I enjoyed this book on multiple levels. First, it's a tale full of palace intrigue, good dialogue, sharp young characters that are coming to their ownI enjoyed this book on multiple levels. First, it's a tale full of palace intrigue, good dialogue, sharp young characters that are coming to their own, and a smattering of daddy and mommy issues that really propels the drama forward. Seva, the main character, has a mysterious origin she's trying to find more about as the queen calls a Conclave of all the major factions and races in her realm. Her over-protective grandfather has kept her sheltered for most of her life after her mother's equally dubious death, concealing a lot of important information about who her father might be. See, Seva has wings, a characteristic of the race of "flyers" in the realm, even though her mother and grandfather are human. Naturally, she assumes her father must be a flyer, but once all the races gather for the Conclave, answers are illusive and Seva's origin becomes further obscured. Perhaps she's a chosen one meant to fulfill a prophecy, or perhaps not. In either case, as the Conclave plays out, there's an important intergenerational struggle between the young adults heirs of each faction and their older peers, often with diametrically opposed viewpoints.
It all explodes when the Queen unfurls her sinister reasons for calling the Conclave, nearly at the same time as Seva stumbles into powers that might be the key to it all. If it seems very vague in review, it's only because I'm trying to keep from spoiling a real page-turner with a lot of plot twists, character development, and a rich fictional universe. That brings me to the other level on which I enjoyed this book.
As a writer myself, I think Kyra Dune teaches a master class in world-building here. Any writer who writes fantasy should read this for how effortlessly she shows and not tells and puts together an intricate realm and mythology in so few pages, while also giving it breathing room to question and upend it's own "lore" pages later. I appreciated that her protagonist Seva is vulnerable but her arc is very much HER arc. She grows, not just in maturity but in power, and does so with a little help from the many new friends she gathers in the narrative. Ganamere, one of these new friends who emerges as somewhat of an Anti-Villain, is a character I continuously think about. Introduced as a torturer with mommy issues, Ganamere grows from there to someone with conflicted loyalty. He does terrible things and great things, and somehow it all seems within the confused core of a young man who doesn't seem sure about what he wants to be. Someone who feels conflicted and guilty about his past and future.
Any lover of fantasy, YA or otherwise, would love this book and should pick it up. ...more
Demon City is an entertaining, quick read full of relatable characters and supernatural schemes. As an intriguing but not particularly flattering portDemon City is an entertaining, quick read full of relatable characters and supernatural schemes. As an intriguing but not particularly flattering portrait of LA, it starts with Felix. A midwestern dreamer with body and food issues who made his way to the entertainment capital of the world, Felix hasn’t seen a lot of success. Other than a few modest acting jobs, Felix is stuck battling with another intern for a permanent job as a correspondent on a gossip show that makes TMZ look classy. Felix knows he’s too soft and lacks the killer instinct to get ahead in the entertainment journalism world. He pulls too many punches and gets too squeamish when it comes to asking people about their sex tapes, definite weaknesses in the cutthroat world in which he's found himself.
After a rough day at work, Felix goes to see his roommate’s band play a gig at an LA club. Things take an odd turn when he meets Claire, a mysterious woman who’s a little too interested in him. Trying to lure him away, Felix knows something about Claire isn’t right, and when he tries to run, she burns him with her touch. Things only get uglier from there for Felix, with his brother mysteriously coming to town, Claire and her similarly fire-touched friend Nicky chasing him, and an ever-sinister spiral of connections tying Felix’s job to a mysterious, faustian figure known as Sparky Mother.
Urban fantasy that uses the setting itself as a character is tricky, which is why Demon City’s choice of Felix as the main POV character is a wise decision and ultimately a successful one. He’s someone who only knows pieces of what's happening to his life and that proves effective as depths and angles that Felix couldn’t imagine are taking place all around him. The author, Morgan Richter, puts together a lot of thrilling sequences as Felix tries to escape the web of intrigue and danger ever encroaching on him and his brother. As more and more layers of LA’s supernatural underworld are revealed, the author weaves a compelling combination of the surreal and the mundane to make this vision of LA believable and intriguing. The pages really fly by. I highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys contemporary urban fantasy and magical realism, especially when splashed with a little dark humor. The characters are relatable and dynamic, though some key ones enter a little late in the game and we barely get to meet them.
