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Some Stuff I read - Qualified Perceptions
Some Stuff I read
Seeker (by Jack McDevitt)
It's a detective story, with space paint. That, I don't mind. When I imagine the future, I admit, it looks kind of like the present but with blaster guns and space ships, and maybe the automobiles run on hydrogen. The weird thing about the book is that it's kind of schizophrenic; I feel like if we have coffee cups now, and had coffee cups nine thousand years ago, we really shouldn't have totally forgotten what English is like (yeah, I know, everyone loves the InfoWars, including me), and I can't quite tell why the character can tell that a particular coffee cup is an antiquity. I found the "OMG you guys are grave-robbers, selling the past" hysteria a little over-the-top; the private v. public distinction isn't what drives the Elgin Marbles controversy, and I think you're just not going to get spaceships driving around looking for stuff without someone paying the bills. There's "it belongs in a museum!", but a lot of museums are private rather than government. And I really couldn't tell why Alec was the Brilliant Amazing Guy and the narrator was just the sidekick that all the job offers kept including as an afterthought - she seemed to do all the work. I suppose he was the PI and she was the postdoc... Anyway, a lot of little quibbles for a story that I wished I found more compelling. Two stars.

Bad Prince Charlie, by John Moore
Credit to the cover for perfectly matching a scene from the book. I generally like Moore's books; this one (starting in Hamlet before digressing) is a bit more clever than Heroics for Beginners, but still not as brilliant as The Unhandsome Prince. Three and a half kind of goofy stars.

Speaker of Mandarin, by Ruth Rendell
It always astonishes me that Ruth Rendell is still alive and writing books; her mysteries seem to me so much of a past era, like Agatha Christie's. (Well, some of them. Others are more psychological thrillers that could stand beside Thomas Harris and not look out of place). This one is from the middle of the Inspector Wexford series, with a properly overcomplex set of plots for the mystery, and some 20% psychological drama that is all Rendell and not at all Christie. Three and a half stars; I wouldn't recommend starting with this one, but for anyone looking for an author of a million mysteries to read...

The Poison Master (by Liz Williams)
"Motivate everyone - kill a loved one" was one of those half-serious rules of Asssassin character writing. I seem to have hit a stretch of "Motivate everyone - have the oppressive government requisition a sister into magical personality-destroying servitude." Okay, it's only two books, this and Bridge of Dreams, but it's still remarkably specific, enough that for a while I deluded myself into thinking that it was the same author. Anyway... the writing is lovely. The atmosphere is spooky, the alchemical descriptions are fascinating, it makes me want to go out with a crucible and retort and try melting things... but the plot is kind of unsatisfying. Things just happen to Alivet, and she does her best to cope. People tell her to come with them, and she does, having no better choice. Different people tell her that the first set of people were lying to them, and she kind of believes them, because what proof does she have that they're not? Then iterate. She just doesn't have enough context to make her own judgement calls once she's been transported to a new (extra-poisonous) planet. If she had had a little more of her own volition, I would have quite liked it, but as it was, my interest was more in the language than the story. There's also a bunch of short chapters set in the 1500s, detailing how John Dee hooked up with the Lords and got a bunch of humans to the planet of Latent Emanation, but I found those pretty skippable, as it's totally clear from the main story that there are humans who got taken to Latent Emanation by the Lords, because that's how the whole thing starts, so there's really no surprises there. Two and a half stars, mostly for the writing and the alchemy.

WebMage (by Kelly McCullough)
An charming, hyperactive, mishmash between Amber and RFC 959. It's a first novel, and there's a few ragged edges: the webgoblin free will plot was a little overdone, and I personally think it's probably ethical to use the equivalent of mind control to get someone to LEAP AWAY FROM THE ONCOMING TRAIN, even if you've given up mind control in the more general case. And while the romance was a little quick, I thought it was sweet that they don't just leap straight to "I love you" but the much more awkward "I've grown quite fond of you" and the like. I also found it cute that the magic/hackery is somewhat under-exposited; you use ltp to transport, mrls to specify places in shadows reality nodes, and smtp to send mail. Most of the book is a fast-moving romp; the ending is a little shaky, but overall it's a lot of fun. Three and three quarters stars.

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