Mini-Book Report: Corambis by Sarah Monette

April 12, 2009 at 12:16 pm (Books Galore) (, )

Corambis was pretty much everything I wanted it to be.

(This quick knee-jerk reaction isn’t spoiler-y in a specific events sense, but may be spoiler-y in a general-story-structure kind of way.)

I mean, it started out a little shaky and heavy on the exposition—Monette handwaved the beginning of their journey quite a bit—but by the time the book really got going? Oh god. By the end, I felt so happy for Mildmay and Felix, like my heart was lifting and spreading wings. It’s not a get-up-and-dance-and-squee kind of happy—it’s a sort of gentle sense of hope and rightness and the internal equivalent of a grin that wont’ fucking go away. Because those boys, they’ve worked so fucking hard for a happy ending, and they got one, dammit, they’ve got one and while I’d’ve liked to see Mehitabel and Vincent, and more Mildmay than was in there, I can see why Monette would make the call for them to take the back seat a bit because Mirador was Mildmay’s book and it makes sense that this book would be about Felix. This series’ strength has ever been the characters, rather than the plot (perhaps natural, considering the nature of its rotating first person POV) and oh god, I can’t even properly express myself here. FELIX, YOU ARE CHANGING AND BEING HAPPY AND A;DKAJSLDF OH GOD I AM SO HAPPY FOR YOU I CANNOT EVEN DEAL.

It was worth the wait, to read this thing in one sitting. Oh, boys. I’m so, so, happy for you both.

BRB, off to reread.

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Book Report: Havemercy by Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett

December 28, 2008 at 8:37 am (Books Galore) (, )

I didn’t originally intend to buy this at all, but when I came across it in Barnes & Noble I was helpless, helpless I say, to stop myself. So I didn’t. Now, I know Jaida Jones from The Shoebox Project, which is a long and possibly terminally incomplete and rather good piece of Harry Potter fanfic, Sirius/Remus set during the Marauder Era. Jaida Jones is one of the authors. Havemercy is also co-authored, but not with the same person as The Shoebox Project.

The plot more or less runs in tandem until it doesn’t, and it’s about two different pairs of men. The setting is vaguely and generically European, until I realized that one side is based loosely off Russia (the Esar sounds like the Tsar; an important building is covered in, uh, colorful onions) while the other one is based off of…I don’t know, Mongolians? Something vaguely Oriental (there is a reference to smoking opium and having twelve wives). As for the plot…Royston, a court magician, is exiled to the countryside for nearly causing an international incident, and there he meets Hal, who is to be the tutor of his nephews but in whom Roy finds a surprising thirst for knowledge and learning. Rook is a member of the Dragon Corps, which are basically Volstov’s air force, and they fly atop giant metal dragons, and they are basically winning the war against the Ke-Han for them. Rook has nearly caused a diplomatic incident by slapping the ass of a diplomat’s wife and calling her a whore in front of the entire court; as a result, Thom is given the task of trying to educate the Dragon Corps in etiquette and proper manners. A mysterious illness arises, which starts targeting Volstov’s air force. Meanwhile, the giant metal dragons of the Dragon Corps seem to breaking down. These two events are what ultimately bring Roy and Hal, Rook and Thom, together.

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Book Report: The Virtu & The Mirador by Sarah Monette

December 26, 2008 at 1:34 pm (Books Galore) (, )

Both are the second and third books in the Doctrine of Labyrinths series. The first book, Melusine, is one I read a while back and apparently never reviewed, wtf, but rest assured I enjoyed it and would have recommended it highly if I’d just remembered to do it. At any rate, I didn’t get a chance to get at the next two books until now. My reviews tend to be SPOILERY OUT THE WINDOW so here’s FAIR WARNING.

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Book Report: A Companion To Wolves by Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear

December 26, 2008 at 1:24 pm (Books Galore) (, )

