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Six Books - Qualified Perceptions
Six Books
Thirteen Orphans (by Jane Lindskold)
I picked this up because it sounded a lot like the Dragon cosmology, and might even have a Cycle war in it. But I haven't been able to make myself finish. It's not a bad book, there's nothing objectionable or stupid that I can rant about, it's just slow. It's all about talking to each other, and explaining the backstory, and then explaining the backstory to a different person who wasn't there for the first briefing, then discussing what to do, then a different subset discussing what to do, then a teaching montage about the magic system, then getting a new person to explain the backstory to. There were a couple of scenes so far where things happened, but I'm halfway through the book and am not grabbed. I was amused by the "Okay, we have a prisoner in our brig... um... hmm. We're not really sure to do with him, we'll leave him in the brig until we figure that out" flashback to Oath, though.

I Am Not A Serial Killer (by Dan Wells)
Sort of like Dexter but with a younger protagonist still trying to figure out he can be a sociopath but not be a bad guy (without the guiding Dad to lay down the rules for him. The baby-not-really-a-serial-killer psychology is good, both creepy and sad; the genre shift about halfway through the story I think lessens the psychological impact. It doesn't matter quite as much if you're having trouble restraining your murderous impulses, if you're in a genre with orcs (or the equivalent) who are morally safe to kill. Still, it was an interesting story. Three and a half stars.

Inda (by Sherwood Smith)
I had no idea when I read this that it was the first in a four-book series! I guess all four of them are out. If I was reading this earlier, I might have deducted a whole star for the betrayal (really, is it so much trouble to indicate that it is a series somewhere on the cover? Or the title page? Or ... anywhere?). As it is, I'm buying the other three now. Anyway. It's a complex story - there are a lot of characters, and most of them have several names, plus a title which is its own odd word. There are a ton of built-in relationships (pretty much everyone has a pre-arranged marriage that they're growing up with, as part of a political alliance). The world-building is detailed, and many of the details are unusual - there's very little magic, consisting of very basic health and hygiene spells (a spell for getting rid of bodily waste, a spell for getting pregnant...). There's casual brutality, but it's grounded in custom in a way that makes it part of a crazily martial culture, not just shorthand for "life is hard". There's love, and loyalty (always a favorite of mine), and complex family ties, and betrayal, and adventure, and war. Pretty much all the characters are multi-layered, and even the villains seem real and not just unpleasant. The first half is "Inda at warrior-school", the second half is "Inda on a boat", and both are pretty compelling, though it's really more about the characters than the events. It's not a lazy read - I am sure I missed some things, and got characters confused, for quite a while - and Smith has a habit of skipping forward in time (now they're in dock, now they're fighting at sea, leading me to briefly wonder if pirates attacked at the dock...); two years goes by between chapters, sometimes the action skips to the aftermath of a battle. But it's a worthy book for a reader willing to give it their full attention. Four and a half stars.

Retribution Falls, by Chris Wooding
My co-worker Jacob asked: "Is the title a place name, or a noun and verb?" Answer: both, really. A dysfunctional crew of smugglers/pirates is framed for a crime they... well, for a crime that they did commit, but it turned out a lot worse than it was supposed to be. Various madcap fighting adventures ensue. The dysfunctionality works - kind of like Firefly, but about two levels less cohesive, at least to start with. Because of course they have to come together, which they more or less do, but even though I was expecting it it didn't seem contrived. It's a fun romp with some nice suspense and character development, and well-done action scenes. Three and a half stars.

