So far, the Sandman Slim books have been non-stop, rollicking fun. Our (anti)hero, Stark, just wants to be left alone and he'll kill anything that get...moreSo far, the Sandman Slim books have been non-stop, rollicking fun. Our (anti)hero, Stark, just wants to be left alone and he'll kill anything that gets in the way of that, which keeps him picking up strays to care for and responsibilities to maintain at a disturbing rate. As of this short story, listed as volume "3.5" in the books, he's taken over the title of Lucifer and trying to keep hell from boiling over into rebellions that could affect the mortal world. After all, the mortal world is where he keeps his stuff. And his favorite bar. And the vampire-thing he's kind of dating. And the video rental store he stole.
You see how it is. A short story about him proving he's as tough as they say would come in handy right about now.
But it's barely a three-out-of-five, sadly, for two reasons.
First, setup isn't strong. It isn't clear if the story is intended to be only for readers familiar with book 3, but there are too many throwaway characters and too many lines explaining what someone who's read along so far already knows and somone jumping in at this story probably won't understand anyway.
The action is fine (and actually understated, for the series), and we get some great bits from Stark about why he's immune to the various psychological harrassment that does in the Hellions around him, but the mythology behind it, and the motivation for him to be involved at all, aren't handled as well as we know Kadrey can do in a longer form. It feels like the various mythology sections of book 3 pared down to a few dozen lines, which just doesn't work well.
But it's the second flaw that really hurts the story: It just doesn't matter. I mean, it really doesn't matter. At the end of the story, it might as well not have happened. We get some fun along the way, but it has one of those auctorial cop-outs that make a story basically a writing exercise. Story, but no plot.
It is possible, of course, that Kadrey intends to reference this story somewhere later, and it's possible that the cop-out is an important plot element. I hope so. It would be great. But even then, there would be ways to write the story (or maybe times to release the story) that wouldn't leave the reader feeling as cheated.
If you read the series, and if you're continuing after book 3, go ahead and spend the $0.99 to get this and enjoy it. But try to have the next book handy for when you realize it wasn't what you wanted.(less)
If you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fi...moreIf you're not in on the joke, you'll find And Your Point Is? a bit of a strange read.
It's a collection of 15 essays critiquing the work of science fiction author Jeff Lint. His stories confounded conventional plot structure and his heroes confounded logic, reason, and etiquette. Several essays compare and contrast him to Kafka, two discuss how his plays and musicals really get the audience involved (one requires setting the theater on fire, another releases live scorpions into the seats, etc.), and many try to explain and dissect his characters' ability--or even compulsion--to commit social non sequitors when confronted with adversity.
Lint was a direct successor to Voltaire, Kafka, Sheckley, Lem, and Juster, propelled from their platform so far into the stratosphere most readers could not see where he was, much less where he was going.
Lint was also completely fictional. He first appeared a couple of years ago in Lint, Aylett's biography of the character. Lint let Aylett's present his "new fabulist" writing philosophy, connect (and appropriate) a wide history of science fiction's more colorful characters (Dick, Ellison, Campbell...) and legends, and entertain us as only Aylett can. Aylett's characters are Lint's characters writ small; putting the most irascible one in the real world gave him all sorts of ways to play.
So this collection of 15 essays with 11 names attached are all by Aylett and they review and analyze fictional stories written in a fictional context by a fictional author. They even cross-reference one another and draw differing conclusions. (Very Stanislau Lem-like)
So... now that I'm in on the joke, is the book fun?
As if you have to ask. Aylett takes literary criticism and makes it laugh-out-loud, stop to write down a quote, SMS-a-line-to-your-friend funny. And you come to know the characters and stories, since even when the characters have different names and appear in different books they are similar enough to see how the "author" works and thinks. Lint isn't the real protagonist of the story behind these essays, Lint's writing is. The abstract story of the world-view expressed by a fictional author--and how it changes over time--might as well appear with essays as its supporting case. They do what secondary characters do in a more traditional story: they give the protagonist a chance to speak, they ask the hard questions, and they wonder at the protagonists' brilliance.
