Book Reviews, April 2012

Totally forgot about posting this.  Whoops!

My rating system is explained here.

The Sword of Aldones, Marion Zimmer Bradley. ☼☼. This book was confusing as hell. I never anticipated any of the twists and turns despite all the valiant efforts at foreshadowing which are evident, now, in hindsight. The main character behaved so erratically…no, all the characters were written so erratically that I dismissed many of Bradley’s efforts at foreshadowing as madness on the part of the main character (though whether due to head trauma or a chemical imbalance in the brain—I couldn’t venture a guess). I don’t at all grok the governmental or societal role of the Comyn, let alone the damnably opaque nature of the matrices. I slogged through, and at the end was rewarded with Bradley’s “Darkover Introspective”, where she admitted that TSoA was cannibalized from a bunch of scraps and novellas in an effort to make a salable full-length novel, and that TSoA and The Planet Savers are only sort-of canon, and anyway she doesn’t much care for the idea of canon in an overarching-series sense. I’m feeling rather fed up with the impenetrability of this whole series and her laissez-faire attitude toward it. She seems (or, ok, seemed) horrified at the notion that her readers might be just a tad more OCD about reading order than she is.
Sorry, sorry. That got a bit out of hand. I think I might take another stab at Darkover once I settle down a bit.

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden, by Catherynne M. Valente. ☼☼☼☼. The Orphan’s Tales consists of stories within stories within stories. They are all quite short, because no sooner has a questing polar bear met the king of the marsh, when the king of the marsh decides to relate what he had been told by an Earthbound star, and the Earthbound star had himself gone on a tangent about what he’d been doing when he’d first become aware of the circumstance which had, originally, sent the polar bear questing in the first place. The entire book is like that. At first I was terribly bored, because each story seemed unrelated and pointless, and it was impossible to care about any one character because you kept hearing about all the others in between. But then a curious thing began to happen; previously mentioned characters, events, and places began to reappear, albeit from completely different angles. I never knew when or where someone might make a reappearance, and the sheer curiosity was enough to keep me going till the end. I’m going to have to borrow the second book.
Caveat time: Going in, I knew that Valente is very focused on mythology, folktales, and poetry of language. I am not at all interested in these things. However, I also knew that she is very good at writing, and that she is very smart, and I depended on my fascination with her ideas and the skillfulness of her execution to carry me through. And you know what? It totally did.

Among Others, by Jo Walton. ☼☼☼☼. Among Others was an odd book for me to read. It’s set in England in 1979/80. The main character is 15 years old and a voracious SF&F reader, and she talks about books and authors all the time. If I had been a teenager in the 70’s, AO would have been an intensely nostalgic read. However, my mother was a teenager in the 70’s. I’ve heard of many of the authors mentioned, and even read some of the books, but if I were to read the bulk of them it’d probably end up feeling like homework. I think that a good metric of how much you’ll understand is whether you know what’s so funny about the things Robert Silverberg said about James Tiptree Jr.
In any case, I enjoyed AO. Mor, the main character, may have read SF, but for her magic and fairies are real. Walton deployed a very peculiar system of magic, and I quite enjoyed how successfully worked magic is indistinguishable from coincidence. Due to that, I did spend the second half of the book twisted up with the paranoid certainty that everything that was happening to Mor was being done because someone else had worked some magic to make them happen, but it seems that I was wrong. Also, for some reason I was expecting some big horrible reveal in the end about the actual nature of fairies and magic, but I’m rather glad that it was kept vague because easy answers tend to be more disappointing than no answers at all.
All in all, four stars because I will definitely read more books by Jo Walton due to this one.

Blood Price, Blood Trail, by Tanya Huff. ☼☼☼. Caveat: these are pretty early Tanya Huff novels. As such, I was prepared to turn a blind eye to roughness in order to get to the (presumably) more polished books later on in the series.
That said, if I thought about it I’d probably have problems with just about every part of the books; the construction, the characterization, the dialogue, etc. However, I’m not going to bother. The only thing that truly got on my nerves despite my personally-mandated sang-froid was that the viewpoint shifted pretty freely between characters. Yes, I know that third-person omniscient is a valid narrative style, but in this case it doesn’t fit the book, or maybe it wasn’t done properly. Either way, it’s my pet peeve and I doubt that many others will be similarly bothered.
[Edit: I hate love triangles, and didn’t finish the third book due to all the Mike/Henry jealousy going on. It wasn’t so much unbearable, more…I simply didn’t see a reason to bear it any longer.]

The Only Ones, by Aaron Starmer. ☼☼☼. Going in, I was expecting a certain amount of weirdness. After all, the quote on the cover says that it is “unique” and “captivating”. I was, I suppose, anticipating something along the lines of Garth Nix’s Keys to the Kindgom books.
Therefore, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I complain that it wasn’t weird enough. Those expectations, the slightly dreamlike atmosphere, and the italicized chapter openers all combined to convince me that there’d be, at the end, a bizarre revelation and a wonderfully exciting dénouement. Not so. The Only Ones plodded along and then fizzled out at the end. It was interesting, sort of, but not as interesting as what I’d thought up in my own mind.
Take the first chapter opener. This isn’t a spoiler, because if you pick up the book it’s the first thing you’ll read after the title on the cover. There’s a kid with a machine. There’s a bunch of frightened village adults. There’s an expert (on what?) who they’re afraid of. The expert brings his own security with him. Also, there’s another kid (a weakling) who is somehow related to the kid with the machine (they traveled together?). It sounded like he’d escaped the adults’ clutches. Good for him!
At first, I thought that the kid with the machine was terrorizing the town. I felt certain that either he was doing it accidentally, or else the townspeople deserved it. Both options sounded exciting. But then it sounded like the adults wanted to parlay with the machine-owning kid. Perhaps he was traveling, and the townspeople had unsuccessfully tried to steal the machine from him? What was this machine? Where had the kid come from? Who was this mysterious expert, and what kind of security was he bringing with him, anyway? Why were the adults so afraid of Martin Maple?
Most of my above conclusions were flat-out wrong. The reality was much more petty and prosaic. The only reason I gave it three stars instead of two is because it was quick and easy to read.


Also, is it only me or is Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” a powerful soporific?


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