igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
I'm being haunted by the memory of a pre-war novel I flicked through in a station waiting room on holiday a couple of weeks ago: I skim-read it pretty rapidly (exceedingly rapidly towards the end, partly because I was in a state of shock and partly because I was severely running out of time) and I don't remember in the least what it was called or who the author might have been. And I don't imagine there's another extant copy in the country, so I'm never likely to encounter it again...

Apparently it was the last volume in a trilogy (yes, they had them back then) and in the previous two books the heroine had progressed from being a 'fallen woman' out to ensnare a rich elderly husband to falling genuinely in love with his son and eloping with the young man. And they conduct a sort of tentative courtship during their honeymoon (which begins with her being horribly seasick for days on the trip up to Scotland on a slow tramp steamer!) while her husband tries to convince her that she is safe and he really does return her love, no matter who she was in the past and no matter what her original intentions towards him were. But all the time there is an unexplained trouble hinted at in the background.

And then just when they seem to have come together and be happy at last, a package arrives in the post from one of her old associates whom she now regards with hatred and fear. Her husband sees this as a sign of reconciliation to their marriage and insists on sending back a friendly letter, but she refuses even to open it. And when she finally does, late at night and some time later, it contains a loaded gun and a note saying 'You know what to do with this'.
Read more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Here's another new "Rivers of London" novel (following "Moon Over Soho" and "Whispers Underground"), and yet again it comes up trumps. One of the things I love about this series is that the protagonist is only an apprentice magician/junior police officer, he hasn't developed mystical supreme powers as prophesied so that only he can save the world, and quite often he needs to resort to more powerful backup: he is only a small cog. I'm not sure if it's my somewhat vague memory of the previous books, but Peter Grant's immediate superior, Nightingale (a wonderful creation as a pre-war gentleman-dilettante practitioner) seems to be taking on an increasingly large role, and there are intriguing hints in this book that he may be 'the Nightingale' rather than this simply being his surname...

"Broken Homes" is a skilful combination of new-planet-of-the-week setting to provide a fresh field of interest (this time round, we explore the intersection between modernist architecture and industrial magic) and continuing story arc, with a completely unexpected and yet believable twist to the latter. Read more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
I was inspired to get out my copy of "A Parcel of Patterns" by Jill Paton Walsh (nowadays better known for writing 'approved continuation' Lord Peter Wimsey novels, which as a DLS fan I've never been able to bring myself to read) after hearing a recent dramatisation on the radio of the story of the Great Plague in the village of Eyam, "A Greater Love". As I had vaguely remembered, the two accounts differ in many ways, especially their treatment of the character of Emmot Sydall and her lover from outside the beleaguered village, Roland Torre. Although I've been to Eyam myself -- I walked through it on a youth-hostelling trip in Derbyshire on my way to Chatsworth -- I don't know any of the real-life history of the plague there beyond the vaguest of common folklore: the money left in vinegar in the hopes of disinfecting it, the outdoor sermons where people could stand far apart from their neighbours in an attempt to avoid infection.

I'm guessing with hindsight that the narrator of "A Parcel of Patterns" is probably fictional, and that she may have taken on parts of the history of the real-life Emmy Sydall. But I have to say that on the whole I suspect that Paton Walsh's version of events is the more accurateRead more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

"The Dispossessed" by Ursula Le Guin -- it must be about twenty years since I last read this, and it was a science fiction classic even in those days. Interestingly, though, it's actually a lot more optimistic than I remember, given its subject matter...

Basically, it's a dual-track story that starts with the protagonist leaving his planet for the first time, told in parallel chapters with his childhood and the events that lead up to his exile; the 'past' story reaches its end and his departure simultaneously with the 'present' story reaching its end and his return, so it's quite a tight technical construction. The subject matter is basically a realistic look at ideas of Utopia: Shevek's impoverished home culture was founded by idealistic anarchists and functions on the basis that there is no law save the good opinion of your neighbours. Half the book examines his disillusionment with this home planet, Anarres -- not with the grinding poverty of its infertile soil, but with the stifling intellectual effect of a culture in which individuality is subsumed into a common identity, and with the human flaws that inevitably manifest in the most theoretically perfect societies -- and the other half recounts the culture shock and eventual disillusionment he experiences on Urras, the ancestral home planet from which his people originally fled, with its fertile fields, non-hidebound competitive research, throwaway economy and (as becomes finally apparent) equal political oppression.Read more... )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Throne of Jade" by Naomi Novik -- this is a sequel to her brilliant "Temeraire" (Hornblower-with-dragons), but I ended up reading the third one in the series first because the library didn't have a copy of this one. I might have to go back and reread "Black Powder War", as a lot of the references in that now make more sense!