Demon City is a sequel to Wrong City, volume 1 of the Wrong City series. I hadn’t read the first book, but had no problem following this one even though there are some clear connections to events in that book, so don’t worry too much if you haven’t read it. More likely you would simply get a little more out of this second installment. If there’s one thing I would criticize this book for, it’s that it seems to take a bit of a detour right before the epic climax to rope in some characters that are apparently from the first book that feel more like an exposition dump than a logical development in the plot. All the same, I plan to check out the first in the series and look forward to the next one. Morgan Richter has put together a compelling fictional universe while keeping it light and entertaining.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, and have reviewed it for the Masquerade Crew.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0 on The Masque Scale ...more
Offbeat humor? Check. Hilarious government acronyms for occult stuff? Check. Ultraviolence? Check.
I was wondering where Stross would head next with tOffbeat humor? Check. Hilarious government acronyms for occult stuff? Check. Ultraviolence? Check.
I was wondering where Stross would head next with the Laundry Files, and the fact that vamps would come up eventually isn't surprising. As usual, though, Stross twists the very concept to fit the Laundry universe impeccably. After a young investment banker opens a window to another world and finds himself with an odd hunger and a sensitivity to sunlight it's only a matter of time until the wheels fall off.
While Laundry novels often have plenty of plot twists, this novel was moreso than many of the others. Dragging in Bob's ex, a bunch of "transformed" investment bankers looking for "threats and opportunities" their condition enables, an alley cat, a vicar mentoring a young vampire, two elder vampires waging a centuries-old war by proxy, marital issues between two deadly occult operatives, and even a vampire hunter with an exceptionally unique way of dispatching her prey, this story never quite goes where you expect it to all the way to the end. Stross has always been good at juggling a lot of plot elements, but he's becoming a true master at this point.
You could probably read this without having read every book in the series, but you would definitely need to have read Atrocity Archives and if you've read the others (particularly The Fuller Memorandum) you will get a lot more out of the story. Especially considering that the blood-soaked and emotional conclusion leaves the Laundry universe and specifically Bob Howard's world changed forever. ...more
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A Gazillion Little Bits is a rewarding and intriguing book, but it iDisclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
A Gazillion Little Bits is a rewarding and intriguing book, but it is not an easy read. Following two main characters and scads of minor characters, it weaves a detailed tapestry of post-apocalyptic New York that can often seem too much like a difficult puzzle. Primarily, it follows a conflict between a group of people who survived the implied apocalyptic events sealed away in a Vault and the descendants of everyone who was left outside.
We’re first introduced to the world through Lahara, a woman living in the ruins of New York’s neighborhoods like so many others. We get a sense of her daily life and how various post-apocalyptic communities have sprung up all throughout Manhattan. The author has placed an immense amount of thought and detail into how it would all work, along with careful consideration of geography, ecosystems, a rudimentary barter economy, and even the crucial role of genealogy. Injected into all of that is the eerie concept of whispers, knowledge certain people have of specialized subjects they couldn’t possibly have learned through any normal means.
The whispers prove useful to these people in that sometimes they give those who have them medical, scientific, cultural, or even geographic knowledge that has helped a great deal in rebuilding some kind of civilization. That said, they also come with lots of baggage and are viewed with suspicion as a new breed of more intense and consuming whispers have begun to “infect” people and change their very identities and memories.
Lahara seems to possess special whispers, ones that enable her to recall the collapse of New York in vivid fragments. That knowledge and these unique whispers set her apart from the others, eventually making her a target for the Vaulters. The Vaulters want to retake and reshape their corner of the world according to their own agendas and vision but the people of New York just want to live their simple albeit primitive lives. The Vault almost reminded me of a twisted, evil version of the Foundation from Asimov’s famous Foundation series as their quest for knowledge trumps all other concerns.
The other primary character, Anthony, is a Vaulter who flees that sanctuary in an attempt to thwart their plans. Like the other Vaulters, he’s been asleep for centuries and finds this ruined landscape of New York more disconcerting and dangerous than he planned. Aside from simply surviving, he has the momentous task of convincing the New Yorkers to actually accept and trust him before the Vaulters can execute their plans.
A Gazillion Little Bits takes this story to fascinating and unpredictable places. The world is vividly detailed, full of fascinating characters and compelling communities. Even the Vaulters themselves, ostensibly the villains of the story, only want to preserve knowledge. A noble goal, if pursued through ignoble means.
That said, I did have a lot of issues with this book. The detailed descriptions that fill the novel verge on too-detailed a lot of the time. While this post-apocalyptic New York is intriguing, the author dedicates a little too much real estate during tense and thrilling moments to describing minutae in a way that can cause the narrative to lose steam.
