an outsider's only rational response to his exposé. The most he can manage is to paint a picture, sardonically, of what DC people actually think about the events that surround them, when all of the spin and "messaging" are stripped away. The end result is plenty outrageous and disgusting without him even needing to layer on any moralizing commentary. Ironically, by presenting himself as a near-totally unapologetic insider to the world he uncovers, he ends up coming off as a lot more credible and authentic than the hordes of writers and pundits who wax holier-than-thou about the way business is done in Washington.
The Washington elite inhabit hypocrisy like a fish inhabits water, so surrounded by it that they are rarely even conscious of its existence. This astonishing cognitive dissonance is what Leibovich portrays the most vividly and effectively. It's not that these people are bad, at least not in the sense of being ill-intentioned; they're just so monumentally self-absorbed, so trapped in their bubble of self-congratulation and mutual admiration, that every aspect of their lives has become hollow and inauthentic. Leibovich shows how even the supremely well-intentioned get waylaid, co-opted and subverted by the Washington machine; the Obama people, fresh from the 2008 campaign with big plans about how they're going to "change the game in Washington", illustrate this especially well. Nobody inside the Beltway lost much sleep about the Obama Change Brigade, because they knew from the start what the Obamas didn't discover until too late: You don't change Washington. Washington changes you.
Special props go to the narrator for this production, Joe Barrett. He perfectly conveys the sardonic, self-aware tone of Leibovich's book, as well as the genuine pleasure that he feels in the company of these people whom we, the audience, are so ready to be disgusted by. It would have been easy to get the feel wrong on this book, but Barrett nails it....more