Into the Drowning Deep

July 31, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

deepInto the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

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I’ve read a bunch of novellas by Grant/McGuire so far, but Into the Drowning Deep is the first novel of hers I’ve read. I had been looking forward to it, since I’ve liked her style, but felt like the novellas moved too quickly, or didn’t give enough attention to the character development. I chalked it up to the brevity of the format, and wanted to see what she could do with a full-length novel. Rolling in the Deep helped me move this up my list to read.

In a way, I was right, in that the novel starts out being almost exactly like the novella, just with more character and plot development. It’s definitely the same story (scientists and television producers go out to the Mariana Trench to discover if mermaids are real), but it uses different characters and goes into more depth with the cast and their trials. The good news is Grant’s characterization skills are top notch, as she draws out a cast of different characters who are all distinct and likeable (or unlikeable, as the case may be).

The thing is, there’s something about Grant’s style overall that feels a little flighty, giving the suggestion that we shouldn’t take the events too seriously. We should, because this is a straight-up horror novel set at sea, and it’s not that Grant’s style is irreverent, but it has a kind of casual feel that’s at odds with the tone of the story. It’s a characteristic I’m finding more often in more recent genre fiction, and I’m not quite used to it.

Aside from that, though, Into the Drowning Deep is a solid novel, in that it’s easily accessible, palpably tense, and populated with characters whose desires drive the plot. It doesn’t quite compare with the brilliance of her Wayward Children series, but it does show off Grant’s skills as a writer. One of these days I’ll commit to some of her longer series.

Started: June 24, 1028
Finished: July 15, 2018

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The Orpheus Process

July 30, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

orpehusThe Orpheus Process by Daniel H. Gower

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The Orpheus Process was lucky thirteen in the Dell/Abyss line of books, so of course it has to be a good one, right? It won’t be as bad as either of the Ron Dee books, right? I’m not just trying to pump myself up for reading another crappy horror novel, right?

Unfortunately, no. The Orpheus Process doesn’t delve as deeply into the pointlessness that Dusk, Obsessed, or Descent did, but it’s hardly a good book. It has a dry, unemotional style that feels very tell-y, while also having a melodramatic, over-the-top feel to how Gower tells the story. It’s filled with stilted dialogue and inconsistent characters who flip-flop on their decisions without much reason why. I pegged that much of it within the first fifty pages, but the rest of the book revealed bad science, gratuitous violence, and ridiculous plotting. The book is readable, and doesn’t tread the misogyny line as much as those other three books (though there is a heavy dose of sexism), but that’s about the best I can say for it.

This isn’t a book that makes me want to throw it into the fire, but neither is it a book I would ever want to re-read, nor is it one I would recommend. To paraphrase Eric Idle, this isn’t a book for reading; this is a book for laying down and avoiding. I have fond memories of this publishing line, but I should have remembered Sturgeon’s Law before attempting this reading project, as I have regrets.

Started: July 5, 2018
Finished: July 15, 2018

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Messenger’s Legacy

July 27, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

legacyMessenger’s Legacy by Peter V. Brett

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Right as I was starting to read The Core, I discovered that Brett had another novella that fell between books three and four of his Demon Cycle. Since I was finishing out the series, I figured I needed to read it, too, but since I had already started The Core, I decided to wait to read this one. That was both a good idea and a bad idea.

It was a good idea, because I didn’t remember Briar from the previous books, and The Core helped jog my memory and let me know who he was. It was a bad idea, though, because by the time I finished this book, I knew what had happened to him when he was younger, albeit just in the broad sense. Messenger’s Legacy feels superfluous afterward, since all it does is flesh out the details. Had I read the book in its right place, it might have had a different effect on me, and it’s certainly not fair to judge the novella on my own failure to stick to the timeline, but it definitely makes a difference.

I don’t think the book is necessary to read if you’ve already finished the series, but if you’re reading the series fresh, make sure you drop this volume into its right place. It will be new to you there, and will set the ground for the character when he enters the story as a key player. Not having read it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of The Core, but it would have made a difference had I read it in its proper place in the chronology.