Novik does the classic fantasy sequel trick by sending her heroes off to a new location so that she can do a whole new batch of world-building, having spent much of the first book establishing her alternate-history England and the effects of the dragons on its social structure. Here, Temeraire goes to China (he is a Chinese dragon, after all) and we get to see a whole new attitude to dragons, along with some complicated and nuanced politics.

Having more or less found his feet in the Aerial Corps (and had all his social assumptions turned upside down) in the first book, Laurence now has to cope with an entirely different situation and question some more of his beliefs: one of the things that I love about these books is that Will Laurence isn't a modern-day character plonked down for reader identification purposes but is a very recognisable man of his era, and his 'bromance' with his dragon is very much in the vein of uninhibited male friendships of the day -- openly affectionate without a hint of sex in it.

And the reader, who has also taken the world-as-described for granted -- having only seen it through Laurence's eyes -- is also led to revisit everything...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)

"The Boleyn King" by Laura Andersen -- this is, basically, published fan-fiction :-)

Or, at any rate, as alternate history it does what we do: it takes the 'canon' events, postulates a different fork at some crucial moment, and explores the consequences for the 'canon' characters in this resulting new environment, where they are all recognisably the same people but in different positions.

In this version of history, Anne Boleyn carried her son William to term and he now reigns as the seventeen-year-old child king Henry IX under the guidance of the Lord Protector: George Boleyn, Duke of Rochford. Read more... )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
"The Paris Architect" by Charles Belfoure: I picked this up as part of research into Occupied Paris during WW2. It's a first novel written by a professional architect, featuring a protagonist who uses his skills to construct secret hiding-places for Jews -- initially on a cynical level because he is being bribed to do so, but eventually because he becomes emotionally involved.

The 'first novel' bit really shows at the start, unfortunately -- I could practically see the historical research sticking out in lumps, and it felt so stilted that I wondered if I was going to be able to get through the book. The only convincing parts were the architectural aspects. But either the author got better as he went on, or else he managed to draw me into his story regardless, because by the end I was really on edge and caring about what happened to the characters.

(Glancing back over it, I still think there's far too much info-dump in the opening chapters: "You've probably noticed that since May all Jews over the age of six are now required to wear a yellow Star of David...")
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)

Livejournal still making it almost impossible for me to post and completely impossible to edit...)


"A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent"

I first encountered this book mis-shelved under non-fiction at my local charity shop; in fairness, one can see why the staff (who are mostly neither native English-speakers nor scientifically-minded) would have made the mistake! By complete coincidence I was given a copy for Christmas, which has definitely earned a permanent place on my bookshelf, displacing Orson Scott Card in order to do so -- my shelves being long since so full that I operate a one in, one out system.

This is a full-fledged fantasy/alternate history novel, set in a quasi-19th-century social structure in which dragons of all breeds and sizes just happen to be a part of the animal kingdom like any other, from the tiny insect-like 'sparklings' to the wolf-drake that preys on famers' herds and the 'true dragons' only to be found in exotic parts abroad. It's also a story about a girl who wants to become a female scientist in a society where such an ambition is unheard-of; we know from the start that she eventually succeeds, since the entire book is written in the form of a memoir looking back on the follies of youth from the perspective of old age, but the means by which she manages to edge almost sidelong into the kind of studies she craves accords with the conventions and limitations of her world, which is a brave move on the author's part. Read more... )

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)

Non-fiction: "How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if you Ever Want to Get Published".

I picked this up in the library and simply couldn't put it down -- it's basically the insider's guide (written from the commissioning editor's point of view) to all the common issues that send unsolicited manuscripts straight into the slush-pile, but it's also funny enough to make its guidance memorable.

