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Some large number of books - Qualified Perceptions
Some large number of books
* for ebooks, # for audiobooks. Embarassingly, no paper books at all here, though I have started another Empire of the Apt book on paper

#A Fatal Grace (by Louise Penney)
I did not like this one as much as the first - the actual murder and solution felt a quite bit more contrived, as mysteries are sometimes prone to, when the explanation fits the clues but does not explain why the murderer made those particular choices so as to leave those particular clues. Nevertheless, the writing is luminous, and the thing-which-clues-are-pried-out-of (the painting in the last book) is played by a videotape of the Lion in Winter so I went and watched along on youtube, which pleased me quite a bit. And goodness, there is a secret nefarious arc plot! I will probably continue through the whole series, but may not write full reviews of all of them. (It took me until the third book to finally try and figure out what that word was that kept being used as some sort of title. "Anjean Yvette Nicole. Anjean Isabelle Lacoste. Anjean Lemure. I finally went and looked in the text version - the word is Agent, but the narrator uses the French pronounciation (the series is set in Quebec, so the English/French culture difference is a character of its own.)) As the series progresses, I still think the actual mystery part can be a little too convoluted, in order to set up a nice puzzle, but that's often built into the genre. A Rule Against Murder plays around with the trick of not telling the reader who a character is, just referring to them as "the murderer" for a whole scene, which annoys me rather than increases tension. Neverthelesss, I still really love the characters and the thoughtful pace and the humor. Four stars.
The Cruelest Month: Well, I'm glad the arc plot reached something of a resolution. The rest of the Surete really does seem to be terrible. And I really liked the wrapup of the House on the Hill.
The Brutal Telling, Bury Your Dead: These are really a pair, and Brutal Telling is brutal. Not in violence, but in character deconstruction. Ouch. The second half redeems the first some, though I think it gives itself more credit for the redemption than is really there. The third of the three subplots is an odd duck, a flashback of something much more like a procedural thriller, but since it's Penney, it's a hearbreaking thoughtful thriller.

*Maelstrom (by Peter Watts)
Yup, it's like Starfish but getting darker. Here's a lovely little quote that epitomizes the dystopic culture that the books start with, before they segue into full on end of the world:
Access to your medical records will help us provide better service. All information will be kept strictly confidential except in the event of a public health or marketing priority, and in such cases we may be legally required to sequence-ID your sample anyway.

*Molly Fyde and the Land of Light (by Hugh Howey)
I am really torn on this series. On the one hand, I do really want to know what happens next, as the book goes along. Various bits are novel and interesting and evocative. But on the other hand, the main characters are just so painfully naive! It's like the crew has sworn an oath amongst themselves that only one of them is allowed to be suspicious for any given encounter, and the others have to be grievously disappointed when it turns out that everyone is not their happy friend. In the previous book, I won't hold the initial "what? you're out to get us?" against them, because that's a fine spy-genre opening - you start by doing the perfectly mundane harmless thing and are startled when people start shooting at you. But then there was the Planet of the Warbears, who the main character was so very sure must be good guys because their planet was just so pretty. (They're so fluffy!). This book, it just keeps coming. There's the Enemy Homeworld, which they jump to, carrying an unconscious enemy alien. Now, this is a serious war that's been going on for generations. When they first met this alien - beaten, chained to the floor, clearly an abused slave - the main characters both had to work to restrain themselves from running over and attacking it. This seems like an Ender's Game type war. Anyway. They jump to the Enemy Homeworld, with the unconscious (rescued) alien, and then their ship is promptly boarded and they are arrested and put in a five star hotel with bars on the doors. And they are sulky because they were treated so unfairly, when they were trying to be helpful! Sure, their intentions were good, but I kind of think the only reason their ship wasn't just blown to smithereens was plot defense. Later, Molly is paying a brief cyberspace visit, which involves jacking in and passing out (in typical cyberpunk fashion). The party hacker, futzing around on the local network, notices that after a while, Molly is being transferred from the visitor room to Long Term Storage, and mentions that she's going to need rescuing. The other guy chews the hacker out for hacking on their hosts' network, which is impolite. And then he figures that since his gut feeling is that Molly is fine, the hacker has probably gotten confused, or it's a computer error. I suppose the constant belief that all sentients (even the ones we're at war with) are basically decent and nice is a better attitude to have in a YA book than "all sentients are horrible, don't trust anyone" but it's kind of frustrating. For all that it drives me crazy, though, I do want to find out what happens next.

*The Quantum Thief (by Hannu Rajaniemi)
This is a pyrotechnic book, with concepts and situaions and imaginary technology whizzing by at high speed, each one interesting enough to be a book of its own. One of my favorites is where the book opens, in a "Dilemma Prison", where copies of your mind battle other minds in an iterated prisoner's dilemma tournament, in theory to condition your mind into being less of a defector. It's a fascinating thought experiment about punishment and rehabilitation, and it flies by in a chapter. The plot leaps about (especially early, when it's alternating between different characters), and the ideas are introduced in passing without much exposition, so it's kind of confusing, and it took until about halfway through the book before I really bonded with any of the characters, but they do become sympathetic eventually. On the other hand... what exactly happened? I'm... not quite sure. I am glad that there are books like this being written, even if it's not quite the right book for me, the same way a GM team needs a fountain-of-plots like tirinian. Three and three quarters stars for general reading, but half a star bonus of sheer inventiveness.

