Book Reviews, January 2012

I spent most of this month reading Liaden Universe books, but those’re getting a post of their own.

Books other than Liaden ones which were read by me in January, 2012. My rating system is explained here.

The Crown Jewels and House of Shards by Walter Jon Williams.  ☼☼☼☼.  There are actually three books in the series, but I got the omnibus through interlibrary loan and was forced to return it before I got to the last one.  The Maijstral books are funny.  Maybe not laugh-out-loud funny, but in the very least off-beat-funny (the title of TCJ takes on new meaning when you find out what the conflict is really about, haha).  They are set far into the future, after humanity has been conquered by and then achieved autonomy from a gigantic alien empire.  However, like any properly conquered group, they’ve assimilated quite a lot of the conquerors’ culture, and aren’t quite sure what sort of customs and traditions would be properly human.  The conquerors have also assimilated bits of human culture, though they did it rather haphazardly which leads to wonderful exchanges like this:

      Nichole: Can you come at sixteen?  I have to witness an Elvis impersonation at eighteen, and you can be my escort.

Maijstral: I’ll dress formally, then.

Maijstral, by the way, is an Allowed Thief, which means that he can get away with stealing as long as he does it with style and within an explicit set of rules.  There are thief rankings, and the thieves record their exploits and sell the media rights.  It was all quite entertaining.

After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn.  ☼☼☼☼.  I liked this book.  It was a comfortable, easy read.  Vaughn works within the familiar confines of the less weird superhero stories (if you aren’t well acquainted with how supremely weird comic books can get, you’ll still be fine).  The main character is the squib daughter of Commerce City’s two first superpowered superheroes.  As a result, she spends a good portion of the book as Celia, the girl hostage.  I tried to feel bothered by this, but couldn’t manage it.  I’d accepted that this book was created to exist comfortably within the tropes and restrictions of superhero comic books.  As such, I was willing to overlook the occasional, “He’s pure evil.  How could you have sided with him?  You’re not the person I thought you were!” followed by a melodramatic flight from the room.  That’s just the sort of thing that comes with the territory.

The romance bit was nice, too.

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall.  ☼☼☼☼.  Wikipedia says the title is a play on the phrase Rorschach Tests, which makes me love it even more.  Most of the book was truly and wonderfully bizarre.  It starts out with the increasingly clichéd set-up, a man wakes up with no memories, but that is not so much a plot device as a side effect of the plot.  What I mean is, there are stories which use memory loss to propel their main character to go to new places and meet new people.  There are stories which use memory loss to simplify and chop up a complicated mystery into bite sized pieces.  And then there is The Raw Shark Texts, which uses memory loss as a sort of re-do, or rewind.  We recover bits and pieces of the First Eric Sanderson’s life and goals while the Second Eric Sanderson is constructed and flounders and struggles and grows before our eyes.  The memory loss, the fact of the memory loss, was the least fantastical part of the book.

I have only two problems with the book.  One, the ending was too happily-ever-after.  I can’t stomach a happily-ever-after from a book which was, otherwise, so complicated.  Second, did Eric ever have a cat called Gavin?  I don’t understand why Clio would have lied about that.

Favorite quotation;

“There are two types of people in the world, Eric.  There are the people who understand instinctively that the story of The Flood and the story of The Tower of Babel are the same thing, and those who don’t.”

Tangent Time!

On a related note, I love that quotation partially because it’s the sort of thing which makes perfect and beautiful sense within the confines and axioms and postulates of the Raw Shark universe, but which loses its impact when released into the wider world.  It is perfectly evolved to exist in the Raw Shark niche, and I imagine that, by putting it here and divorcing it from its proper context, a bit of meaning flakes off and withers every time someone reads it.

Discord’s Apple, by Carrie Vaughn.  ☼☼☼.  I read this because I liked After the Golden Age, but it wasn’t as good.  It’s an apocalypse-with-gods sort of book.  Evie writes comic books about a military squad.  This isn’t too surprising, as the world she lives in is wracked with war.  Her mother was killed by an attack from a suicide bomber.  It’s impossible to travel through small towns (let alone major cities) without running into checkpoints to search your car for weapons and explosives.  Evie becomes intimately caught up in the apocalypse-with-gods when she visits her dying father and learns (rather unwillingly) of her family legacy.  I had two major problems with this book.  Well, one major, one minor.  The minor problem is that the romance bit felt forced.  The major problem has a few parts: A) if this is the apocalypse-with-gods, where are all the gods? (There’s really only one god, plus several magical or mythological people.  Don’t expect me to assume they all died.  The fate of the Greek pantheon is the only one truly discussed) and B) was the apocalypse supposed to succeed?  By which I mean, why the hell were a couple people from Arthurian legend called back up if they weren’t actually supposed to accomplish something?  Who or what is responsible for resurrecting them, anyway?  If the gods are dead or weak, who’s left pulling these strings?  The plot didn’t make much sense to me.  If the other bits are sufficiently good, I can overlook that failing.  In this case, they weren’t.

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