Started: July 14, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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Return of the Jedi

July 26, 2018 at 4:25 pm (Reads) (, , )

jediReturn of the Jedi by James Kahn

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Return of the Jedi is my least favorite of the original trilogy of movies. I’ve never been convinced that Vader showed any signs of having good in him before this movie, and the way Luke keeps telling everyone that he does never made much sense to me. It’s a sticking point for me, and I have yet to see anything in the movies that resolved it for me. When I started this novelization, I was hoping the book would give more insight into how Luke knew that about his father.

Unfortunately, the novel sheds no additional light on on Luke’s revelation. Instead, it makes Vader out to be even more cold blooded, enough so that he struck me as a character who was less likely to have any good in him than in the movie. The novel does go into a little more depth, adding dialogue that was likely cut from the script before filming, but it doesn’t resolve that central issue I had with the book.

The novelization is a bit tell-y, and the characterization feels weaker since Kahn appears to rely on readers being familiar with the characters from the movie instead of developing them in the story itself. It’s a decent enough read, and would entertain someone looking for a quick read, but I don’t see why anyone would choose to read the book over seeing the movie. It doesn’t add enough to make it a necessary read.

Started: July 6, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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The Core

July 25, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

coreThe Core by Peter V. Brett

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It’s weird to think I’ve only been reading The Demon Cycle since 2013. It feels like it’s only been three years, tops, but by the time I got into it, The Daylight War had only just come out in paperback, and I had to wait for the last two books to come out along with everyone else. I hate waiting, but I also hate losing track of details from one book to the next.

The good news is that Brett does such an extraordinary job of building his world that it only took about 100 pages to be completely familiar with what had come before. Characters came back to me quickly, and as they did, so did their stories. The biggest struggle I had was remembering which events went with which book, but that didn’t affect the story, since that wasn’t relevant to the plot itself.

The book seems to polarize people, namely in how Brett brings the series to a close. More to the point, it’s in how long it takes to get there. Brett populated his saga with a ton of characters (not GRRM levels, but still one that might require a spreadsheet), and it seems like he was wanting to make sure each one got their own conclusion, so it takes well over half the book to get to the journey to the final confrontation, and then well over three quarters (maybe even seven-eighths) of the book to get to that confrontation. It then takes almost no time to get through it, which surprises me, for all the build-up Brett put into that moment.

So I’m at odds with the book, because it’s well written, strongly compelling, and vivid, but at the same time it’s a little rambling, and doesn’t bring a level of epic heroism to the conclusion that I expected after all this time. The series has such a strong start, and even as the story loses its focus in the last two books, it’s still readable. I mean, this is the longest book I’ve read this year, and it only took me two weeks to finish it. I feel like this is a three-star book, tops, but for all that Brett brought to the entire series, and how well he built this world, I’ll bump it up to four.

Started: July 1, 2018
Finished: July 14, 2018

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The Door into Summer

July 24, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

doorThe Door into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

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I still haven’t read enough Heinlein to be an expert on his fiction, but I’ve read enough of his fiction and people writing about his fiction to know what to expect from his books. There seems to be a divide in his ouevre, separating his juvenile works from his adult works, with the consensus being that his juvenile books represent his best work. The Door into Summer feels like it’s a hybrid of the two; it feels like he’s still writing in his juvenile style, but starting to write for and about adults.

Because it’s Heinlein, you get the standard sexist and anti-government stances, though he hasn’t quite yet reached the point where that’s the point of the book. Unforunately, it also means that the book will feature a male main character in an inappropriate relationship with a female minor who is also related to the main character. I wouldn’t have expected that to be a standard thing in a Heinlein novel, but both Time for the Stars and The Door into Summer have featured such a relationship. In both cases, the relationships are instigated by the minor, but that doesn’t make it any less inappropriate or icky. It’s hard to defend the rest of the book due to this one aspect of it, but it reads so well that I’m going to try.

I read an article by Jo Walton where she noted that no one could write a sentence that compelled you to read the next one like Heinlein, and I get that. The stories are wildly compelling, though I’d be hard pressed to say why. They just work, in an organic kind of way that defies explanation. I’m hesitant to read any of his later works, since I understand they veer off into blatant crazy-man philosophies, but these earlier works make me want to read all of his stuff. I have another audiobook to finish before I begin tackling the rest of his earlier books, but I’m looking forward to reading them.

