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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
The Lightcap - Dan  Marshall
An interesting plot, with a few issues.

There's too much exposition — when I first received a copy for review, I was warned there might be formatting issues, as the epub version hadn't yet been vetted, and there were. So, the table of contents was wrong, and it led me straight into the second chapter. Once I'd fixed up the TOC and started again at the beginning, I realized that most of the first chapter was needless detail that I could figure out from context later: like what is a "dome", or even what is the "Mind drive". 

Naturally, this background stopped being much of an issue as the book went on, having already been explained, but it would have been easier to get into the story if most of this was omitted, or at least left until the reader needed to know about it.

I had a major issue with the street kid turned programmer, who also turns out to be a katana wielding helicopter pilot. Sorry, just not believable. And on the subject - Adam strapped that katana to his back and hid it under his jacket, then didn't want to sit down in case the lines of the sword showed. Unless you're tall enough for the NBA you wouldn't even get a katana under your jacket, and you certainly couldn't think of sitting down in a subway car while wearing one.

Four stars for the story, -1 for execution.

The Witches of Wenshar: The Sun Wolf and Starhawk Series (Book Two)

The Witches of Wenshar - Barbara Hambly

Enjoyable Sword & Sorcery bash, with a pretty even mix of the two.  

The United States of Air: a Satire

The United States of Air: a Satire - J.M. Porup

This is probably a funny book. 

But at 50 pages in, I decided I just couldn't force myself to read 175 more pages of a single joke. 

The whole world needs satires about the "War on Terror", and I love that Porup wrote it, but I couldn't face another line comparing America's obesity problem (real) to it's terrorism problem (still real, but in fact a much smaller problem).

God's War - Kameron Hurley Bug-punk. Not something I've done before.

On the plus side, I love the fact that Hurley doesn't feel the need to explain anything to you. The reader gets dropped in at the deep end, and it's sink or swim.

On the negative side, I'm disappointed that there's no attempt to explain how "magic" works (as far as I can tell, not really magic, just a judicious application of Clarke's Law). It certainly makes it easier on an author...

The story's set on a world far away in space and time, in warring theocracies distinctly reminiscent of Iran/Iraq on Earth. The countries of Nasheen and Chenja both subscribe to a clearly Islam-derived religion - though I have no doubt they'd be considered heretics by any Muslims alive today. Following the dictates of their religion, though, they once permitted other settlers to join them on their planer, so long as they were "People of the book", and there are other recognizable religions on the planet (except Baha'i, who were exterminated - I can see their unificationist religion would threaten everyone there).

Introduce to Nasheen/Chenja's centuries-long war a few new aliens — recognizable as Christians with their own holy war — and it's obvious that the end-times may be at hand. One apostate assassin is left to solve the problem.

So far, it's all good. Hurley is probably risking a fatwa, but I love the milieu. It's just so darn hard to feel anything for the protagonist, who basically muddles all through the story and gets lucky at the end.
The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left - David Crystal I wasn't as thrilled with this book as I hoped. I love discussions of the English language, and I love to see academics tell me that there's no simple prescription for preserving the language; that English is — and must be — a growing language, but this read far too much like a list of things he hates about all the plans that have been proposed to save the language, without much of a plan of his own.

I admit to being incensed when he told us "You have to look hard to find a vestige of a smile in Johnson, Lowth, Murray, Fowler, and all the others" (and not because of the arguably incorrect comma before 'and'). He may even be right, because I don't have Fowler's original [b:A Dictionary of Modern English Usage|275815|A Dictionary of Modern English Usage|H.W. Fowler|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1173337062s/275815.jpg|267469], only the second and third editions, so perhaps the humor of the second edition is from Gowers, the editor and revisor, but I find it endlessly full of humor - and since Crystal had no advice to offer me to make my English better, Fowler will continue to be my go-to when I question my own usage.
The Mad Goblin - Philip José Farmer What sort of sleazy marketing is this? I read this book 30 years ago, and it was published 43 years ago, at least, as an Ace Double with [b:Lord of the Trees & The Mad Goblin|987993|Lord of the Trees & The Mad Goblin|Philip José Farmer|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348451468s/987993.jpg|973487]
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline I'm both amazed and perplexed by the success of this book. My borrowed E-copy claimed to be "Young Adult" - but it's clearly aimed at somebody exactly like me, because a "young adult" is going to be completely lost in the maze of AD&D and 80's pop-culture references. Now, the ALA gave it an "Alex" award, which is for books "written for adults that have special appeal to young adults", but really the only appeal to "young adults" is that all of the main characters are actually young adults.

