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auspex

Novel Tease

Random meanderings about the books I love—or don't. 

Interspersed with observations about my hobbies: Beer & Wine, Bridge, Bikes and Bow-wows.

Currently reading

The Book Thief
Markus Zusak
Pontypool Changes Everything
Tony Burgess

Latest Censorship News: Goodreads Can't Take Criticism, Badly Behaved Social Network?

Reblogged from Literary Ames:

Reviews are being deleted for being “potentially off-topic” – code for “being critical of GR” and for being “non-original content” despite permission given from original reviewers.

 

 

Read more

 

['nuf said]

Holy ****!

Shaman, Healer, Heretic (Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman) - M. Terry Green

I imported this book today, and below is what it found for a cover. I liked the book, but the one between these covers might have been more interesting...

Tau Zero - Poul Anderson This might have made a good novella. I just read a blurb that said Anderson will be best remembered for this book. I hope not. Some of his work is very good, some is great. This isn't.

I guess it qualifies as "hard science", because no laws of physics are violated (though I think nobody actually believes in an eternally, repeatedly, expanding and contracting universe any more). But the laws of probability are given a pretty hard shakeup.

And the whole premise of why their ship is forced to voyage onward forever after an accident makes it impossible to stop at their target star is just not believable.

In a group read with Sci Fi Aficionados, one participant complained that the characters are poorly developed. She was being generous. Our "heroes" travel to the end of the universe, and in all that time, only one character gets developed at all (Reymont) and he is notoriously close about his character.

I just kept hoping for it to end.

Concerning the Jews

Concerning the Jews - Mark Twain I downloaded the complete Mark Twain from Project Gutenberg today, and my eye was caught by this essay (from Harper's Magazine, March 1898).

It's stunning how timelessly he writes, and this piece should still be considered required reading. I'm only sorry that I believe he's not entirely correct:

Point No. 5.—'Will the per­se­cu­tion of the Jews ever come to an end?'
On the score of re­li­gion, I think it has al­ready come to an end. On the score of race prej­u­dice and trade, I have the idea that it will con­tinue.


Twain's argument is that anti-Semitism has always been based on envy of the Jews business acumen (a generalization that he is entirely aware is such, but for which he makes a good case). Unfortunately, purely religious hatred continually flares, and those who hate Jews for their religion are more than happy to use others' envy to forward their own ends.

It's particular pleasing to see such a balanced and clearly unprejudiced article from the man who's been called a racist, and had his books banned, purely because characters use the language of the time and refer to "niggers".
Knight of Shadows (Amber Chronicles, #9) - Roger Zelazny
I guess if you have dozens of people with godlike powers, and a machine that thinks it's a god, it's difficult to avoid the deus ex machinas. Zelazny even jokes about it, but it's getting pretty tired.
A Tap on the Window - Linwood Barclay
This hit all my buttons for a mystery. 
 
I despise mysteries that rely on coincidence for a solution—all the clues should be available in the text, and a careful reader should reach the same conclusion as the protagonist. If the author is really good, even a brilliant reader won't get there too soon.
 
Which is not to say coincidence can't have a part—the odds just aren't that good that anybody, even a big city cop, could stumble into these scenarios. So, A Tap on the Window does begin with a coincidence: Cal Weaver just happens to be in front of Patchett's bar when a young girl is hitchhiking in the rain, and she knew his son. But that's where the coincidence ends; the rest is tightly plotted detective work.
 
Throughout the story there are anonymous interludes letting us know about the crime that's being covered up, but we're carefully kept in the dark about who the perpetrators are, and there are multiple candidates. I worked it out, but not so soon that it would ruin the story for me. If it's too easy, it just gets boring.
 
There's just one thing that jarred: "He looks like a child who’s been promised a trip to Santa’s Village." Really, Barclay? Do you think the kids of Griffon, NY, dream of a trip to Santa's Village? I'm not sure anybody does any more, but it's a Southern Ontario thing, probably best remembered by those of Barclay's and my age.
Blood of Amber (Amber Chronicles, #7) - Roger Zelazny
Better than the previous episode, but still reads like Zelazny has no idea where he's going. There are far too many plots in progress, and yet Merlin doesn't even once consider going to the Courts of Chaos to see if they're involved.