Each issue gets a TV Tropes-style label, e.g. The List of Ingredients substituting for description ("The living room contained a sofa, an armchair and a television set with built-in DVD player on a purpose-built stand. It had two windows, with curtains that were open. It was carpeted"), The Crepuscular Handbag where the author uses words he doesn't properly understand ("Henderson toyed with the onset of Melinda's bikin, ruminating his designs. "Asleep so soon?" he whickered. Of course he was vigilant that this sleep was the due of the unsavoury drug he had slavered in her drink prior to the debarking of his private schooner boat") or The Hothouse Plant who is wildly over-sensitive to every passing event: ("Could you get that?" he called. I trembled at his harsh tone, remembering times when he had only spoken to me in the timbre of love. The phone was blaring, shrieking, jangling my already raw nerves. "Hello! I'm calling from A-1 Rug Cleaners and I have a very special offer--" My heart was seized with bitter cold as I listened to the droning voice. The world had become so cruel, so impersonal. Where was the community? Where was the compassion?")

And despite the title, all too much of the advice is of course relevant to fan-fiction, or to any other amateur writing; it's often a pretty good explanation of *why* things aren't working when you can't quite put your finger on it. I think I've witnessed most of these 200 mistakes emerging on FFnet at one time or another; the problems I recognise from my own writing are lack of description (The Man of Average Height as versus The Joan Rivers Pre-Novel Description) and Men of Inaction ("a wildly disproportionate ratio of inner contemplation to action") plus The Waiting Room, in which "the writer churns out endless scenes establishing background information with no main story in sight"...

Not all of this applies to fan-fiction in the same way that it does to commercial novels, of course (we can be reasonably certain that the audience already knows what our characters look like, for one thing, and we can get away, if we want, with inserting a single vignette into an existing scenario rather than needing to hook the readers into page-turning plot... but by and large the book lists most of the things that go horribly wrong with stories in an entertaining format that doesn't hurt anybody's pride, the examples given being so blatantly contrived.

One reviewer describes it as prime lavatory reading material, which given the pick-up-and-put-down format is certainly true -- provided you *can* put it down, which I couldn't!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/0061357952/

igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
"Ancillary Justice" by Ann Leckie - a NaNoMo book that eventually made it into print and won a slew of science-fiction awards (Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, British Science Fiction Association Award). I picked up a second-hand copy, leafed through and decided it warranted a proper read: this is seriously hard SF, set in the deep future in an alien culture and narrated from the point of view of a starship's artificial intelligence in an android body, but it's also a compelling story of loyalties and revenge, as we gradually find out exactly who (or what) the narrator is, what happened to her, and what she plans to do about it.

And for those who are looking for 'diverse' fiction... the ruling culture of the galactic empire in this universe turn out to be dark-haired and brown-skinned (although this is only very incidentally mentioned, since everyone naturally takes it for granted) and speak a gender-neutral language (which again becomes apparent only through the narrator's struggles to guess the sex of the 'primitives' she meets and to use the correct pronouns for them) which is 'translated' into English by referring to everyone as 'she'. Even though one of the major characters is explicitly defined as biologically male in the first chapter, this simply isn't relevant in the vast majority of situations, so Seivarden is 'she' almost throughout. One of the side-effects of this, of course, is that since everyone has alien names you never really know what sex most of the characters are -- thus accurately representing a culture that genuinely doesn't *care* about the sex of its soldiers (or its bed-partners, apparently).

However, these 'diverse' people aren't necessarily terribly nice, and much of the book revolves around the clash between the narrator's ruling culture and the 'uncivilised' subject peoples who are incomprehensible to her, but, ironically, would probably be easier for the reader to empathise with. It's a very clever double-distancing of the viewpoint to immerse us in what really is an utterly alien universe: where it's considered indecent to go around with bare hands ungloved, but normal procedure to brain-wipe captives from a surrendered planet and reprogram them as android soldiers, for instance.

This is grand-scale space opera in an incredibly detailed setting, the full depth of which is gradually revealed throughout the book. I'm not at all surprised that it won all those awards in 2013: I'm very surprised that I had never heard of it!



Also read the sequel (a third is apparently in the works), "Ancillary Sword". I didn't think this was so outstanding; with this sort of world-building fiction, the problem is that a large portion of the original novel is taken up with detailed backstory and setting description, so there is always the problem of a second story needing to be heavier on plot.