The later stuff, though? I feel like I’m going to have to ease my way into them.

Started: July 2, 2018
Finished: July 8, 2018

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Usagi Yojimbo: Mysteries

July 23, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

usagiUsagi Yojimbo: Mysteries by Stan Sakai

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Stan Sakai can churn out a lot of Usagi Yojimbo. I don’t mind at all, since I have yet to come across a collection I haven’t liked. I’ve said before what makes the series so great — vivid characters, real history, a good sense of place, and honest conflicts — and that holds true with Mysteries, which of course is no surprise.

One of Sakai’s more recent character creations is Inspector Ishida, a police inspector who investigates the crimes in his district in feudal Japan. Usagi and Ishida are two characters who interact well together — both rely on people underestimating them, though for different reasons — and Mysteries is a collection of stories featuring the two characters. The collection would be a good one regardless, but with both of them featured in the entire book, of course it’s good.

I repeat myself a lot in my reviews of these collections, but the series overall is consistently good, and since Mysteries is volume thirty-two, it’s hard to come up with new praise for it. Regardless, Usagi Yojimbo is a series to read, for readers of any age. If you haven’t yet, now is the best time to start reading it.

Started: July 7, 2018
Finished: July 7, 2018

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Tales from Jabba’s Palace

July 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

jabbaTales from Jabba’s Palace, edited by Kevin J. Anderson

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One of the things I like about these anthologies edited by Anderson is how the stories interweave to tell a larger story concerning the scene from the movie. These aren’t standalone stories about each character; they’re stories that, together, form a larger picture about what’s happening behind the throne room. It’s a clever idea, made admirable by how Anderson had to work with the authors to make sure the stories worked together. It makes me wonder if Anderson came up with the backstory, or if the authors worked together to create it.

Like any anthology, though, the stories are mixed, with some good ones (A.C. Crispin’s take on Yarna was especially good) and some bad ones, with a lot of them just being mediocre. They do a lot to fill in backstories, which seems to be the primary purpose of a lot of the Expanded Universe books, but as stories, they’re not always the best. It doesn’t help that some of the more notable characters, like Boba Fett and Oola, don’t get the kind of attention one would expect. There’s more opportunity for comedy with these characters, though, which isn’t something you see too often in the books. Salacious Crumb’s and the Gamorrean guard’s stories stand out in that respect.

Despite liking Crispin’s story, I had issues with it being the tale of the “Fat Dancer”. I mean, the frog-thing from that one two-second scene gets his own story, and is named in the title, but here we get “Fat Dancer”? She has a name, folks. Why reduce her down to one characteristic? Given that the story was written by a woman, I was surprised this was the approach taken to it. It was disappointing.

So, it’s a little good, and a little mediocre, though none of the stories were bad. This is part of the reason I’ve stopped reading anthologies, save for ones where I have a reason to feel all the stories are of high quality. I just prefer stories with more room to breathe, and written by authors I know and trust to take me on a good ride.

Started: June 22, 2018
Finished: July 1, 2018

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Post Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror

July 19, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , , )

mortemPost Mortem: New Tales of Ghostly Horror, edited by Paul F. Olson & David B. Silva

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The next book in my Abyss project is Post Mortem, an anthology of short stories. I’m not particularly fond of anthologies. I’ll usually find a few gems, but, save for the rare exceptions like The Best of Pulphouse, I’ve never read an anthology where I find more good stories than bad ones. The good news is that ghost stories tend to work best as short stories, since they tend to leave off with the main character being haunted, and don’t need lengthy conclusions.

The opening story, “Each Night, Each Year” by Kathryn Ptacek, is the perfect opener, as it was evocative and personal. Gary Brandner’s “Mark of the Loser” follows, and it felt more gratuitous and pointless, and was too predictable. It didn’t leave me with the kind of feeling Ptacek’s story did, but it helped set the stage for what kinds of stories were to come.

