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12 March 2011 @ 04:50 pm
Whole bunch of books read over the last 11 or so days. Mini-reviews partly coz if I leave it till I've the inclination to write a post-per-book then it'll never happen ;)

"Chill" & "Grail" by Elizabeth Bear (books 8 & 9). Managed to time it just right so I finished "Chill" the day before "Grail" came through the door. These are the sequels to "Dust" - "Chill" happens pretty much immediately afterwards, and gives more of the back story as well as dealing with where next now the generation ship is back on the move. "Grail" is set once they reach their destination - and discover it's inhabited by people who left Earth after them (and to whom they're now legend, in the same category as the Flying Dutchman in our culture). So "first contact" plus culture clash - neither of which I'd like to live in, but nicely done in that the new one is superficially more like our culture so we can see both sides of the culture clash as "familiar". Lots to think about & get your teeth into - the big one that springs to mind is things about identity, people whose memories/personalities are in new bodies are the person of the mind not the person whose body it was, and set against that Tristan (who has continuity of experience plus is still in the same body) whose time locked up in the dark has changed him so he's not the man he was neither to himself nor to others. And the "rightminding" tech/concept of the non-ship people gives me the creeps, but would the ends (a generally more peaceful, more rational, more sane and well adjusted society) justify the means (screwing with people's mental state to make them fit societal norms and to make them easier for society to deal with). Why do I have knee-jerk horrors about that, is that like their knee-jerk horror about physical/genetic manipulation?

"The Dragon Factory" by Jonathan Maberry (book 10). This is the sequel to "Patient Zero" that I read last year - same hero (Joe Ledger) who this time instead of fighting against terrorist zombie attacks is fighting against Nazi inspired/directed genetic disease attacks. Gloriously over-the-top thriller, not particularly plausible but I don't think it's supposed to be - it's modern Bond type story with super-villans that want to take over the world muahahahaha!

"Third Strike" by Zoë Sharp (book 11). Thriller at the more plausible end of the spectrum, story is mostly tightly focused & personal with government backed conspiracies to be stumbled into rather than the secret bases and grand teams of minons of the Maberry. This is several books into the Charlie Fox series, and characterwise you might not get all the impact of various bits without having read the rest (and it'll spoil the character storylines from earlier books if you read them out of order). Still enjoyed it, but the character-arc twist/setup for next book at the end somehow left me not being particularly enthusiastic for the next one. I guess I just wish Charlie's personal life could take a distinct step forwards, and this seems to have moved us one step forward over the book and two steps back by the ending.

"Hell & Earth" by Elizabeth Bear (book 12). Second half of the second duology in the Promethean Age books, this was part of 09's xmas pressie that only turned up last month. This duology is fae in Elizabethan England - with the protagonists being Will Shakespeare & Christopher Marlowe - the other one is modern day US. Of course, now I need to re-read the first two books ("Blood & Iron" and "Whiskey & Water") to see how knowing how the history turned out changes how you see the modern day era story playing out. And coz of my long pause between reading the other 3 and this one I suspect I missed quite a bit in this one while feeling my way back into the story. Love the Elizabethan feel to the prose and storyline - Bear details in the afterword several bits of historical accuracy sacrificed for storytelling, but the flavour is right :)

"Dying Bites" by D. D. Barant (book 13). Good idea for a different take on the current Urban Fantasy genre, but I felt it was let down by sloppy world building. Our heroine (brittle and somewhat screwed up but kickass and competant, as seems to be the norm for this genre) is transported by magic from our world to a parallel world where only 1% of the population are true human, the rest are vampire, werewolves and golems - so that she can hunt a true-human serial killer for them. I liked the way that this meant there was no need to explain how come there were these beasties & no-one had noticed till modern times, and the way that it meant the protagonist had to deal with culture shock on top of everything else. And I liked the dilemma it put her in with her loyalties torn between catching a killer (whose capture would also let her go home), and sympathising with his political stance. But I felt the author's desire to explain how this world had ended up like but not like ours lead Barant to give too much detail that undermined any credibility and completely snapped my suspension of disbelief. (Hard to do, I'll handwave a lot!) Barant has a character explain how the divergence point was in the 1100s, and gradually vampires infiltrated the aristocracy and the werewolves infiltrated the Catholic hierarchy. The non-human races survived the Black Death better than the true humans and that was the start of human decline (although it took centuries to reach that 1% mark). So far, so good. My problem was that everything seemed to've played out the same way even tho there were immortal vampires in all the high-ranking families - there was a Stalin, a WW1, a WW2. The US seems to have developed in much the same way - there's a Seattle, they go to Anchorage which is that sort of Alaskan wild frontier stereotype. Japanese culture seems like the same. And I just don't buy it. Having an immortal ruler is going to dramatically change a country's history, not just have all the same events but "oh btw he was a vamp" or "oh btw he was a 'wolf". Not going to bother with more of this series.
Calico Reactioncalico_reaction on March 15th, 2011 04:29 pm (UTC)
So do you feel the Jacob's Ladder trilogy is worth completing?

EDIT: also, good to see a reliable review on the Barant. I'd heard about the premise and was fascinated, but read the first few pages and was decidedly NOT fascinated, and it seems not going for this is the right choice.

Edited at 2011-03-15 04:31 pm (UTC)
Margaretpling on March 15th, 2011 05:47 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, I definitely think it's worth completing - and they're books I'll read again, too :) I've just gone back to re-read the rating section of your review of "Dust" - I think you'll like the other two in the same sort of way. I will say tho, that there's a certain level of "huh, you what now?" to the ending of all three books, it fits and it's right for the story but it's not what you expect. Even if you end up not as keen on "Chill" I'd say it's worth carrying on to read "Grail" for the look at this society from the outside, how alien they feel when you see them through the eyes of outsiders who're superficially more like us.

Re the Barant - after I wrote that micro-review I wondered if I'd been too harsh. There were things that were well done - like this is a world without guns and the protagonist keeps running into phrases that just don't make sense to the people she's working with ("cannon fodder" for instance). And I did like the golem character, who had great snarky one-liners. But, I think what it boils down to was that if it had been a better book overall I wouldn't've had so much of a problem with the world building, but the rest of it was fairly average and couldn't overcome my reaction of "but that can't be how it would work out".
Calico Reactioncalico_reaction on March 15th, 2011 10:35 pm (UTC)
I know when I read the sample, I was very unimpressed with the narrative voice. It just didn't click with me, and I realized I couldn't read an entire book of that voice no matter how much I liked the premise.
Margaretpling on March 16th, 2011 09:09 am (UTC)
Mmm, I think I see why the protagonist had to be so prickly/brittle/hostile - because if she'd seemed the sort of person to have strong ties to home then the story would've had to deal with that in some way. Didn't really make me like her more tho - I suspect if I'd not read this in a single sitting then I might not've picked it back up the following day (if that makes sense).

It's kinda frustrating - I think it wouldn't take many changes to turn this into a book I liked and it seems such a waste of a good premise for it to be a book that doesn't work for me! :) I guess I'd give a book from another series by the same author a try, but just no more in this one.
Calico Reactioncalico_reaction on March 16th, 2011 09:41 pm (UTC)
It's hard to describe what I mean, actually... it was the writing style, not the protag, that turned me off of the sample. I'm all for simple, straight-forward storytelling, but this particular one struck me as too generic. Does that make sense?
Margaretpling on March 17th, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
Ah, I see what you mean - I think I've said before in a different context that I rarely notice the prose style while I'm reading, particularly not if I'm reading fast :)