Here the author takes the choice of sending her narrator to spend the entire book in a cut-off star system where the culture is completely different from those we have seen previously, enabling her to do further world-building on a smaller scale and examine conflicts of race/class within a conquered society and the differences between 'ordinary' soldiers and the ancillaries now being phased out. Unlike in the original novel, the underlying plot isn't really resolved, making it clear that the author is now able to count on getting a sequel published: this is very much a middle book, and feels a bit of a detour.
I think the bit I liked best was the little details about the tea sets, actually: it makes sense that this is an etiquette issue that an AI has never previously had to know much about, so it's realistic that she's learning at the same time we are. And it's one of the few elements that go to deepen our knowledge of the Raadchai culture from the original book, rather than the various rather cursory new things being thrown around. (Yes, Slavery and Exploitation is Bad; we know that. It's more interesting when regarded through the reflecting mirror of a society that *doesn't* see such things as undesirable and leaves us to draw the deductions ourselves -- and maybe question them -- rather than having the moral made heavy-handedly.)

I'm not sure this one is quite such 'hard' SF. It certainly doesn't deal with such large themes.

I'm certainly curious to see what the author will do as a finale...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Having enjoyed "Death Comes to Pemberly", I picked up "Murder at Mansfield Park" out of curiosity.

But after reading a couple of chapters plus the blurb I started to get a nasty aroma of Mary-Sue plus canon-character-bashing: it's well written, but what the author is doing here reminded me uncomfortably of fanfic tendencies. I haven't even read "Mansfield Park", but I do know that meek Fanny Price is said to be Jane Austen's least-liked heroine -- and hey presto, we have a new(?) spunky female character arriving at Mansfield Park, winning all hearts, and busily analysing how sly and conniving this supposedly sweet Miss Price really is...

The books turns out not to be a total waste of paper, because the woman evidently does have talent. She can do the period pastiche convincingly, and once she'd actually got the murder under her belt (about halfway through the book) she managed to come up with a reasonably tense detective plot, where everybody seems to have a sufficient motive and you actually care about whether they are guilty or not.

On the other hand, the first half... I had a look at some reviews on Goodreads, and a number of them said they didn't get more than a quarter of the way in; one can see why. I haven't even read "Mansfield Park", and even I could tell that the author was committing horrors upon the original cast -- I actually assumed the heroine was a Mary-Sue self insert, though I gather she's a minor character in the original novel, because of the way she is made to look so incredibly superior to everyone else and admirable in all ways, while the character of Fanny Price is the subject of such bile as I have only witnessed in the mindless 'bashing' of hated characters on FFnet. Everything she does is subjected to authorial snide remarks: every uncontroversial action is reinterpreted as a sign of vile tendencies, and it's so totally unbalanced as to lack all credibility. Coupled with the blurb, which makes it clear that the explicit purpose of the book is to 'bash' what is apparently Austen's least-favourite protagonist, it left me with a lively desire to condemn this novel as the worst of fanfic: even to one unacquainted with the original it's clearly a travesty of wishful thinking. The author is also clearly trying to cash in on both Austen's name and the merited success of "Death at Pemberley" in order to launch her own cash-in on their coattails, citing P.D.James on the cover and vaunting the book as 'what really should have happened' in the original, and the cynical marketing strategy put my back up.

Lynn Shepherd clearly could have written a 'period detective novel' of her own: she has the ability. She chose to indulge the fans' worst instincts instead, presumably in the hopes of attracting sales. It's not a pretty spectacle. (Frankly, the main result was to make me want to read "Mansfield Park" myself to see what the book was supposed to look like, not something I ever had the slightest interest in doing before!)
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I've been re-reading Baroness Orczy: was reading "Eldorado" in the bath last night. Because ours are all the 1950s 'yellowback' editions, I hadn't realised these are actually pre-WW1 novels... quite useful for picking up 'period' tips as to Edwardian morals and mores, in addition to the general historical thriller stuff!

