Saturday Miscellany — 2/21/15

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Half the World by Joe Abercrombie — #2 in Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea series. Which reminds me, I need to get a hold of #1.
  • Department 19: Zero Hour by Will Hill — been ages since I’ve read a Department 19 book, looking forward to digging in — this is a fun series about a group of Vampire Hunters mixed with a special operations force.
  • Shoot This One by Javier Grillo-Marxuach — from The Middleman to LOST to Charmed to Helix, and did I mention The Middleman? by Javier Grillo-Marxuach is one of the more interesting TV writers around. This collection of essays looks very appetizing.


Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

Gemini CellGemini Cell

by Myke Cole

Nook, 384 pg.
Ace, 2015
Read: February 4 – 9, 2015He started off strong three novels back, but Myke Cole is one of those authors who gets discernibly better with each book (I assume that will stop at some point — not that I’m in a rush for it), and this one seems like a major step beyond Breach Zone. So when I say this is a well-written book, I mean really well-written. But man, I really didn’t enjoy this book. It’s not his fault, well, let me rephrase it: it’s not Cole’s abilities or voice this time. I don’t know what it is. I guess I just don’t like the story or the characters all that much, as skillfully as they’re delivered to us?

Early on in the Great Reawakening, years before (possibly many) the Supernatural Operations Corps is in full swing, the U. S. Government has begun to use magic resources for its own ends (and, presumably, other nations are doing the same). One of these resources is a magician who can take the recently killed and unite their body and mind (slash soul?) with the mind (slash soul? again) of a long-dead warrior to create a Firestorm-like entity to use as the ultimate special-forces operator. Because somehow, this union gives them super-strength and abilities, while not feeling any pain or bleeding. As they’re technically dead, they can use them for anything, and if things don’t go right on the mission — oh well, what’s one more corpse? It’s a little more complicated than that, but that’ll do for now.

So, we have Jim Schweitzer, loving husband, doting father, and SEAL. His professional artist wife, Sarah, doesn’t fit in with the other Navy wives, and is really tired of not knowing where he is, when he’ll be called upon for a mission, and so on — puts her foot down. Family or Team. Just as he’s about to choose, a hit squad of people who shouldn’t know who he was, somehow find out and invade their home, wounding Sarah and their son and killing Jim. Giving the magician a fresh subject. Jim turns out to be one of the best (if not the best) of this reanimated soldier project, partially because he holds on to his humanity and memories better than most.

Sarah and Jim’s team member Steven, grieve his death (unaware that he’s not totally dead) and support each other in this time — while trying to figure out just what happened to his body, which is mysteriously not available for burial.

There’s one character we spend far too much time with given what happens to him/her by the end of the novel. One character who might as well be twirling a mustache in a couple of scenes. Mostly, everyone is this mix of motives, morality and action which are probably intended to depict the gray-ish nature of us all, but frequently come across as the products of an indecisive narrator. Jim battling his new soul-mate for control is just the most obvious example of the good vs. bad in all of us.

Cole explores similar themes to his past work — how honorable people/soldiers can function in inherently less-than-honorable conditions and systems. Who, ultimately, do soldiers fight — and why they do so. Cole’s said that this is to be a not at all subtle metaphor for PTSD, and I can see that — I’m just not sure it’s a helpful one (yet).

While I said Cole’s at the top of his writerly game, this isn’t a perfect book. At least once, he repeated a metaphor within a couple of pages (I don’t normally get that picky, but that one really took me out of the moment). And his sex scenes? Not good. They’re not Tom Wolfe bad, don’t get me wrong. But they read like . . . exactly like a sex scene written by a guy who’s better suited for describing Special Operations forces eliminating high-value enemy targets.

My major beef with this book is the magic. We’re four novels into this world by now, and the previous three have established some pretty clear rules for magic — at least the types of magic usually displayed in the U.S. But it’s clear that there might be variations throughout the world. So, it’s believable that we’d find another type of magic here. Also, this takes place quite a while before the Shadow Ops series, so changes may have occurred between now and then — if magic can appear and reappear, it can evolve, right? But it still feels too different (realizing I might have misunderstood this book, or the three others) — particularly the different (deeper?) magic that comes into prominence in the final chapters. I’m not saying there’s not a decent explanation for this, there very well may be — but given what we know about the universe this just doesn’t work. Which shouldn’t take away from the really strong and effective way that Cole used this bending/breaking of his own rules, because the last couple of chapters were great.