The other big problem for me was the pacing. It takes a long time to set the primary plot in motion, likely so it can adequately introducing the reader to this complex fictional universe. Then, as the plot finally begins to really take off, the perspectives are shifted around a bit too much. I understand that one of the primary themes of this novel is constructing and re-constructing a world through lots of different varying perspectives, but here it is done so often it makes the plot and even time itself hard to follow. Weeks or even months pass in the story and the reader is left to figure that out through remembering dates and narrative descriptions of seasonal weather changes.
I often felt as though crucial events and conversations involving the major characters were skipped over only to be told secondhand by minor characters later. Again, I understand the construction of oral histories and how knowledge is transmitted are important motifs in the novel, but I often felt frustrated as a reader trying to piece the puzzle together and having always to figure out how much time had passed and what had happened in the gaps between chapters. When the climax to the story comes, it’s fast and disjointed in a way that makes it hard to follow with a cryptic epilogue. I do recommend this book for people who like post-apocalyptic science fiction, particularly of the hard sci-fi variety, but it will be quite a challenging read.
Reviewed for The Masquerade Crew, Score of 3.0 out of 5.0 on the Masq Scale....more
A good short story anthology can be difficult to find, even if it has an intriguing theme. Individual styles can clash and make the anthology disjointA good short story anthology can be difficult to find, even if it has an intriguing theme. Individual styles can clash and make the anthology disjointed or they can mesh to much and leave the reader with a feeling of samey tales that start to feel dull and boring. Through a Tangled Wood is more than good, though. It is something truly special. A collection of fairy tale retellings, the anthology transports these stories to post-apocalyptic, alien, and dystopian fictional universes. Jamie Campbell, Katie French, Ariele Sieling, Sarah Dalton, Marijon Braden, H.S. Stone and Zoe Cannon all do a superb job with their fairy tale retellings. Some of the fictional universes they created are so fleshed out I wanted to read more and see what else could be done with such a richly textured environment. These stories did what they needed to do in hitting or subverting all the high notes of the fairy tale but did not overstay their welcome. Most left me wanting more, with moods and settings that ranged from bleak to comical, all while retaining an undercurrent of dread.
My favorites of the anthology were definitely Katie French's “Plan B,” Zoe Cannon's “Flight,” and Sarah Dalton's “I Am the Maid.” All three definitely show tis anthology and the concept of fairy tale retellings at their best. “Plan B” spins an almost unrecognizably suspenseful tale that transports sleeping beauty to a despair-filled and mysterious dystopia. “Flight” takes beauty and the beast and changes both lead characters into rebellious youth craving to be mages in a high fantasy setting. “I Am the Maid,” puts Robin Hood in a zombie apocalypse and changes him into a sidekick, making Maid Marian into a cunning and lethal hero in the process.
By keeping the number of stories down, the anthology feels short and brief but also lets each of the individual stories stretch out a bit when needed. Given the diversity of authors and story types, Through a Tangled Wood always left me wondering what would happen next and what creative twists would be applied to these well known tales. It never disappointed. ...more
The beginning of Miracle Man feels very compelling. As we learn about the mysterious origins of the main character and child prodigy Robert Austin, thThe beginning of Miracle Man feels very compelling. As we learn about the mysterious origins of the main character and child prodigy Robert Austin, there seems to be no limit to his phenomenal intelligence. Shadowy bureaucracies begin to try to shape his destiny, and it seems clear that his supreme intellect has downsides that plague Bobby with terrible nightmares and unsettling trances. These sections hook the reader, and ask lots of big questions about how our society and the world would react to a genius of its kind. More compellingly, it wonders how many geniuses we may have missed out on because they were not given opportunities or were written off as having mental health issues. Bobby’s loss of many supportive figures in his life is also poignant, and creates good obstacles that shape Bobby’s character. The inner conflicts within Bobby as he struggles with his psychological problems, the burdens and responsibility of his intellect, and the illusive balance he seeks in his life, also raise many interesting questions.
Overall, this book is clearly worth a read as it does create a sort of cerebral superhero in Bobby, complete with a lot of intriguing socio-economic ideas as good science fiction/fantasy often does. It also has a refreshing sense of cautious optimism in believing that someone with the intelligence of Bobby could change the world in the way he goes about doing. He even triumphs over a lot of bureaucracies, institutions, and antagonists that would prefer he not succeed. It’s refreshing in many ways because it would be much easier to paint a purely tragic and pessimistic arc for these sorts of ideas, as much fiction usually does.