It never occurred to me previously to wonder just how this particular "Scarlet Pimpernel" book got its name, as the title doesn't appear to be relevant to anything that happens in the story... This is the novel in which Marguerite's gentle brother Armand 'goes rogue', attempts to sacrifice himself (against orders) to save a woman's life and finds himself manoeuvred into betraying his leader instead... he really gets out of it amazingly lightly, considering, with most of the repentance having already happened off-screen by the time we actually work out what he has done. But then he is Marguerite's impractical little brother (literally: it's mentioned that she is the taller of the two), which gives him something of a free pass so far as Sir Percy is concerned. A bit ironic, though, given the angst that arose between them in the original "Scarlet Pimpernel" novel when it was Marguerite who was believed to have betrayed a man to his death...

Poor Marguerite really is pretty useless, as usual; I think the only time she ever accomplishes anything useful in these novels is when she is blackmailed into working against her husband instead of trying to rescue him. Every time she tries to help she always ends up getting taken hostage and thereby making matters worse -- as many readers have pointed out, she really doesn't deserve the sobriquet of "the cleverest woman in Europe"! But the big sister/little brother element introduced by having her interact with Armand in this novel adds an extra dimension to the usual gamut of relationships among the cast, even if it would have been much more sensible for her to remain out of France altogether.

Once she has been discovered failing to smuggle material in to her husband, it does seem rather remiss for no-one to suspect that she might also attempt to smuggle material out -- I was expecting her to be asked to commit the vital letters to memory rather than hiding them in her dress. But of course this would make it impossible for Armand's betrayal to be kept from her...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
I finished David Brin's "Glory Season" last night (having stayed up late two nights running).

http://www.davidbrin.com/gloryseason1.html

Certainly excellent value for a doorstop-size SF paperback that I picked up from the bargain box of a second-hand bookshop for 85p: the world-building is fascinating, and the author manages a convincingly alien viewpoint while conveying necessary information (that the narrator takes for granted) to his human readers. And I really liked and cared about the characters... which is why it's so frustrating that *three* times in the course of the plot the protagonist gets close to someone who is then whisked out of her life and effectively never returns despite being constantly mentioned in her thoughts! Read more... )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Flicking through Rafael Sabatini's The Tavern Knight again - and feeling the same as ever I did; poor Kenneth :-( Sabatini, the prince of swashbucklers, has this same constant fault in so many of his books -- that of scorn towards the bookworm, the intellectual, the slender weakling who cannot compete with his bronzed brawling heroes in physical strength and must therefore be despised and ultimately forced into the role of betrayer or scheming villain. To watch an author being so deeply partisan -- as so often, he shows one thing but editorializes it as quite another, with explicit contempt -- is both painful and frustrating: it's bad enough to watch a writer being gratuitously cruel to his characters (for Sabatini has, I suspect, a sadistic streak) but infuriatingly hurtful to have him then tell us that when they react as may be expected it is because they are bad, weak (the two are evidently, to his mind, synonymous) people.

Kenneth Stewart is an idealistic and over-imaginative young man -- a boy of only eighteen -- who has the misfortune to be thrust into the company of a superior officer he finds coarse and dishonest and whose actions even the author characterises as frequently vile: but because the Tavern Knight is cast as the wronged hero of the book, Kenneth's very natural reactions -- his repugnance at his superior's actions, his muted response to Galliard's sudden overtures, his sick horror of hanging, his hurt and jealousy when the girl he loves devotes herself instead to the romantically sardonic stranger, his horror at being tricked into an oath that requires him to assail his hosts and her guardians -- are constantly described as craven, shallow, weak and despicable, and Galliard portrayed as utterly noble to have any sympathy for his plight at all. The poor reader meanwhile is longing to wring the author's neck for his apparent determination to cram his hapless victim into a villain for the benefit of the mechanics of his plot! (Sabatini even has the nerve to write dismissively towards the end of the book that Kenneth "never yet had achieved aught for the cause he served": this of a character who had earlier been credited with saving Charles II from capture after the battle of Worcester...)

This isn't a one-off, either: in almost every book, from "Captain Blood" to "The Sea Hawk", there is a similar 'unmanly' or 'clever' character whom the author sets up as the villain by actions/reactions that often seem arbitrarily decided. It is disconcerting to discover one's own type apparently regarded as the epitome of contemptability by an author whom on the whole one admires! It is perhaps for this reason that I find Sabatini's books preferable in the form of films, where the villains are generally recreated as uncomplicated figures of evil in a hearty mode rather than the envious wimps against whom the author evidently held some deep-seated resentment -- and we are not given to share in their innermost feelings while being instructed from the pulpit to despise them...