See what I mean? I can’t decide what I think about Gemini Cell — and I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, started writing this three days ago (you probably can’t tell that a lot of effort was put into this, but trust me). At this point, the only thing I’m sure of is that I’ll be back for the sequel, Javelin Rain, and hopefully that’ll wash all this away.

—–

Rating: I’m still not sure — somewhere between 2.5 – 4.5, I think.

Robert Crais’ The Promise Delayed Again?

Since I talked about the last one, I figured I’d better talk about this one, too. According to an e-mail I received yesterday, and an update to the Robert Crais Facebook page, we’re looking at another delay for The Promise by Robert Crais: November 10. Which makes it almost exactly 1 year late.

I don’t know if it’s a publication thing, Crais putting some more finishing touches on it, or what — it’s just aggravating. Nevertheless, I’ll wait. I can be patient to let Crais and his publisher put out the book they want to, make sure it’s right, however hard that’s getting to be.

Still . . .

Plus One by Christopher Noxon

Plus OnePlus One

by Christopher Noxon

Hardcover, 303 pg.
Prospect Park Books, 2014
Read: February 10 – 11, 2015
From The Next Best Thing to Landline to Funny Girl to this, I think I might have reached my limit about fictional TV writers. Sadly, this was the wrong one to go out on.

You could, I think, make the case that most of this book reads like the prequel to Landline from the husband’s perspective — and in many ways you’d be right, but still, you shouldn’t do that.* This is the story of Alex Sherman-Zicklin, the husband (and Plus One) of Figgie. Figgie had been wife, mother and struggling TV writer, who is now an Emmy-award show runner of a multi-Emmy-winning cable comedy. Which means all of the sudden, she’s the bread winner (winning far more bread than he ever did), so he quits the job he’s not happy about to be a “domestic first responder.”

He quickly becomes bored, gets a creepy-friend (also a Plus One), falls in lust with a butcher/food blogger, ignores his kids, and does several other deceptive, marriage-damaging things covering the range from pathetic to devious to potentially criminal. Which coincided with Figgy taking up with trust-destroying antics of her own. If this selfish loser had just talked to his wife about what was going on, almost everything that happened could’ve been avoided. Not that self-involved Figgy was much better, really — I don’t see what either of them saw in the other.

Alex, his Plus One pal (whose name I’ve already forgotten), and (to an extent) the butcher are characters — everyone else is pretty much a plot device or place holder. Even Figgy is more of a presence, maybe an obstacle, than a character.

Somewhere in there I was supposed to laugh, I’m sure, but I didn’t manage more than an almost-grin.

The last chapter, maybe two, saved this one for me and turned it from a book I really didn’t like to a book I don’t mind too much. It’s still not a book I’d recommend, just one I have no antipathy for.

—–

* That’s two books in as many months that I’ve compared to Landline — just when did this become the standard by which I judge all fiction?

—–

2 Stars

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

FirefightFirefight

by Brandon Sanderson

Hardcover, 416 pg.
Delacorte Press, 2015
Read: January 30 – February 2, 2015

…as she’d left, I’d glanced at her gun.
This time, when she’d pointed it at me, she’d flicked the safety on. If that wasn’t true love, I don’t know what was.

We’ve all been there, right?

In the months since David did the impossible by killing the Epic Steelheart, he and the rest of the Reckoners have continued their war against the Epics — successfully enough, that Newcago is beginning to rule itself (sure, with the puppet government that Steelheart allowed, but it’s starting to come into its own). The last few of these have been sent by the Epic that runs Babilar (Babylon Restored = Manhattan), Regalia. So, David, the Prof, and Tia leave the rest of the Newcago crew to keep order, and head to Babilar to see what they can do about Regalia.

Meanwhile, David’s trying to convince the Reckoners that Megan wasn’t a traitor and murderer, and while an Epic, she deserves a second chance. And not just because he’s gaga for her.