If you like Aylett's more outré books (such as the Accomplice novels), you'll appreciate how And Your Point Is? gives Aylett a chance to dissect his protagonists (say, Barney Juno); if you're a fan of his more accessible work (such as Fain the Sorcerer), you'll see what is just beyond; if you haven't ever read Aylett, you'll get a chance to experience his words, his sentences, and his writing (all three separate entities, trust me) for the first time.
I've always been a fan of the "fictional nonfiction," when well done. Aylett handles it beautifully.
My overall rating (3) is for the book as a concept and based on the two (of four) stories I've read. This is a theme collection for stories set in mod...moreMy overall rating (3) is for the book as a concept and based on the two (of four) stories I've read. This is a theme collection for stories set in modern fantasy series and I don't read the other two series, so jumping in with these stories seems unwise.
I'm not sure I'll ever get around to reading the other two stories, so here are comments on the two I did read, Two Ghosts for Sister Rachel by Kim Harrison (in the Hollows series) and The Harvest by Viki Pettersson (in the Signs of the Zodiac series, or whatever it's called).
The Kim Harrison is why I was loaned this book (and why I'll buy my own copy). I love the series and I'm always happy to see more of it and a Halloween ghost story fits in well with the Hollows setting.
Like the short in Dates from Hell, this takes us back before Dead Witch Walking and shows us how Rachel joined the I.S. Rachel and her brother Robbie wind up escorting a 140-years-dead ghost across town chasing a powerful vampire while Rachel tries to convince Robbie to sign papers for her to join the I.S. and do this kind of thing for a living. It's a fun story and the background it gives us on Rachel's family is especially interesting since the recent books are including more and more of Rachel's mother. I'd probably give this story alone a 4.
I have a love/hate relationship with Vicki Pettersson's Zodiac series. I think they have definite potential and the second book was so much better than the first that I'm glad to read more, but I didn't expect much from the short story. I was wrong. Maybe Pettersson is a better short writer than novelist or maybe this is another sign of the series and the author growing.
This story also gives us a family-oriented flashback. We go to before the first book (Scent of Shadows) to see Joanne's mother, Zoe. Zoe is a fabulous character in abstentia in the books: she abandoned Joanne at the most vulnerable time in her life, she's considered a traitor by some of the "heroes," and she fascinates, repulses, and attracts the villains in equal parts. But since she's gone, we don't get to see her directly (making her all the more interesting).
Fortunately, The Harvest doesn't ruin Zoe's mystique. We follow Zoe working to keep Joanne's daughter alive and safe from the Shadows. Along the way we get some good interaction between Zoe and Warren, showing once again how much the agents of Light are just as arrogant and evil as the Shadow agents, but also giving some context to his abuse of Joanne. It's a good story and it's well-told. I'd give it a solid 3, maybe a 3+.
The theme of the anthology, setting the stories on various holidays, works well. It ensures that each story has some cultural backdrop to draw from. Pettersson uses tradition to set up the context (we get a discussion of the origins and meanings of the cornucopia, for example) while the meaning of Halloween in Harrison is idiosyncratic to the series, but both work well. These theme anthologies for this "group" of authors (probably inspired by the Legends series) is working out quite well.(less)
If you haven't read any of Steven Saylor's novels about Gordianus the Finder, these short stories would be an uneven introduction. Go read one of the...moreIf you haven't read any of Steven Saylor's novels about Gordianus the Finder, these short stories would be an uneven introduction. Go read one of the other books first. Or get someone to pick the stories that will be most appealing and rely least on knowing the characters already.