My favourite among Sabatini's novels is for this reason a relative obscurity: Bardelys the Magnificent, in which the arrogant, dissolute protagonist does not for once get everything his own way, but learns the lesson of humility in order to attain the woman he loves: there is a moment towards the end when my heart sank in expectation as Bardelys looks set to bludgeon his way scot-free, but for once Sabatini refrains from rigging the plot outrageously in his hero's favour. Bardelys, who learns his lesson and gets his deserts, is in consequence a more attractive protagonist than Crispin Galliard who is Wronged and therefore justified.

One reviewer writes (of the protagonist of the novel "Fortune's Fool") that nothing he does is his own fault and, of the antagonist of "The Gates of Doom", that Lord Pauncefort, though the evillest, is also the cleverest person in this book. It would have been nice to see the characters engaged in a battle of wits..., thus summing up my two of my basic complaints about Sabatini: that his heroes tend to prevail merely by some contrivance of the author's complicity ("This is our hero and you will admire him and be on his side because I say so, and any character who doesn't admire him utterly deserves to suffer"), and that he tends to equate high intelligence with evil -- doubtless one reason why Hollywood took to his works so thoroughly!
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)

Two contrasting books that I picked off the shelves in passing because I recognised the authors' names:

  1. "The Land of Painted Caves", Jean Auel: I had no idea that the last in this series had finally come out - it's been a long time since 1981 and the success of "Clan of the Cave Bear"... Sadly, like the "Harry Potter" books and the Pern novels, it has been a story of diminishing returns in a series that largely depended on describing the minutiae of everyday life in another world. The previous volume, "Shelters of Stone", was a big disappointment even after its predecessor, which failed to live up to the earlier books -- possibly a blessing in disguise as I wasn't expecting too much from this one in consequence.

    It really is pretty bad. Too long, too slow )

    Reviews on Amazon more or less sum it up: it's a tired book that fails to tie up the myriad loose ends of the series, and is hard work to get through, with far too much repetition not only from earlier books but between chapters. I actually found myself sympathising with the 'villains' (well, nothing new there?) -- but their stories too are left unfinished. It's a novel that badly needed an editor at a much earlier stage of writing, both to excise vast hunks and to point out the strands that are left dangling; all in all, it feels like a giant rehash of previous work with the characters reduced to two dimensions.

  2. (I was going to write in contrast about my happy experience with Mary Renault's "The Friendly Young Ladies", but since the browser subsequently crashed and lost everything I had written, I'm afraid my effusions will have to go as read: suffice it to say that this is technically a very much better book despite being an apprentice work, and a much easier read!)
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
I picked this up out of the box of junk books for old times' sake, as I did attempt to track down and read all the 'Star Trek' novels at one point -- weirdly, since I don't believe I'd ever seen any of the TV episodes at that stage! (I did spot a few repeats flying past in the schedules later on and watched some of them, but frankly they really didn't make much of an impression, while the earlier films confused me horribly owing to not having seen the TV: my 'Star Trek' fandom, such as it was, proved to be an almost entirely literary experience, and was just enough to enable me to appreciate "Galaxy Quest" as a spoof as well as the excellent SF story it is in its own right.)

I can only assume that I took up reading 'Star Trek' because at one point these tie-in novels constituted a good half of the somewhat meagre science-fiction offerings at the local library; anyway, I did read them, and actually drew up a list to record which ones I'd tracked down and which hadn't turned up yet† -- complicated by the fact that they apparently renumbered the series at some point, so that Book 17 in one listing might be Book 2 in the original order. I never did get all of them despite peregrinations around various libraries, but I enjoyed most of them well enough as a standalone SF series, and got to know the regular characters quite well. (My favourite was Spock -- of course. But what that unfortunate man had to put up with... not least from some of the authors!)

There were a few ex-library paperbacks in the box, and I picked out "The Entropy Effect" because the blurb sounded the most promising and because I recognised the author, Vonda N. McIntyre: various leading SF novelists either started out writing Star Trek novels or moonlighted in that universe, and I thought she was one of them.