Spoilers under the cut; this novel contains m/m sex.

~~~

Oh, mainstream m/m original fiction. How I love thee. As a brief synopsis of this book, the wolfcarls are men bonded to giant fighting wolves, and they keep the villagers safe from the trolls in exchange for a tithe. This tithe includes new young men who may in their turn become wolfcarls. Njall Gunnarson (who later becomes Isolfr) is a nobleman who chooses to be tithed because there are no other available boys, despite his father’s displeasure. The book is a bildungsroman in that it details Njall’s passage from boy to man to leader as one of the wolfcarls, but it also deals with the sexual and moral implications of a man being bonded to a bitch and of forming telepathic bonds with animals period.

The setting is very Norse and feels authentic (despite the, you know, giant telepathic wolves). The language is spot on, especially if you keep mentally pronouncing all the j’s as y’s, as I did. The characters are interesting and well-rounded; Isolfr in particular I was rooting for the whole time and had no quibbles with. His friends and opponents were interesting as well, though it’s very much Isolfr’s story. The wolves are distinct as well, all of them characters in their own right.

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Book Report: Dragon’s Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn

October 1, 2008 at 1:46 pm (Books Galore) ()

So I just finished another book. Hrm. Well, I’ve learned that once books are started I have a REALLY hard time putting them down again. Some kernel in my soul is a completionist, apparently.

But I’m not supposed to be blabbering about that. The book. It was Dragon’s Winter by Elizabeth A. Lynn who, I understand, is more famed for her sci-fi than fantasy. Also, there’s another book after–Dragon’s Treasure–that I’ve yet to read. I’ll just copy a plot synopsis from Amazon:

Karadur and Tenjiro are twin sons of Kojiro Antani, the dragon lord of Ippa. But only Karadur, whose name means “fire-bringer,” bears the blood of the dragon in his veins. His younger brother, Tenjiro or “Heaven’s hope,” was second out of the womb and is the weakest and smallest of the two. As the twins grow to maturity, Karadur is anxious to attain the promise of his blood and transform into the dragon he is capable of becoming. But Tenjiro, who bears the scars of Karadur’s claws, resents his older brother and, on the eve of Karadur’s transformation, steals the talisman that makes the change possible. That same night he disappears, fleeing to a distant, icy realm where he will reemerge as a powerful wizard bent on destroying his older brother. But Karadur, lord of Dragon Keep, is prepared to go to war against Tenjiro, and it’s likely only one will survive.

(the synopsis fails to mention that Karadur has a lover, a man named Azil, who Tenjiro magics into following him in order to…well, you can probably guess. Or read the book.

Note that the book doesn’t have anything on the smut front. But the relationship is there.)

So her writing style is…I want to say sparse, but she crams in a surprising number of details; the world she crafts feels whole, alive; there are myths and legends; there are people who aren’t quite primary but not quite secondary and are wholly human. No person is cardboard. The world breathes.

And yet, on the characterization side of things…Lynn’s style is very much a fill-in-the-blanks style. She gives you the bare bones, the outlines, she implies what people are thinking and who they are with details, but leaves it to you to fill in the gaps between. It’s interesting, because I kept expecting her to make the pain of Karadur and Azil explicit–yet I wonder if any amount of explicitness on her part could match what I could do in my head. I’m unsure if I consider this a flaw or mastery on her part. You can’t just read; you’ll get only the surface: you need to think to unpack the characters. For example:

Karadur is presented as an implacable figure, just but with a temper. He never seems to pause–but at least twice in the book he stops to ask one of his older guardsmen: what would his father do in such a situation?

Now, Lynn doesn’t outright say or show Karadur’s uncertain of his path (at times it’s hard to remember his age; I believe he’s really about twenty-three towards the books end but he feels so much older) when faced with difficult choices, but just the fact that this normally implacable, impassive warrior and leader should ask for advice is telling that he needs some help, isn’t it? And he asks specifically about his father–well, Karadur’s mother didn’t survive birth and his father died when he was four; his father was a well-known lord and leader in his time. Therefore, Karadur must hold his father in high esteem, despite the circumstances of his death. So from these two offhand incidents we know: Karadur is still young and not always certain of what he’s doing, and Karadur respects and admires his father’s decisions. But none of this is said outright.

Plot-wise, it really zipped along. Things happened, there was no lag but there was never any confusion, either. I knew exactly what was happening, and once the plot pieces fell into pace I could see the shape of what was happening clear enough. In some ways this is good; it makes for an engrossing read. In some ways it’s not so good; I would have preferred some more about Karadur and Azil’s relationship, as well as Karadur’s relationship to Tenjiro. In contrast to the time spent building up Wolf’s life (which eventually proved necessary to the plot, but still) everything else felt like it moved at doubletime. I don’t know if this is good or bad: clearly this is a plot-driven story, not character-driven, and yet. I wanted to see a little more of them, I wanted to linger a little longer at those lulls in the action and see the author dig a little deeper into the characters before my eyes.