*Libriomancer (by Jim Hines)
This was fun. I was briefly reminded of Inkheart, which also has magic which lets you bring things out of books, but the central conceit of that book was "The most amazing story ever was this book which I've made up here and don't actually have to tell you that much about, but it's totally amazing, trust me." The central conceit of Libriomancer is more like "The most amazing stories ever are THOSE STORIES YOU ALREADY LOVE." It's less pretentious, and more inclusive-with-buddies, with a serious nerd core. (Okay, now I feel bad. Inventing imaginary books for your own book is a long and established tradition, and Libriomancer does some of it too. But I didn't care for Inkheart for more reasons than that, but seem to have not reviewed it.) I found the classification of vampires (originally created when natural-talent libriomancers get bitten by their books) in all their species (Meyerii sparklers, Stokerus classicals...) hilarious. I think this one is an mjperson book, if he can get past the spider. Four stars.

*The Corpse-Rat King (by Lee Battersby)
It's sort of like a book where one of the Thenardiers is the main characters, so it took him a while to become much sympathetic at all. But by the end of the book, when he declared "I can make myself believe anything, as long as I need to", that sealed winning me over. (That will really only mean anything to people in Auria). The story is kind of rambly - guy is tasked by the Dead to provide them a king. He alternates between fleeing and stumbling into potential kings, and he wanders in and out of other people's plots while he does so. Some of the plots are nice self-contained vignettes, but others left me wondering "what the heck just happened there?" I leave you with this paragraph, which was probably my favorite (except for the "I can make myself believe anything" quote).
The Spinal Ranges were mountains, once, long before men appeared in the world, when giants and monsters made of rock and starlight and spirit wandered the world without fear of persecution or autopsy. When the world was young, and everything was proud, they jutted into the sky like a proclamation, a challenge made of rock and ice that dared the sun to leap over them, and promised impalement should it fail. But they had grown old, and the sun had not, and eventually they gave up trying to catch it every morning.
Three and a half stars, but I'll admit half a star is for the two quotes.

*Dodger (by Terry Pratchett)
Terry Pratchett stakes out a large breadth of territory between between clever and emotionally resonant. I like the space in the center best - the Rincewind books are too clever/silly, and Nation is emotionally resonant but not clever enough to really be funny. Night Watch and some of the others are the sweet spot, both moving and amusing. Anyway, Dodger (set in a London which is oddly like Ankh-Morpork without magic and a different map) is on the clever end of things, though it's more sly than comic, like a running joke of Dickens taking notes when Dodger says something noteworthy that happens to contain a novel title (which is admittedly not the first time I have seen that particular species of joke). Oddly, the most emotional bit is the appearance of Sweeney Todd, though I am too trained by the musical to be as sympathetic as I ought. (I also felt oddly bereft that there was no Holmes in this Archetypical Fictional Victorian London, but he probably wouldn't have been willing to stay on the sidelines as the mystery went by...) I think if you're a Pratchett completist or prefer the clever ones, this is definitely for you, but it's not the Pratchett book I'd recommend first.

* Planesrunner and Be My Enemy by Ian McDonald
Book One: This was fun. It's the thing I look for in steampunk - high adventure and airships. (It tries to pretend it's science fiction multiverse, but it's not fooling me. Once they switch dimensions, it's steampunk. There are airships. Maybe it'll be differently fun when they go to some more dimensions, but I bet they bring their airship with them...). Four stars.
For Book Two, I will add a quarter star for playing around with the idea of "there are duplicate yous out there" more, but deduct half a star for making the duplicate of the main character inexplicably horrible without giving him a proper Mirrorverse Villain goatee.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (by Robin Sloan)
This is a very odd book. It's about books and cryptography and wizards and Google and conspiracies and data visualization and props making and friendship. I worry that that makes it sound like Dan Brown, which it is nothing at all like; Dan Brown goes towards pretentious, and this is in the totally other direction from pretentious, whatever that is. The story starts with an ex-web-designer who gets a job at a bookstore that has some desultory shelves of "normal" books, and shelves and shelves of... odder books, that he's not supposed to look at. And then he starts trying to figure out what's going on. There's a bit early on where I worried that it was going to be one of those infuriating plots that is entirely devoted to the protagonist having to fix things he set in motion by being stupid, the kind where if he had just sat on his hands everything would have been fine. I often find those plots annoying, so I will tell you that this is not that sort. I spent pretty much the whole time not being sure exactly what sort of plot it ''was'' - I just had no idea where things were going, but it was fun to go along for the ride. Google employees may love it (Google is nearly a protagonist in its own regard), or they may have attacks of ARGH DETAILS ALL WRONG. But I found it adorable. Four stars.


4 comments or Leave a comment
ironrat From: ironrat Date: November 2nd, 2012 02:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Is Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore a short story, or has it turned into a longer, more novel-length piece? Because I read it a few years ago when it was a short story floating around the internet, and it would be pretty cool if it had been expanded.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 2nd, 2012 03:21 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a novel now. I didn't realize it was a short story before! (Apparently the hardcover has a glow-in-the-dark cover. :) )
ironrat From: ironrat Date: November 3rd, 2012 01:45 am (UTC) (Link)

And it makes pretty much thematic sense for the cover to glow in the dark. :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: November 3rd, 2012 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, interesting! It's a much complicatedly larger story now, of course, and different in surprising ways. And - oddly, now I have an answer for one scene that bothered me in the book, and the answer is "because it was a scene in the story, but much simpler, and he made it more complicated rather than replacing it."
4 comments or Leave a comment