Annoyingly bad, frustratingly good )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
Recommended: "Rivers of London" by Ben Aaronovitch.

He knows his London, he knows his rivers (amused to see the Beverley Brook taking a major role!) and the actual plot -- which has little to do with the title -- is good as well.

With hindsight I'm reminded of Michael Scott Rohan's "Chase the Morning" series, incorporating magic, legend and obscure history (yes, the Macklin 'actors murder' really happened, although I assume the Henry Pyke element didn't...) into a rich seam of imagination with compelling characters, though this one substitutes police procedural for the swashbuckling adventure elements. While I'm no expert, the author appears to know his policing inside out as well!

Very readable: it kept me up until the small hours, although part of that was because I had to give the book back the next morning...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
[Edit to add back the page that fell on the floor before typing and got lost!]


"Bloody Bones" was one Anita Blake book I was specifically looking forward to re-reading; I'd originally devoured it in hectic, compulsive gulps snatched down at three or four different bookshops, nervous all the time that someone might notice I was racing through a single book rather than browsing the stock. I hadn't read it again since, and it had taken me about six months to track down a copy of this volume, so I was really anticipating it.

I remembered this as the book in which Jean-Claude gets to take a major role again; in which Anita holds his hand in the face of approaching dawn and where she allows him to feed on her to save his life, not out of any lust but out of liking and loyalty; the book in which he becomes a person and not merely a monster, and she believes finally that in his fashion he does love her. I remembered admiring the slick use of old legends to provide new -- rather than superpowered -- foes in the shape of fairy magic vulnerable to ordinary bullets but immune to Anita's silver. I remembered crawling for the light with something terrible dragging itself from the coffin behind. I remembered consuming fire.
disappointment )

Interesting features )
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
This is the first book so far of the series to disappoint slightly on re-reading; it doesn't really achieve the grip of the other novels until right at the end, in a nail-biting sequence in which Anita Blake is disarmed and imprisoned in the company of a werewolf who is fighting a losing battle not to eat her...

My problems with the book )

There are good points in the book (the discovery of the naga, for example, is a memorable scene) and the usual supply of action sequences, but on reflection I think the story in this case is probably spread across too many different strands to be entirely effective. And while this is clearly a pivotal novel in terms of Anita's private life, I didn't actually find those sequences terribly engrossing this time round; perhaps knowing the future outcome robs the situation of tension?

All in all, a necessary volume if one is to follow the rest of the series, but a bit of a disappointment relative to its predecessors — I hope this isn't an omen for future re-reading...
igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Horizon)
Before I start writing about this book in particular, I'll briefly mention a fan theory I came across on the Internet which goes a good way towards explaining the change in the emphasis of the 'new' Anita Blake books: it may or may not be correct, but it's worryingly plausible.

Laurell K. Hamilton's private life )




If "Guilty Pleasures" was a terrific first novel, then "The Laughing Corpse" is a brilliantly assured follow-up that improves on the original, both stylistically and in terms of plot. This was the slender volume that I casually picked off the library display, twenty or so years ago, and then couldn't put down; re-reading it now for perhaps the first time since, I'm gripped all over again.

I'd meant to savour it over several nights, but made the mistake of taking it with me into the bath only to find I simply couldn't bear to break off — by the end, I was literally shivering in the cooling water, but I still couldn't stop until I'd made it through the final chapter and laid it at last to rest. Quoted excerpts )


Full review )

As an introduction to Anita Blake, this was a good book to go for. Strictly speaking there are a number of unexplained references to the first volume in the series (perhaps unusually, no attempt is made to 'recap' Nikolaos or the whole business of the vampire marks at all), but I don't remember this bothering me at the time, or when I went on to the next book, while I think "The Laughing Corpse" is actually a better novel than "Guilty Pleasures" had been — not to mention the less suggestive title: I probably wouldn't have picked the former off the shelves in the first place! I would certainly recommend it as a supernatural thriller, the only caveats being the high level of horror and/or gore: using a zombie as a murder weapon precludes anything more subtle than the victims being physically torn apart...


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igenlode: The pirate sloop 'Horizon' from "Treasures of the Indies" (Default)
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