Final note: Amazon consensus seems to read it as your traditional European-medieval setting. For me, some of the details seem to point otherwise: the name Tenjiro, for example, means “heaven’s hope.” The Japanese word for heaven is “ten.” And then there’re the twins’ nicknames for each other; Kaji and Tenji. Both have a vaguely Japanese feel to them–but the twins are blond. The myth Wolf recites to Thea also seems to have a vaguely Chinese bent to it; reminds me of the story about how the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac were chosen. There’s really nothing to say one way or another in the story, so you could read it one way or another. I’m not sure what image I have in my mind yet myself.

TL;DR — Overall definitely a good read; characters interesting, world fascinating, plot intriguing. I’m definitely looking for the sequel ASAP. Highly recommended.

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Thoughts on Byron’s “Cain”

September 18, 2008 at 5:32 am (Books Galore) ()

Had to read it in class, didn’t get a chance to say all I wanted to, which is probably just as well.

1. Cain may be immature but in a way so is Abel. If you define maturity as having experienced much and benefitted and learned from those experience, then they are both in a sense immature. Look at Abel, who has a childlike faith that God is good and everything God says is correct; he trusts unconditionally the words of his parents Adam and Eve and of his “grandfather” the Lord. He has no desire to question because his parents and superiors are automatically correct; he does not believe or even consider that they might be false or that there might be things his elders are unaware of.

Cain on the other hand, is full of rebellion. He is belligerent towards his elders and refuses to go along with what they say; he’s a sullen teenager to Abel’s optimistic young child. Cain question and Cain seeks answers and he’s looking for them where his parents won’t allow (with spirits and Lucifer), because he’s in that anti-authoritarian stage where he’s beginning to realize and believe that his parents are flawed and unknowledgeable and is perhaps seeking a replacement for the paragon of virtue that his parents once were in his own “childhood.” Note that he has an independent streak; he won’t bow to Lucifer either.

Both are immature, in a sense, because they have yet to experience true loss and tragedy. Their parents have, and therefore their parents are in a sense more “adult” then their children. But Cain and Abel? They just have stories of Eden that filter down to them; they’ve never had Eden and so have never lost it. In the end Cain manages to graduate to adulthood when he experiences true regret, guilt, anger, and sorrow, when he kills Abel. Abel never grows out of his own immaturity; he is the price of Cain’s growing up.

2. Cain and Adah as an inverse Adam and Eve (or rather, Eve and Adam.)

3. The role and portrayal of Lucifer is rather interesting. Lucifer isn’t explicitly stated to be the serpent who tempted Eve; he’s just there, called by the prospect of power. Possibly he shares with Cain a desire and respect for the truth–I can’t recall if this is supported by the text, but it did seem to me that Lucifer rebelled because he was against God’s concealment of the past worlds from the present one. He wanted God to tell the truth to his creations, and so he fell. If this is correct then it’s an interesting look at Lucifer; he fell by trying to uphold a Christian tenet, that of never lying (lies by omission are still lies.).

3a. Doesn’t Neil Gaiman’s Lucifer refuse to lie?

3 cont’d. So Lucifer is presented as a figure who represents truth, truth at any cost, and he takes advantage of Cain’s doubt to try and win over a follower. He shows Cain what God has concealed and betrays his own bitterness at being cast out of heaven. Lucifer tries to attract Cain with the promise of being a more truthful god than God himself (having blown open a lie-by-omission to Cain what with the revelation of previous worlds). Cain refuses; Cain doesn’t want to bow to anyone. He doesn’t want to serve anyone that would require him to bow.

4. Cain’s refusal to yield to God or Lucifer betrays his pride; he doesn’t want to bow to anyone who would require him to give rid of his pride just for the honor of bowing before them. Abel is quite happy to do so, but then his job consists of watching and caring for sheep. Cain’s job requires of him hard work; he tills the soil of the earth and grows his own fruits and feeds his family with the labor of his own hands. From his point of view God is asking him to give thanks for the chance to work his ass off to feed his family, which pretty much renders the value of his work moot because the work Cain does wouldn’t be his, it would be God’s. And he won’t do that.

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Book Report: The Languages of Pao & Gold and Iron by Jack Vance

September 6, 2008 at 10:04 am (Books Galore) (, )

So. Continuing my induction to science fiction literature…

The Languages of Pao was not what I was expecting. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing; it was hard for me to connect with Beran’s fears. I don’t know when Jack Vance was writing; perhaps this is a generation gap or someting? I did note that the device of introducing concepts and then explaining later (or introducing concepts that can be explained through continual usage, such as Utter Black as the color of royalty) is a very effective way of hooking readers. It smooths the path to infodumps (ever the curse of stories set in radically new worlds) because the it makes the reader want to know about what concept is all about.