It’s possible that the city of Babilar is the happiest city in contemporary YA dystopias. It’s definitely one of the most upbeat depictions of Manhattan that I’ve ever read/seen. Which is saying something, considering that it’s pretty much flooded (and ruled by an Epic who can control water). But thanks to a religion/philosophy/frame of mind (depending who you ask) — possibly Epic-induced, possibly spontaneous — the people of Babilar are a lot more positive, have a certain joie de vivre, and are a lot less interested in the work of the Reckoners than anyone else we’ve heard of in this world (and poor Dave is rather befuddled by this). I don’t want to get too descriptive of it — Sanderson will do better than I ever could, anyway — so let me leave it with this: I’m not crazy about the water, and I might be persuaded to move to Babilar.

One thing I’d forgotten from Steelheart was Dave’s general goofiness and voice. I did remember how bad his metaphors were (particularly, as it was pointed out to him that they aren’t even metaphors at all), but I didn’t remember how fun Dave was as a character when he wasn’t being more driven and vengeful than a teen-aged Bruce Wayne. Maybe Sanderson didn’t stress it as much last time out, or given Steelheart’s death, he’s lightened up. My guess it was a failure of my memory — but I really enjoyed Dave’s voice here (think Peter Parker à la Bendis), and would’ve kept with the book just for it , even if I stopped caring about the rest of the story (little chance of that happening, I should say).

But even with Dave’s snappy narration and Babilar’s vibe, there’s a lot of suspense in Firefight. A lot of deception, treachery, and danger everywhere. In the brightest of moments lurks a real possibility of the world becoming a darker place than it has been since Calamity and the advent of the Epics. Sanderson attempted a real balancing act here, and pretty much pulled it off. Up to, and including a great cliffhanger that makes the wait for the final volume of this series all the worse.

The only other note I can think to say here is that Sanderson has the most creative use of Fortune cookies in fiction here. Inspired. Read it for yourself.

Fun, fast-paced, exciting tale of super-powered dictators and the people resisting them — give Firefight a read if you’ve already enjoyed Steelheart. But go back and grab Steelheart first if you haven’t.

—–

4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 2/14/15

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

  • Because the stories about this novel aren’t going to stop anytime soon: Harper Lee ‘hurt and humiliated’ by Mockingbird sequel controversy — I’d feel better about this if it wasn’t the lawyer at the center of this doing the talking.
  • Bosch started streaming on Amazon yesterday, at the time of this writing I’ve seen 4 episodes. They’re not perfect, but I’m really enjoying them. Because of the premier, my social media has been filled with articles, promotions, etc. about the actors, characters for the last couple of weeks. I’m only going to share this one, where Titus Welliver, the star, talks about the character.
  • Tor.com announced last year that they’re getting into “publishing the best novellas and short novels from emerging writers as well as established authors.” This week, the initial list of this line was announced. Some really appetizing things here.
  • Michael R. Underwood, a favorite around these parts, announced his new novella series Genrenauts as part of Tor.com’s project.
  • io9 had a story about this, too: Tor.com Explains Why Novellas Are The Future Of Publishing. I loved this line, “When the book wars sweep across the galaxy, and the blood of publishers runs down the gutters of every interstellar metropolis, the resource we fight for will not be paper, or ink, or even money. It will be time.”

    This Week’s New Release that You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Deadly Spells by Jaye Wells — the third in Prospero’s War series.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to the alchemist for following the blog this week.

Saturday Miscellany – 2/7/15

Grawlix! If I didn’t know better, I’d say that The Universe, The Matrix, Loki, Coyote, Murphy’s Law or the Greek ghost Thespis was messing with me and keeping me from getting anything written or posted here. I’m a little stunned that I got this compiled, really. Hopefully, next week will be better.

Here are some odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • Funny Girl by Nick Hornby — Hornby continues to explore celebrity, this time in the 1960’s with an up and coming actress. Not really what I’d have expected from him next, but I’m not sure what I did expect.
  • The Way Into Darkness by Harry Connolly — the Third and final installment in The Great Way saga. Hearing so many good things about this one already!
  • Covenant’s End by Ari Marmell — bittersweet — a new Widdershins Adventure, but sadly, it’s the last.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to abhinavmajumder for following the blog this week. Thanks to Theinexorablenerd for the interaction.