otoh, it talks down to the YA crowd (well, it talks down to everybody, but nothing is likely to turn off the YAs faster than being patronized). More and more in recent months, I've been seeing people say "show, don't tell", and the narration contains far too much "tell". Apparently, the author felt that those who weren't around for the 80s would rather have all the references explained than have to work them out. And maybe he's right, but I was there, and it annoyed the hell out of me.

For instance, on meeting the character Art3mis, we're explicitly told it's '(pronounced “Artemis”)'. I've been around long enough to think that anybody who uses l33t is a poseur, but for heaven's sake - does anybody not know how Art3mis is supposed to be pronounced? Or "led many psychologists to conclude that Halliday had suffered from Asperger’s syndrome". Wasn't that obvious from what Cline showed? The one that really drove me nuts though was the introduction to his 'system agent software', Max. I thought, "great - that's Max Headroom, and he didn't feel the need to tell me." Then, on the next page, he told me...

Cline also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of a couple of things that are rather central to the plot.

For instance, "open source software". "The moment IOI took it over, the OASIS would cease to be the open-source virtual utopia I’d grown up in." Does he have a clue what "open-source" means? All indications are that OASIS is "free-to-use" but not open-source. If it was open-source, then as soon as IOI took it over somebody would release a "forked" version of the software that remained free-to-use, and there wouldn't be any hidden easter eggs.

He's weak on copyright: "Most of these items were over 40 years old, and so free digital copies of them could be downloaded." At the time (the 1980s), copyright generally held for 50 years after the death of the author. However, in the US this was raised shortly before the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney's death (the "Mickey Mouse" law) so as to ensure the Disney Corp. didn't lose the copyright to Mickey. There's really not much likelihood of that being eased in the society Cline describes.

I wondered about his knowledge of 80s music, when we were told "Halliday didn't seem to have had very discerning taste. He listend to everything... From the Police to Journey to R.E.M. to the Clash." That's not 'everything', that's the GOOD stuff. The 80s had Duran Duran, John Waite and Wham (all referenced later, thank you), Elton John without Bernie Taupin (and Andrew Lloyd Webber without Tim Rice, for that matter), and a ton of even worse stuff (Culture Club, anyone?). The really bad stuff just left a blank space in my mind.

Still, this book is aimed squarely at geeks like me. I knew all that music, played most of those arcade games (badly), loved those movies ("I saw my seat — the only empty one in the room. It was right behind Ally Sheedy". Ah... Ally! ), owned a Trash-80, and wasted four years of university tuition playing D&D.

Anyone giving Rush a central position in his plot has my vote (well, except maybe, Neil Peart, as I wasn't thrilled with [b:Clockwork Angels|13592828|Clockwork Angels The Novel|Kevin J. Anderson|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1337657558s/13592828.jpg|19180940]).

I just can't quite understand why so many people who aren't me loved this book!

Early on, I really disliked the narrator. Elsewhere I called him a pretentious, precocious, prig, and compared him to that whiny Holden Caulfield. The big difference, though, is that Caulfield has no reason to whine; he's entitled to another alliterative adjective: privileged. Wade has reason to feel the world has dealt him a bad hand, and while he starts out a little whiny, he does grow through the story, and I have no doubt that Wade at the end of the book is a vastly better person than the one on page 1.

Clan of the Cats (Horseclans 18)

The Clan of the Cats - Robert   Adams
This last book in the Horseclans series was published a year and a half before the author's death, but finished so abruptly that I wonder if he stopped writing due to illness (he was only 56 at the time of his death). In the second last chapter, a man introduces himself to one of the characters and invites him to dinner — and that's the last we hear of either of them! The alternative is that I'm missing a lot of pages...

Beyond that, Adams has a bad habit of having his characters — particularly Milo Morai, the chief protagonist of the majority of the Horseclans novels — digress into long monologues, often unrelated to the storyline and getting into long rants about current-ish American right-wing politics. Things suddenly went all meta when, as I skimmed over one of them Morai, opined: “And God knows, the religious and quasi-religious flakes had as many causes over the years as the left-liberal flakes, the right-wing radicals or any of the rest of the lunatic fringe. After a short while, a reader got to recognize the telltale catchwords and phrases that indicated ‘this was written by or for a bunch of flakes’ and most of us would just glance briefly over the patent claptrap or skip it entirely.” 