This Is Not a Game, by Walter Jon Williams
I've always been disappointed by Dream Park as a novel about role-playing games written by someone who had never played one, so things just didn't ring true. Often I can't tell, or can suspend my disbelief, but not in that case. In This Is Not a Game, the sort of game is different, and it's not one I'm as familiar with, but even so, it rang true. Simplified, almost certainly (it's just not possible to capture the real feel of an internet forum in half a page), but still, I could mostly believe in it. (I have no idea if Indonesia rang true, I have no context). The pacing and the plots hung on the wall in Act I worked. The tension worked. All in all, very fun. But I must digress - the phrase "the Russian Maffya" drove me crazy. It's interesting, what choices authors make about what bits of the real world to preserve. Most characters in a more or less real world setting drink Coca-Cola, not Boca-Bola, and live in real cities (well, some live in places like Metropolis or Gotham City). The bad guy countries in the West Wing were usually fictional, like Qumar, and there were some other fictional heads of state. I don't mind that (in this novel) the gold farmers play World of Cinnabar, but the Finux OS in Cryptonomicon grated on me. I guess it's that I don't mind fictitious things with made-up names, but I badly mind fictitious things with names that are just the real thing with a funny hat on. Is calling them "the Russian Maffya" supposed to make me, the reader, think that they're a different group than "the Russian Mafia"? Will it keep the real Russian Mafia from putting a hit out on the author? Is it a slur against mobsters? Or is that really how they spell it? Does that question even make sense? They spell it in Cyrillic, don't they? I submit that when the reader spends as much time as I did obsessing about the spelling of a sub-plot, that the author has done something wrong. Also three and a half stars, but I had to deduct half a star for "Maffya". (Also, it's interesting to read about the Russian Mafia and social media with an eye to Livejournal's troubles, but that didn't come up in the book.)

* The Guns of August (by Barbara Tuchman)
This was the audiobook harrock and I listened to driving around California. He's always said it's the best history book ever, and as I'm someone who has never really appreciated history, he may well be right. I'm not sure I'm going to work my way through the rest of his bookcase, but I found hearing about the actual people fascinating, in a way that I guess I have never really thought of epic historical figures as being real. Five stars.

Current Mood: sleepy sleepy

10 comments or Leave a comment
sorceror From: sorceror Date: August 24th, 2011 01:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

Barbara Tuchman's other books are also very good.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 24th, 2011 01:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
I might have to read the Zimmerman Telegram next, as it is (sort of kind of) the sequel. :)
sorceror From: sorceror Date: August 24th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

It's also nice and short. ^_^

After that you could go for the prequel, The Proud Tower.
From: desireearmfeldt Date: August 24th, 2011 01:33 pm (UTC) (Link)


I'd be interested in borrowing Inda & Retribution Falls sometime, if they're borrowable (but not 'till comps are done). :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 24th, 2011 01:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Borrowable?

Sure, they're both borrowable. (The later three books in the Inda series will also be borrowable once I finish them, but I'm only in book 2. :) )
fredrickegerman From: fredrickegerman Date: August 24th, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Borrowable?

I'd be interested in borrowing the Guns of August audiobook, since I hear Jerry won't let the physical book out of his sight.

Or did you just buy MP3s?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 24th, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Borrowable?

It sounds like Jerry is willing to loan you the physical book, if you promise cross your heart to return it. :)
But I can loan you the audiobook if you prefer - it is an MP3, but I have a spare ipod.
jadia From: jadia Date: August 24th, 2011 02:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read the whole Inda series (through mitsfs) and liked them. :-) Hits the right buttons for me for giant fantasy series....
ricedog From: ricedog Date: August 24th, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

This is not a comment

It's spelled мафия which could be Mafiya or Mafija.

The thing that bothered me was that one of the main character's superpowers was basically that she had an iPhone. I couldn't tell if the book was old enough that this was supposed to represent the future, or deliberate alternate history, or something about Indonesia.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 24th, 2011 05:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: This is not a comment

Yeah, Wikipedia transliterated it as "Mafiya" which I decided could be read as "Maffya" if you had ligature problems with your font, but that was getting even more sidetracked. :)

I think her phone's main superpower is that it has connectivity everywhere (satellite uplink for where there are no cell towers), which I was willing to consider cool. But you're right that it was described as extra-advanced (and thus Future) with standard iPhone features, in a book written in 2009. Though there's definitely alternate history / future going on with the phones and laptops, because many of them have miniturbines that run on fuel cells (though hers does not).
10 comments or Leave a comment