Here, another random note.

The society of Pao has the same eerie “same, everything’s okay because that’s just how things are” quality that Lois Lowry’s The Giver’s world does — when Jonas’ dad kills the baby and says “bye bye little guy”  in a goofy talking-to-baby voice? Yeah.

Gold and Iron was much the same. Well, I expected the ending–which totally twisted on me, how d’you like that. I’m not sure how I feel about that story. It left me unsettled; the mode of gratitude you’d expect to be owed to Branch is not there, suggesting that such a mode is a human construct, rather than an inherent characteristic of sapient life. It’s interesting, because my current class is about gift and sacrifice and dealt a little with gratitude–one of the views we’re studying is that gratitude is actually a burden; we resent in our gratitude because we are forever beholden and can never discharge that debt. Does their lack indicate that they live lives without the paradoxical voluntary/obligatory nature of gifts and reciprocation? Does that make the alien races more or less enlightened than humanity? Is pragmatism the same as wisdom and truth? Or do we need the little lies, as Terry Pratchett would say, of gratitude to believe in the larger lies of loyalty and faithfulness to friends, family, and state?

I did like how Branch got in the last word, though. His sarcastic little comments surrounding Ellen’s apology and their child (though when he would have been conceived I do not know) are true, which is perhaps why the normally composedly superior Lekthwan was pissed; she knew they were true. Despite her belief in Lekthwanian superiority she knew that she had proven herself baser and inferior to Branch’s humanity when she did not protest leaving him on Magarak. She knew her apology was not enough, would never be enough, and that without him she would have spent the rest of her life in the breeding pens. She knew. And Branch knew. And she knew that he knew.

Overall I seem to sense that Jack Vance’s writing delights in delivering endings that aren’t what you expect them to be, or are what you expect them to be in a weird way. In both stories, ordinary people (for their world) are forced to confront radically different world views with greater or lesser success as understanding or assimilating. Large time jumps seem to be the norm to. I found both stories vaguely unsettling, I don’t know if I want to read more–his worlds are fascinating, but his stories are disquieting. At any rate, he was still well worth checking out.

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Book Report: Neuromancer by William Gibson

September 1, 2008 at 7:23 am (Books Galore) (, )

I finished reading Neuromancer for the first time today. And my mind? Is totally blown.

(Minor spoilers abound.)

Reading it is a strange experience. Slang is dropped every which way, casual; sometimes explained, sometimes not, and it’s best not to go back and look for definitions — just keep rolling, man, keep moving forward, or the story will leave you behind. There’s no glossary; closing the book feels like closing the lid on an interdimensional peephole.

This is my first real taste of cyberpunk, so excuse me if I’m incoherent. I just–I don’t know how to summarize the experience of reading Neuromancer. It’s totally mindblowing. You can see the seeds of tropes we take for granted these days–AI, shared consciousness, city-of-light representations of the internet, sending your mind into the Net–but it feels as fresh as if it were the first time I’d read any of it, and when you think about how, when this book first came out, it really was the first of its kind…yeah.

The characters are protagonists only because we’re in their viewpoint; there are no actually good people in it, which I suppose makes it rather thrilling. They’re all in their own ways broken, heroic and villainous, and it’s just a joy to read them, to feel the dirt and grime and grit of them and their world in your bones as you go through the story.

I realized that the flip switch was a way of letting the reader see what was happening to Molly while maintaining Case as the only POV character and holy shit does it work. It’s a storytelling device of such seamless elegance, of allowing two POVs without actually allowing it, and I wish I’d thought of it first. I didn’t even realize until halfway through the book, and it was a little like rumbling an old magician’s trick–there’s beauty in seeing it work, but there’s also a thrill at see why it does.

The plot leaves me with a sense of “and then what?” but that’s okay because like I said. There’s a sense that the world moves on, that the reader has only seen through the smallest of lenses the tiniest of glimpses of this vast world that lives and breathes and dies behind the scenes; you’ve seen the puzzle piece and must infer the puzzle. It’s breathtaking. It’s just. Whoa.

I almost don’t want to read sequels, because I’m afraid of destroying this magic (it seems weird to speak of magic when talking about cyberpunk, but oh well) that the book has created, like a self-contained bubble. If I seek more, if I look for more information, more stories, more answers–the bubble with burst, the magic will unravel. It just won’t be the same.

All I can say is, if you haven’t read this book yet–do so as soon as possible. This is the book that spawned a genre, isn’t it? If you enjoy fantasy, if you like sci-fi, you owe it to yourself to read Neuromancer.

That is all.

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