Friday, September 05, 2008

Reading in Bulk!

One of the disadvantages of trying to fit writing into my schedule: I've often got the choice of either reading, or writing, but not both in one day. So now that I'm treating the writing more seriously, I'm reading less than I'd like. Still, as I was just looking at the books I need to return to the library, I realized I've had four days in the past three weeks in which I've started and finished an entire book in one day. Before I was trying to write seriously, I almost never did this; I think I might be managing my time better now. And, two of them were while Laura and I were on vacation, and reading a lot was one of our goals for the trip. So, even though I'm reading less than I'd like, I'm happy to see I'm shrinking the book pile at least a little.

Oh, and -- the four books. The Probability Broach, from L. Neil Smith: an extremely libertarian sci-fi novel from 1980 or so. It's not at all shy about its politics, hinging on the sci-fi trope of an alternate Earth -- an idyllic utopia, ruled by libertarian principles which render all men truly equal, poverty nonexistent, and society nearly perfect. It's not a great story, with the characters and plot inconsequential next to the setting. And even the setting gets shorted here, with a lot of real questions dodged or ignored, this perfect world merely a paean to objectivism and libertarianism. And, in the end, the politics of this alternate world almost lead to its destruction; when its ideals fail to protect it even in the face of threat, the world is saved by our "hero" causing an explosion which levels a dozen city blocks (deserted except by the bad guys, conveniently keeping our protagonist firmly on the side of the good guys). In his favor, the author manages in 1980 to fairly predict not only the internet, but also the Department of Homeland Security. Still, I wouldn't recommend the book. Unless you share its politics, in which case you'll probably be able to overlook all its shortcomings in favor of its message.

Next, Janet Evanovich's newest Stephanie Plum novel, Fearless Fourteen. Our favorite clueless bounty hunter has more wacky adventures, this time involving a pile of stolen loot (clues to which may or may not be hidden in her sometime-boyfriend Joe Morelli's house), a bodyguard detail for an over-the-hill, over-sexed pop singer, Worlds of Warcraft, and a reality-TV show. If you've read the previous books in the series, you should probably read this too; if not, start at book one and read until the series gets numbingly repetitive. Given that I'm still reading at #14, I haven't hit that point yet -- but I could see it happening soon, especially if you read them all back-to-back. Also, noticed this is an extremely short book. I'm guessing it at 65,000 words (The Bibliophile says 77k, but I doubt it) -- long novella, or very short novel. But you can apparently still sell these for twenty-eight bucks if you're Janet Evanovich.

Also read Anton Strout's debut novel, Dead to Me. I heard the author at GenCon this year, and he sounded interesting enough that I was curious to read his book. It's urban fantasy, set in a New York City where the city government operates a paranormal office (picture the Laundry, but less technically inclined and staffed by much less competent people). Our main character is a psychometrist -- when he touches an object, he can see its history in odd chunks. Amongst other things, this makes relationships difficult in interesting ways. I liked the book, and I also liked the fact that the main character is a petulant, immature asshole. He matures as the book progresses, which is something series characters rarely do; it was nice to watch. On the down side, I was a little irritated by a plot twist near the end of the book. It was, essentially, "here's Mr. Evil's business card. Let's have our psychic see if he can get any readings from it; this will doubtless provide more information than actually going to the address printed on the card!" The plot develops nicely to keep our main character central to it, but, really, he and his gifts could've easily been unnecessary to the story's last 100 pages. This is a minor point, though; it was a fun, well-written book, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

And, last: Marjorie M. Liu's The Iron Hunt. I really liked our main character, and I like her world. She lives in the company of four demons. By day they become her living tattoos; by night, they are her hunters and her army. The interactions between her and her companions felt extremely real; I need to flip back through the book and see how this works on a mechanical level. As for the story, it's a huge, confusing mystery. Some of the questions are answered by the end of the book, but not all. Unnatural confusion is one of my biggest irritations in fiction -- where the plot is moved forward because people aren't telling the main character things they should be. This book spent most of its pages looking like it was doing this. Everyone was keeping important information from the main character, even her demons; she'd meet characters the demons knew, but they wouldn't tell her who the new people were. It turns out, Liu came up with a really good plot justification for the secret-keeping (at least for some of the secrets). I was impressed. This also looks like the start of a series; it had better be, given the huge number of loose threads. And I'm looking forward to reading the rest. The A minor pet peeve: our main character's name, Hunter Kiss, grated on my nerves. It sounds like a hero name from any b-list Stephen Segal movie, possibly even a step below Mason Storm or John Cold.

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