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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
Silken Prey - John Sandford
It's hard to keep interested in a series that has reached 23 volumes now, but somehow Sandford keeps doing it. This time, he ties in all three of his major series characters. Almost since the debut of his Virgil Flowers series,"that fuckin' Flowers" has made cameo appearances in the Prey novels, but in this one we also get a major contribution from Kidd — Sandford wasn't even Sandford the last time he wrote a Kidd novel! And Kidd (and Lauren/Lu-Ellen) is seriously cool!

There's some hinting that he's trying to wrap up Davenport — or at least send the series in a new direction — with the suggestion that Davenport is now tainted by politics, and a change of administration will force him out of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but I'm cool with that. There's always that fuckin' Flowers...
Looking for Jake and Other Stories - China Miéville
Another brilliant, if bleak, effort from Miéville.

If I had to choose one word to tie in all of these short stories (and one novella, [book:The Tain]), I'd have to say "paranoia". Almost every story involves a character fearful of something — often without obvious cause.

Miéville's wordplay is, as always, amazing. The title of  [book:The Tain] is hugely obscure, and yet right out of a dictionary: the tain is the reflective silver backing of a mirror. The creatures that come from the tain call themselves "patchogues". Does that derive from the town on Long Island, NY, of which the Urban Dictionary says "A place where all of your dreams can come true, or you could get shot dead at a stoplight"? Or is it simply "patch o' gue"? I'm sure I'll never know.
The Plague - Ken Liu Another brilliant story from Ken Liu.

I'm not a fan of the short story, but he never disappoints.

Future Escort

Future Escort - Carl East

Poorly written. Not going to finish.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln - Stephen L. Carter
I enjoy historical fiction, and I enjoy alternate-history even more, and this one was done very well. The premise is simple: suppose Lincoln did not die in Booth's assassination attempt? Would those who impeached Andrew Johnson, his successor, have impeached Lincoln instead?

It all made sense, and the whodunnit was well framed, but one thing kept nagging at me throughout. As I understand it from this book, on the impeachment of a President, his successor would be first the Vice-President, and second the President Pro Tem of the Senate — who generally is the  the most senior senator in the majority party, but in this scenario, VP Johnson was assassinated, and Lincoln has never replaced him, so the President Pro Tem of the Senate is the man who is trying to destroy Lincoln. So surely, Lincoln's first line of business would be to appoint a Vice-President who would support him — if for no other reason than to ensure his enemy would not succeed him. Carter never explains why the VP hasn't been replaced. On the other hand, since this is exactly what happened in Johnson's own impeachment (not having appointed — or perhaps at the time not even having the right to appoint — a vice-president, Johnson's successor would have been the same man who stood to replace Lincoln in this novel), so perhaps Carter felt it unnecessary to explain himself.
The Warded Man  - Peter V. Brett

I loved the idea of humanity in an ages-long struggle with demons that rise out of the earth, able to survive only in islands of protection (similar in some ways to [author:Barbara Hambly's] [book:Darwath Trilogy|438119]), but are we ever going to learn how it's possible that humanity could even arise in this situation, or how it's possible that any creatures outside human "wards" survive, now?

Shaman, Healer, Heretic (Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman)

Shaman, Healer, Heretic (Olivia Lawson Techno-Shaman) - M. Terry Green
I loved the science-fiction twist on shamanic traditions, but it's ultimately a little weak.

In the first place, allowing shamans to enter the spirit world as easily as entering a virtual-reality cheapens the experience — now almost anybody can be a shaman, but there appears to be practically no regulation of a profession that is at least as potentially dangerous as that of Doctor.

Then there's the reactions of the public. It's one thing to expect the public to be distrustful of the shamans, and I have no problem believing that shamans would be blamed for all sorts of ills — but to have a family call in the priest for last rites, then watch the shaman save their family members life, and immediately turn on her just doesnt ring true.

The Magekiller

The Magekiller - Sarah Chapman
Despite the popularity of [book:Game of Thrones|13496], there's a distinct lack of good Sword-and-Sorcery novels these days, so I was thrilled to find this tale, with no vampires, no zombies or werewolves, and no paranormal romance.

But much as I like the general world-building, individual motivations are highly suspect.  Why on earth would Alar stay with Kane? She is a magekiller — someone who is so traumatized by magic that she has become immune to it — so how can it even be possible for her to associate with the Archmage, however much she intellectually thinks he's a good person?  How are women mages suppressed for centuries, and nobody like Kane has tried to liberate them before? How is Kane so superior to every other mage in the Kingdom? It's not as if there aren't plenty of others like him outside the kingdom.

This is Book I of who-knows-how-many volumes, and I generally stay away from those, at least until I know how many volumes there'll be. However, while there are clearly many issues still to be dealt with: Alar seeks revenge on the woman who destroyed her own magic, Kane seeks his inheritance, and somebody has to restore stability in the kingdom; but the issues of this episode are complete in themselves.

