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Two Books, One Rant - Qualified Perceptions
Two Books, One Rant
I wanted to wait until I had a third book, but Gardens of the Moon is being incredibly slow going, and I got impatient.

The Bastard King (by Dan Chernenko, who is apparently Harry Turtledove in disguise, and decloaks for the third book in this series. I really disapprove of switching aliases mid-series, but his trick did fool me into buying this book, which does not actually make me approve more...)
The stage-setting quote at the beginning of the book says that this is the story of a time when the land had two kings. One was a great king, and one, plainly, was not. But which was which? Anyway, the two kings are going to be the young, untried-but-clever, book-learned, underestimated heir, and the battle-hardened, world-weary but canny ship captain. The thing is, they're both good guys. So that could be interesting. It's that promise of interestingness that kept me going, through a long ways of... not so good.

There's the short reign of the Evil Brother, whose entire ruling strategy seems to be "Now that I'm king, all must obey me! Muah hah hah! This is great!", and who sleeps with his guardsmen instead of his wife, because gay is shorthand for evil when you're a lazy writer. Like the Evil Brother, all the other bad guys announce themselves quite obviously, by saying things like "You gods-cursed fool, taxes are for peasants!" and trying to urinate on the people they're arguing with. The plot twists are things like: The emissary of the Evil God comes and says 'if you don't surrender, we'll crush you with our extra-bad winter.' The heir says 'No, we don't surrender, go away', and tells everyone to stock up on extra food. Because of the Brilliant and Totally-Unexpected-by-Bad-Guy Wisdom of the heir, everyone survives the winter with not much problem. Finally, the writing style is quite like the plotting of the newspaper Spider-Man strip, which seems to assume that the average reader will miss more days than not, and doesn't want them to get confused. Here's an example, in which at least every other sentence could be crossed out without particular loss of meaning.

Soft, hungry noises came from the clotted darkness. Grus didn't know what the creatures that made those noises were hungry for. He didn't know, but he could guess. If they were hungry for anything but him, he would have been astonished. And what would be left of him once they'd fed? He didn't want to think about that. No, he didn't want to think about that at all.
Anyway, I dutifully slogged through nearly two hundred pages of what I expected to be preliminary exposition to the schism between the good guys and the civil war. Then it got to the point in the plot when the captain is getting smacked around a little too hard by the Regent to the heir, so he tosses her in an oubliette and declares that he's going to be king. But, he concedes, the heir can be king too. They'll both be king. What? No civil war? No forcing good people to choose one or the other? No argument? I'm done here. Normally I don't give out star ratings when I don't finish the book, but I'm more annoyed than usual because I normally avoid Turtledove and he tricked me, but I don't want to have to finish reading the darned thing to write a longer rant. I'll give it half a star for having no egregious grammatical errors, and half a star more for a nice cover, but that's it.

One Of Us (by Michael Marshall Smith)
This was something of an experiment: is this book going to be the same book as the other two of his I've read (Only Forward and Spares)? The setting is about midway between the opening settings of the other two; not as funny as Only Forward and not as grim as Spares. It's a sort of noirish future with mad bits (like Blade Runner, it always rains in LA, except when it snows, because of a mistake adjusting the microclimate when Hollywood wanted to film something about Maine in winter on one of their back lots...); the AI-laden appliances, leading to herds of migrating coffeemakers, are a particularly eccentric touch. The basic plot starts out with a guy who temporarily takes other people's memories (somewhat illegal) being non-temporarily stuck with a memory of committing a murder (really really illegal) and the wacky hijinks that ensue as he tries to find the memory donor and make her take it back. Anyway, like the other books, it does have a bit of a genre shift, but it's mostly at the end, and doesn't totally alter the story. And there's the expected theme of being weighted down by your past, both generally and explicitly (with the "taking people's memories" plot). Three and a half stars, and rifmeister likely wants to read it.

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6 comments or Leave a comment
jdbakermn From: jdbakermn Date: March 5th, 2008 11:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Wow, I like that.

"No egregious grammatical errors" = 1/2 star.
"Nice cover" = 1/2 star.

Do you have any other things that can get a book some automatic stars? :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 5th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Mentioning me in the acknowledgements section! :)
(I think I've given a whole star for a cover I really really liked).

But mostly, I have this feeling that to give out *no* stars for a book, it has to be worse than just that I didn't like it, it has to have some actual embarassing failing of bookishness. Like failure to output a proper dark black, so that all of the text has white pixels in it like this, or having lots of egregious spelling and grammar mistakes.

In this case, I'm imagining that I'm a kindergarten teacher, and I'm giving Mr. Turtledove five points for spelling his name correctly at the top of the page. As he is not a kindergartner, he ought to be ashamed that those are the only five points he can earn from me. Not to mention, he did *not* spell his name correctly, he spelled it "Chernenko", which isn't even close.

Edited at 2008-03-05 11:32 pm (UTC)
arcanology From: arcanology Date: March 5th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Turtledove used to be good but now he just churns out books like a cow churning out manure. I'm constantly annoyed by how the promise of his early books has turned into these titanic multivolume series which are at least 50% repetition and 25% crap with 25% of the old guy left which makes me sometimes read them and then be annoyed all over again.

Maybe I'll go read "Guns of the South" again.
From: tirinian Date: March 6th, 2008 06:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, the only Turtledove I've read is his first 4-5 books, I think, and I thought they were pretty decent. :-)
From: brilit Date: March 6th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Why do you still call this Earth?

I also have a major problem with his long serieses. (Well, the few that I've gotten to book three or so; I've stopped doing them ages ago.) He starts with this nifty idea for how a single point of shift creates an alternate timeline. And then he just keeps writing and writing until it's not at all tied to real history and may as well be pure fantasy.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 6th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
Even "Guns of the South" I wasn't as fond of as others are, though it was certainly better. I didn't take notes, having read it too long ago, but I kind of remember thinking the sides had gotten painted as awfully black and white (no pun intended). Something like, Lee decides to free the slaves because he's a good guy, and that's what good guys do. So the bad guys say "Muah hah hah! Die, all of you shall die for thwarting us!" because that's what bad guys do. Though I think I would have given it more than one star, because I did finish it without too much exasperation.
6 comments or Leave a comment