Thank for that, but couldn't we just have skipped the patent claptrap?
Oath of Swords  - David Weber

If you enjoyed [author:Michael Moorcock]'s [book:Eternal Champion|30097] series, you'll probably find this a rather blatant ripoff. We have Gods who appear in person, reluctant heroes who act as their champions, bardish sidekicks, and soul-drinking swords. If Weber adds travel across the planes, I'll be really ticked.

Of course, if you didn't enjoy  [book:The Eternal Champion|30097], you'll probably hate this series...

Ultimately, I did enjoy the story, but it's far more derivative than I expect from Weber.

The Memories of Milo Morai - Robert   Adams
This series is one of my guilty pleasures.

In this case, perhaps, more guilty than usual, as I confess to have read a pirated e-copy. I bought the first 14 volumes of the series before it went out of print. If anybody ever gets around to re-releasing volumes 15-18, I promise I'll buy them...

But back to the more usual meaning of "guilty pleasures".  Robert Adams is not really a very good writer, but he's an amazing story builder. The sheer scope of his post-apocalyptic world is amazing. It's phenomenally well crafted. If only his characters didn't go into long pointless soliloquies.

The Chimera Vector

The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia
I'm not going to rate this book.

It may not be a bad book, but it's certainly not a book for me. TMI ... and TMDB.

TMDB: Too many dead bodies. At the start of this book, there are three characters. By the time I gave up, we'd been introduced to at least a couple of new people per page, and all but one of them were dead. This is probably sheer prejudice on my part — I'll happily read fantasy novels with barbarians slaughtering just as many people, even more messily, but for some reason I expect "civilized" people to be more careful.

"Too much information" may be mostly my lack of interest in military hardware. I don't need to know the make and model number of every single item we come across. Still, there are obviously a large number of readers who like that sort of thing, or Dan Brown wouldn't be a best-selling author (I don't read Dan Brown, even though his themes are far more interesting to me).

However, there are times that it must be too much information for anybody. Did we really need to know that the assassin's sniper rifle was a "Steyr HS" three times on one page? Or "... an anti-traction material: probably something like one part slurry of emulsion and polymer particles, twenty parts water." What? A "slurry" is a mixture of insoluble material in liquid. An "emulsion" is a mixture of insoluble material suspended in liquid. The polymer would be the insoluble material, but that sentence is redundantly redundant, and I wonder why I would even care that it's a 20:1 mixture, anyway.
A Man Without Breath (Bernie Gunther) - Philip Kerr This is the third work of WW II fiction that I've read in the past year that has focused on the Katyn Forest massacre. What's with that?

Otherwise, interesting peek at a horrible period in history, but I'm liking Bernie Gunther less and less.
The New Fowler's Modern English Usage - H.W. Fowler, Robert W. Burchfield Not quite as good, imo, as the Second edition. But still pretty darn useful.
A Dictionary of Modern English Usage - H.W. Fowler, Ernest Gowers Probably my favorite book about the use of English. Fowler/Gowers explain English usage in ways that would make my high school teachers squirm, and validate many of my own biases!
Cinder - Marissa Meyer A lot of fun, and a quick read.

I found the racism really difficult to cope with - but it's not the author's fault that humans can be pretty nasty bits of work, at times. To think that people would treat others as less than human, just because they have a few mechanical parts is pretty revolting - but actually more understandable than treating others as less than human because of the color of their skin or their gender. After all, Cinder the cyborg really is 36.8% not-human.

More review when we finish our group read...
Under My Skin - Charles de Lint I love De Lint's novels, so this was a must-read for me.

A little more juvenile than his usual, and more specifically set in America (most of his stories are set "somewhere in North America" and often have recognizable bits of Eastern Ontario where both he and I grew up), but this is explicitly set in Southern California.

Many of the characters are clearly related to, or even appearing in, those of earlier novels - "the cousins", shape-changers or skin-walkers, appear often, especially various of the Crow clan and Coyote.

In the end, a pleasant and rapid read, but without much depth.