One thing really ticked me: "This ebook is li­censed for your per­sonal en­joy­ment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other peo­ple. If you would like to share this book with an­other per­son, please pur­chase an ad­di­tional copy for each re­cip­i­ent."

I'm sorry, I know that in the US, the law gives you the right to impose such conditions — but not in my country, and in any case it's wrong! If I buy a paper book, I have the right to lend it, sell it or even give it away: as long as I don't keep a copy. I actually support the idea of giving the artist (in any form of art) a royalty on all resales (see Droit de suite), but nobody ever suggested that, if the Louvre decided to lend the Mona Lisa, they should buy another copy.
Roadside Picnic - Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky, Olena Bormashenko, Ursula K. Le Guin
Fascinatingly different. This sat on my "currently reading" shelf for months as I didn't actually read it. Then once I started, I finished it in a day. 

What happens when aliens drop by, have a picnic, leave behind all their garbage, and depart without ever even trying to talk to us? 

I still can't decide if the ending was hokey.…
When Gravity Fails - George Alec Effinger

I was pretty amazed at Effinger's clairvoyance. He was merely a little pessimistic about how long the technological and cultural changes he envisioned would take to occur.

Marid, the protagonist, was born in 2172 — shortly after the collapse of both the Soviet Union and the United States. It's interesting to remember that in the year of publication (1987), there really wasn't a hint that the Soviet Bloc would start to collapse in just two more years.

Technologically, much of what we see in this book has either already come about, or seems like a likely continuation of trends. Culturally, the setting in a Middle-Eastern, Arabic, city, where the zealots hope to take advantage of the collapse of the superpowers to spread Islam, sounds terribly familiar. The Balkanization of Europe, had already begun when Effinger wrote the story, so expecting the change to continue isn't surprising.  It all seems possible within my own lifetime.

Unfortunately, the story itself isn't as strong. Enjoyable, but not enough so that I'll seek out the second and third volumes.


Sharp Teeth - Toby Barlow A novel in blank verse.

I thought it sounded very interesting but found it physically unreadable.
From Muhammed to Burj Khalifa: A Crash Course in 2,000 Years of Middle East History - Michael Rank

For a journalist, Michael Rank's written English is pretty poor, though that unfortunately is pretty much the state of journalism today. The most egregious error being that Muhammed <i>"taught his followers the major tenants of the religion."</i> "<b>Tenets</b>", dammit! He's also inconsistent in the use of the prophet's name. The cover says <i>"From Muham­med to Burj Khal­ifa&hellip;"</i> while the title page gives: <i>"From Muham­mad&hellip;"</i>


I'm uncomfortable about the way he addresses Islam in places. Why does Rank use deliberately provocative language like <i>"After claiming to receive a prophecy from God"</i>, when talking about Muhammed? <i>"After receiving a prophecy&hellip;"</i> would be palatable to Muslims and non-believers alike. Or, "<i>he also stated that pagans and unbelievers cannot approach the Sacred Mosque, a statement which the Saudi Arabian Grand Mufti used in March 2012 as a pretext to call for all churches in the Arabian peninsula to be bulldozed."</i> Given that he doesn't explain this statement at all, it merely appears intended to show the irrationality of Islam.


Still, this book does almost exactly what it promises: <i>"By the end you will know as much about the Middle East as you would after a year-long college course [and] sound highly knowledgeable about worrd affairs to your friends and associates."</i> The first claim is arguable — I learned more about the 

Railsea - China Miéville Reread June/July 2013 for discussion in Miévillans, see my original review here.
Assured Destruction - Michael F. Stewart
This turned out to be far more interesting, even thrilling, than expected.

One of my huge turn-offs in mysteries, thrillers (and horror movies), is protagonists who do stupid things just to further the plot. Why do they put themselves in danger, rather than just calling the police? But here, it all makes sense. Our hero is a high-school student, isolated even more than your average teenager by the need to care for her mother, who has Multiple Sclerosis. Every time I thought, "why would you do something so boneheaded?", I'd think back to my own (much easier) adolescence, and remember that (a) I did some pretty stupid things; and (b) I would never have dreamed of asking an adult for help to get out of the inevitable consequences!

Ultimately, this story is all about how children become adults, learn that they need to form relationships (of many kinds — Janus forms deeper bonds with her mother, her mother's boyfriend, boys, and even Authority), and learn to take responsibility.
The Golden Egg - Donna Leon Brunetti "still remained surprised at how few people read. He read, Paola read, the kids read, but he realized how seldom he talked about books or found a person who appeared to take a serious interest in them."

Thankfully, we have GoodReads….
Whispers (Whispers, #1) - L.L. Caulton Arghh! Lose the redundant apostrophe!

How can anyone take an author seriously who can't get the title grammatically correct.