If you are already a fan of Gordianus, these stories are loads of fun. They are more in the "old detectives reminiscing about cases" tradition than the novels are, which might put some people off. Several stories are told by Gordianus to his friend Lucius Claudius (who figures into several of the books in odd ways) and includes a nice tale of Gordianus' life in Egypt before he met Bethesda and one is told by Bethesda to Gordianus, even.
But the most important is the last one: The House of the Vestals. We have been teased with this story through book after book--how did Claudi come to be charged with despoiling a vestal virgin, how did he escape the charge, and what did Gordianus have to do with it? This story reveals what happened, at least from the things Gordianus knows or can suspect.
Even leaving as much left unanswered as you would expect it to, it's worth the price of the book along.
Of course, as with all Roma Sub Rosa books there is an afterward with historical information, references, and explanations of what liberties have been takes with people, places, and myths. These are a large part of the fun of the books.
For the stories themselves, I'd give 3 stars, but for the impact that the story of the vestal virgin has on the series and the interesting questions it leaves open, I have to bump this up to 4.(less)
Overall, I'm giving Many Bloody Returns three stars, but that's for the general quality of the three stories I read, the value of the theme, and the c...moreOverall, I'm giving Many Bloody Returns three stars, but that's for the general quality of the three stories I read, the value of the theme, and the collection of popular authors. Since all of these stories seem to be set in continuing series, I only read the ones for series I read, since these are unlikely to be good introductions.
Reviews of the stories themselves:
Charlain Harris contributes a rather mediocre Sookie Stackhouse story set on Dracula's Birthday. The story is passable, but it revolves around characters (Sookie and Eric) acting out of character and ends with a contrived and predictable "quirk" (like a poor imitation of Tales from the Darkside, itself a poor imitation of The Twilight Zone). The story is fun enough, but if you're not a Sookie fan already please don't judge the series by it.
The story itself involves Eric slavering to throw a birthday party so sincere that the great pumpkin, or at least Dracula himself, will attend. The action is the predictable is-he-or-isn't-he game of whether Drac is present. You get two guesses and the first two don't count.
Jim Butcher's Dresden Files story is much better, at least because it brings the action and the humor. It should work passably if you haven't read the series, but it's far from a perfect introduction.
Harry Dresden, our wizard hero is trying to deliver a birthday present to his half-brother Thomas, a vampire, and they fall into the usual sort of shenanigans that dog both of them. Along the way, we learn what Thomas is doing for work these days (shortly before his work in the last two books) and uncover a hilarious secret about Thomas' recreation. The secret leads to a large number of innocents for the pair (well, the three, since Molly, Harry's apprentice, is also present) to save.
The action is fun, with chases, hunts, magic, fight scenes, Harry's trademark "I only have to plan ahead 1 or 2 minutes" trickery, and a wonderful bit with an old client of his. The only serious fault is Harry repeatedly using a trick (involving manipulating gravity) that is both far overpowered for his usual magical technique and which never appears again in the two books set after the story; it feels like a plot device from the moment it's introduced. On the plus side, we get some nice brotherly interaction that reminds us how much the two mean to one another. It could actually choke you up a bit. Not that it did that to me, of course. Honest.
I started Rachel Caine's "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" thinking it was a Weather Warden story. Instead, it turned out to be a good, short piece set in her Morganville Vampires universe. I had never heard of this series (it's shelved as YA) and the story is a very nice introduction to one of the secondary characters (and a recurring and amusing minor character as well). Not a lot happens in the story, but the effects are profound for the protagonist.
The story flashes back to Eve's 18th birthday, when she had to decide whether to sign with a vampire or risk being independent. It's a hard choice and the kids taking her out for some fun are torn between their bravado that they'll go it alone and the reality that they won't. Eve is different, of course, and the events of the night lead directly to her decision and her arrival at the Glass House.
It was a great introduction that got me to read the first three books in the series (and eagerly await the fourth).
The book has six more stories, but I can't say anything about them until/unless I try out their series (if they have one) and give them a look.(less)