Still, there were a lot of things that hold this story back. As Bobby progresses towards adulthood the narrative loses some of its steam. Bobby remains a compelling character, a scientist who grapples with his own personal demons as he produces miracle cure after miracle cure, but many of the key characters could use more development. Some of the more interesting scenes are actually when these characters get to interact outside of Bobby’s orbit, but there are precious few of them and the narrative could have benefited from more so that the reader gets a sense of who these people really are.
The story also gets tangled in a lot of red herrings and subplots that don’t pay off too much. The author has important points to make and questions to ask about forces that would be opposed to the radical progress Bobby brings through his scientific breakthroughs, but ultimately does not do much to represent these forces. A contingent of anti-science fanatics targets Bobby, as well as an over-the-top, villanous pharmaceutical executive. These antagonists generate tension and conflict, but do not really amount to much plot-wise until the very end. Bobby’s struggles with himself and living his life prove much more interesting than these subplots, which makes them feel all the more incomplete. There are also a fair number of copy-editing errors that made their way into the final draft that sometimes took me out of the book. All in all, though, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it.
DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Artificial Absolutes attempts no small feat by fusing a cyberpunk thriller and a space opera adventure. Mary Fan larReviewed for the Masquerade Crew.
Artificial Absolutes attempts no small feat by fusing a cyberpunk thriller and a space opera adventure. Mary Fan largely succeeds with this ambitious task, weaving together a compelling thriller with interesting characters that is a good foundation for a series of novels to come.
Artificial Absolutes follows two principal characters, Devin and Jane Colt. They work corporate jobs in the family business, a powerful outfit called Quasar on a sophisticated and developed Inner Core planet. Neither of them have great love for their jobs, and both labor under the thumb of their overbearing father Victor Colt. Devin has a shady and possibly blood-soaked past, the prodigal son who turned his life around to burn what's left of it as a soulless executive. Nursing guilt for past misdeeds, Devin tries his hardest to be the “good son.” Jane dreamed of being a musician and a composer, but after those dreams eluded her she surrendered to the expectations of her family and took a job as a low-level drone. She craves something unpredictable, anything to break up the monotony of her existence.
The action starts when Devin goes to propose to his pop-star fiancee and she freezes, literally. Wondering what's going on with her, he launches an investigation into her past and uses his underworld connections to find out more. At the same time, Jane's close friend Adam is kidnapped right before her eyes. She narrowly escapes, wondering what could have happened to him and what the motive could be for snatching a poor seminary student of the futuristic religion known as Via. Soon a conspiracy becomes apparent as records are faked, evidence disappears, and technology turns against them. Framed for multiple crimes he didn't commit, Devin becomes a fugitive as his investigation starts to uncover troubling details about his fiancee. Jane forces herself along for the ride.
Evading warships, hiding out in seedy space stations, and visiting planets ravaged by lawless civil war, the Colt siblings realize that they face a malevolent and dangerous force that all the hackers are calling No Name. As No Name is a villain that can manipulate any technology and bend all the information in the galaxy's Networld against them, the Colts are outgunned and running for their lives. The plot turns and twists as more and more layers come off of the conspiracy behind No Name make Artificial Absolutes reminiscent of classic techno-thrillers in the grand cyberpunk tradition. The Colts' galaxy-trotting adventures also bring some space opera flavor to it all, but some of these locales are far more fleshed out and detailed than others. In any case, the plot is an intriguing and exciting one. Even if some of the twists are a bit predictable, others come right out of left field. The actions of the Colts and their allies manage to outmaneuver No Name and how No Name manages to strike back in devious ways gives the story a lot of momentum as the conspiracy begins to come into focus.
The Colts themselves are also well fleshed-out characters. Both are given journeys, but very different interior ones. Jane gets the wild adventure she's always wanted and more, and goes from being merely a brash tagalong to a resourceful adventurer in her own right. Devin manages to face and conquer some of his past troubles and guilt, emerging on the other side as someone who finds himself after all he has faced and suffered through. This novel is an excellent starting point for both and I look forward to seeing where the author will take the characters next after this introduction.
The novel does have some issues, though, and they are intertwined. The author has a tendency to unfurl a character's entire backstory right upon introducing them. This makes the first few chapters of the book exceptionally difficult, as it feels like all backstory and exposition and can make the reader feel overwhelmed or bogged down. This continues to happen at a few select points throughout the book, as certain key enemies and allies alike of the Colts are given this sort of treatment. While some of this is unavoidable, Mary Fan is actually quite skilled at providing interesting details and implications about the characters' lives through their actions and dialogue so much of this exposition seems unnecessary. Further, it often derails the pacing and suspense of the plot by diving into flashbacks at crucial moments when so much is going on in the story. This never really becomes a major flaw, but the novel could have benefited with some streamlining and from Fan simply relying on her skillful deployment of dialogue, character interaction, and implication to get the job done.