Trumps of Doom (Amber Chronicles, #6) - Roger Zelazny
Rereading this for the first time in decades, and in sequence right after rereading the original Corwin series, it feels like Zelazny just phoned this in. Quite disappointing. It rambles, it seems inconsistent, and Merlin doesn't even seem to question any of the insane things that keep happening to him. He deserves whatever he gets.

Forbidden The Stars (The Interstellar Age, # 1) - Valmore Daniels
I'd like to be able to give this book a better review — I enjoyed the story, but it's tagged as "hard SF" and it's not only not "hard" but it's scientifically very weak.

We're told "Scientists had estimated that the asteroid belt itself held hundreds of undiscovered new elements with attributes that could improve the quality of life for everyone on Earth." Why? There's a really good reason why scientists don't expect to ever find any new elements in our solar system: it's simply too old for trans-Uranic elements to have not decayed. The prediction of new elements would require a complete change in our understanding of physics.

On Pluto, the scientists are measuring temperatures in °C (e.g., "Minus 210.8°C" when they'd be using K [Kelvin]: -210.8°C= 62.35K).

Then, it just goes right downhill to fantasy land with "cosmic lightning"; a boy exposed to the mysterious Element X, who somehow controls the effects of the element; and outrageous coincidence (how is it that the first people to discover "Element X" do so precisely at the same time that the first expedition to Pluto discovers evidence of alien life?).

Ironically, the actual structure of Element X—admitted to be "impossible" but given a plausible hypothesis—is more believable than the science that's supposedly possible.

I don't require my SF to be scientifically valid, but don't pretend it is, and don't have scientists act out of character, and don't invent unnecessary complications (really, drop the paragraph mentioning the predicted hundreds of new elements & the cosmic lightning and nothing would be lost.
The Goodreads Killer - Dave Franklin What happens when an author gets bad reviews on Goodreads? Probably not this, but if the author also happens to work at a slaughterhouse … who knows?

Frequently funny, with a touching — and definitely unique — sex scene, this story does ask some good questions about just how far it's fair to go in trashing a bad novel.

It's not easy to see how much is satire and how much heartfelt hatred of hypercritical reviewers. I lean towards believing it's the former, but:

"And in this brand new digital age these malcontents, often young and with a sense of entitlement, have grown up quite ignorant of the laws of libel. In fact, they're already used to writing whatever they damn well please, happy to trot out the old defence of free speech."

Hmmm. Yes, that's dialogue and not necessarily the author's own opinion, but frankly I've been known to be hypercritical myself, and I do understand the difference between libel and opinion. After all, if a review is libelous, an author can actually do something about it. Short of murder.

I'm tempted to shelve it as "pigs-write-better-than-this", but I'm not sure Mr. Franklin would see the humor (or whether he works in an abattoir).
Blood of Kings - Billy Wong

I'm a sucker for anything Arthurian, so I had to check this out. It's a neat premise: Arthur and Morgan le Fay have a child — as they do in many versions of the story — but it's not Modred, it's Mildred!

Unfortunately, the story can't decide whether it's going to be satirical, á la [book:The Dragon and the George] or serious. At some times it's downright fluffy, at others it's deadly serious.

And the continuity problems! "I've never seen any evidence of him using magic, except perhaps to enter our sanctuary" says the faery, Laerin, of the evil knight. Well, of course not! He's already told us he's never seen him before. Merlin starts acting oddly, and while people notice, they don't even discuss it, let alone do anything about it. Then the same happens with Morgan. And after making Nimue a major character, she just disappears after just one in a series of defeats.

So, three stars because it is a good tale, and Arthur has been done a million times but Wong's actually found a fresh approach, but it could be a much better story with better editing.

A Hostile Takeover

A Hostile Takeover - Bill Kandiliotis
I was really enjoying the story, but this book is entirely unedited. I forced myself to the halfway point, but it was getting harder and harder to read.  Poor grammar and vocabulary (bonus points for actually knowing the meaning of "decimate" were lost again for "mute point"), misspellings, continuity, and even a little really reprehensible mysogyny.

I'll happily read & review it if it ever gets edited.
Spirit Gate - Kate Elliott

Maybe 2½ stars. Fully ¾ of this book is taken up with mere introduction. We all know what's coming, but it just drags out for 300+ pages until suddenly everything happens.