I recommend Artificial Absolutes to anyone that likes a good cyberpunk or adventure story, as it really works as either. It has solid characters and a fine-tuned plot that will keep the pages turning. ...more
This book is a glorious mess. I mean that in a good way, mostly. I definitely enjoyed it, but even Rabin admits that the book he set out to write whenThis book is a glorious mess. I mean that in a good way, mostly. I definitely enjoyed it, but even Rabin admits that the book he set out to write when he embarked upon this deceptively complex project is not what he ended up creating.
Part ethnography, part musical criticism, and part gonzo journalism in the Hunter S. Thompson mode, the pieces that Rabin has grafted together don't necessarily fit. That tension, though, gives the narrative a weird energy. His anecdotes and reflections from following Phish around for a few weeks, attending two Gatherings of the Juggalos, and sinking into a drug-fueled quasi-breakdown are hilarious, depressing, and cathartic at the same time.
I picked up this book for a few reasons. I have long enjoyed Rabin's extensive work for The Onion's AV Club. His "My Year of Flops" series was a revelation of sorts. I won't lie, I was also Phish fan back in my teenage years (the late 90s) around the same time a lot of people in my high school were very into ICP. I went to a couple of Phish shows and only understood the layers on a surface level. Given that Rabin's journey takes place mostly in 2010 and after, it's a different time for both scenes than when I was familiar with them but that only piqued my interest.
Obviously fans of both Phish and ICP can find plenty in Rabin's account to be upset about, especially his obsession with the drug aspects of both subcultures, but he becomes more sympathetic as he learns more about both groups and becomes a fan himself. That his sanity, relationship, career, and finances come under siege as a result also offer an interesting source of inner tension. It's unfortunate that so much of the book is comprised of lengthy drug stories. While some of the stories are great, the sheer number of them and the number of pages Rabin dedicates to them seem like overkill. Rabin also spends more time in his head cataloging his thoughts and reflections while giving mere tastes of the surreal spectacles happening around him. That was the sort of account I hoped to find in this book and it was sparse.
I certainly wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. It is, after all, a heady critic's journey through two disparaged/reviled subcultures as while having a deep, personal crisis. If that doesn't sound like your thing, then don't proceed further. That said, if you like any of Nathan Rabin's other writing or you're feeling morbidly curious about what fans of these groups must be like, then it's definitely worth a read. I approached this rambling story with that curiosity, and I walked away feeling more or less satisfied. ...more
I've enjoyed Aisha Tyler's many works (the olden days of Talk Soup, Girl on Guy podcast, Archer, etc.) and this one is no exception. Tyler has escheweI've enjoyed Aisha Tyler's many works (the olden days of Talk Soup, Girl on Guy podcast, Archer, etc.) and this one is no exception. Tyler has eschewed the structure of standard celebrity memoirs and, instead of telling us all about the key milestones in her life, has told the structure of her life and career via her greatest humiliations. Even more so, she has provided a personal takeaway or lesson from each one. Some of these lessons contradict each other if you think about it too much, but this isn't the sort of book to devote too much mental real estate to. Tyler's storytelling skills are are sharp and her capacity for self-awareness great. She writes very closely to how she speaks, but with a touch more focus. The end result is a fusion of memoir, self-help, and general comedy that is very entertaining. If anyone doesn't remember similar episodes in their life when reading about Aisha's greatest failures, well, you lived a very different life than most of us. ...more
I've always been a fan of x-books, but I haven't made a serious attempt to read them (or most comic books) since high school. Image Comics changed thoI've always been a fan of x-books, but I haven't made a serious attempt to read them (or most comic books) since high school. Image Comics changed those habits, but also got me wondering what was up with all my old favorites, so I looked into the Marvel Now books and then this. They have been up to quite a lot, it seems! I only vaguely knew the lore leading up to this, and the prologue caught me up well enough even if there were scads of characters I had absolutely zero knowledge of. That said, this book captures a substantial crossover event that "kills" off a significant number of beloved X-book characters and features a blood-soaked tale full of conflict, drama, and real enemies that made the whole saga fairly gripping. Fraction shows that he can continue to breathe life and depth to these characters, giving the action weight and the characters' struggles and deaths meaning while putting a great bastard of a big bad, Bastion, in play in a way that makes the situation seem truly hopeless at several points.