Then we get left at the end with very little resolution, and still no real understanding of what's going on. Well, Ms. Elliott, I hope you're not holding your breath waiting for me to read volume 2.

The Placebo Effect - David Rotenberg A pretty enjoyable ride.

Decker Roberts can tell the truth — that is, he can tell when somebody else is being truthful. Of course, that makes him rather important to a lot of people, including the American NSA.

Roberts also has a talent for teaching actors — even though he isn't an actor himself. Apparently these abilities are somewhat related, but it's never really explained.

The story centers around an online community of "synaesthetes" — people whose senses are somehow intertwined, so that they hear color or feel sound — and it's suggested that Decker's talent is a form of synaesthesia. I struggled to believe this. And it turns out that I didn't need to, as it isn't true. At no point do we ever learn why both Decker and the NSA think it's a convenient cover.

I find it infuriating that this is not a standalone novel. It is largely complete, but it's implied that Decker somehow betrayed his deceased (from ALS) wife (though that may be just his guilt speaking), and it stated explicitly that he's betrayed his son, but neither is explained. And why does a retired cop believe the teenaged Decker destroyed his career?

For failing to write a self-sufficient novel, deduct half a star.
For writing "Decker knew that once Alan Turing's usefulness had ended for the British they literally fed him to the dogs", another half-star.

I despise writers who say literally to mean figuratively! I am fairly certain the British government has not literally fed anyone to the dogs since at least the Commonwealth period, but absolutely not Turing.
River of Stars - Guy Gavriel Kay
First things first: when I got this book it was tagged as a "romance". Thankfully, it is not.

When you have a book with both a male and a female protagonist, and they do not even appear together in more than 95% of the story, it is not a romance — even if they should end up as lovers. [That's mostly for the reader of [b:The Lions of al-Rassan|104101|The Lions of al-Rassan|Guy Gavriel Kay|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348007861s/104101.jpg|955081], which was also not a romance…]

Now that that's off my chest.…

I said the other day that I loved Kay's blending of history, historical fiction and fantasy, but even then I was thinking that it's more "fantasyish" than "fantasy" and [b:River of Stars|15808474|River of Stars|Guy Gavriel Kay|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1356089847s/15808474.jpg|21451403] brings this out starkly. Though ghosts, demons and spirits are considered just a fact of life in Kitan — as they would be for many of our ancestors, and even many people today — only three ghosts, one demon and one fox-spirit are ever seen. The demon is explained as trickery, and since none of the ghosts are seen by more than one person at a time, perhaps they're just hallucinations. But the fox-spirit is hard to dismiss: just Kay's way of pointing out that as historical as the novel may appear, it is just a novel!

I'm generally more interested in plot than character in a novel, but Kay's characters — even the lesser, and less likeable ones — are so well written that I can't help but love them. The story starts slowly, but then it's the story of two people's lives, and lives start the same way.

My only real complaint is with Kay's continual foreshadowing: "There are forks in every road, choices we make." he says. And says again and again, in slightly different words. In fact, if he'd said it in exactly the same words, as a refrain, I think it would have been less jarring.
Nine Princes in Amber - Roger Zelazny
I started rereading this because of a pretty negative review at tor.com. And then I realized that rereading the whole series would get me mega-karma in a reading challenge at Goodreads.com, so I'm off...

I've always loved the Amber novels, and I've read this more than a few times. Tim Callahan at Tor had some good points — it does finish rather abruptly, but he complains "That’s a complete novel according to the standards of 1970?", and the problem is that that's exactly what a complete SF/Fantasy novel was like in 1970. Publishers considered word count, and if your book was twice the word count they wanted, you got it published as two books if you got it published at all. In this case, it was published as five…. Yes, it has no real female characters. Like pretty much any other SFF writing of the time (including some considered "feminist" — I'm thinking LeGuin).

But for all its faults, [book:Nine Princes in Amber] is thoroughly engaging. Corwin is a bastard (well, not in the legal sense, which is probably important), but he's a better man than any of his brothers, and we get the sense that he's improving. Sure, he can sacrifice a million people to unseat his brother from the throne of Amber — but if you look at it from his point of view, it's hard to see that anything's lost, as he can go right back into Shadow and find those same people again, and in any case, there's a feeling that it really is worth the cost. The thing that makes Corwin a better person than his brothers is that he even considers the cost.