Charles de Lint’s “Timeskip” feels a little forced at first, but when I looked back on it, I found it was organic. De Lint defines his world, populates it, and sets the rules, and then lets the story play out as it will. That it’s spooky is just the icing on the cake. Steve Rasnic and Melanie Tem’s “Resettling” follows, and was, of course, top notch. They understand horror well, and balance personal relationships with ghosts remarkably well, and not just with this story.

“Servitor” by Janet Fox was a bit more on the gratuitous side, but was more thematic. Thomas Tessier’s “Blanca” was the same, though it’s more brooding and cultural. It reminded me somewhat of “Ma Qui” by Alan Brennert. “Nine Gables” by James Howard Kunstler was another story where personal relationships parallelled the haunting, but I didn’t find it to be as effective as the Tems’ story.

Charles L. Grant’s “The Last Cowboy Song” was the one I most wanted to read, and I wasn’t disappointed. Aside from being a quiet horror story, it was more about the positivity of ghosts, instead of about being haunted. It runs counter to “The Ring of Truth” by Thomas F. Monteleone, where the ghosts are hunters with a vengeance.

“Eyes of the Swordmaker” by Gordon Linzer was the outcast of the book, for being set in ancient Japan, and for being the most evocative of all the stories. It’s genuinely spooky, and it makes the hauting a personal choice. This might be my favorite of them all. Ramsey Campbell’s “The Guide”, on the other hand, just doesn’t make sense to me. I feel like I should appreciate Campbell more, but I never can figure out what’s happening in his stories, or what’s supposed to make them frightening.

P.W. Sinclair’s “Getting Back” was decent, but nothing spectacular. The same could be said about “Walkie-Talkie” by Donald R. Burleson, “Major Prevue Here Tonight” by William F. Nolan, and “Brothers” by David B. Silva, which is a shame, since these stories made up a large part of the end of the book. Melissa Mia Hall’s “The Brush of Soft Wings” was a nice, moody respite, and the final story, Robert R. McCammon’s “Haunted World”, is a vivid, concerning story, even if it’s not really about being haunted. I remember this story from the first time I read this anthology, and I think it also showed up in Blue World.

The book concludes with an essay by Dean Koontz about ghosts, which is a shame, since I don’t consider Koontz to be an authority on horror. Yes, I know he got famous for writing it, but his horror fiction has never scared me, and never made much sense to me. He’s a fine enough writer, but horror? Please. He’s more a suspense writer than anything. I guess they couldn’t get Stephen King to write it.

Post Mortem bucks the trend for me by being an anthology with more good stories than bad. Plus, considering how bad some of the other Abyss books are, the book also stands out for being one of the better books from the line. Overall, I’d recommend it to readers who like decent ghost stories, though it’s still a bit of a mixed bag.

Started: June 14, 2018
Finished: June 29, 2018

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Time for the Stars

July 18, 2018 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

starsTime for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein

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I’m not new to Heinlein, but it’s only been recently when I decided to read more of his work. I recently listened to Sixth Column on audio, and found it to be decent, but nothing spectacular. That one isn’t considered to be one of his juvenile novels, though, and Time for the Stars is. I was surprised with how much I liked this book, though I guess I shouldn’t be; everyone else has known for decades how good a storyteller Heinlein was, so it’s finally time for me to discover him.

Time for the Stars is about a pair of twins, Tom and Pat, who learn they’re psychic after they’re tested for a long-term science experiment. See, speaking psychically happens instantaneously, which makes it easier for communication to take place between Earth and deep-space ships. The two of them are recruited for a space journey to look for other planets to populate, one of them to travel into space, the other to stay at home to receive their messages.

Heinlein captures character and setting well, and the story features an interesting interplay of science and psychology. The story is compelling, namely because of the characters, but it has a strong “What’s going to happen next?” feel to it. Heinlein examines the time dilation that occurs in ships traveling near the speed of light, so as Tom, the space twin, only ages a few years through the story, Pat ages decades. Heinlein’s themes work well, too, especially considering this book was published over sixty years ago. He looks at the bonds of family, and how loving and liking your family are two different things. This being a Heinlein book, it starts off with a strong anti-tax, anti-government angle to it, but luckily that’s not the point of the story.

Of course, the biggest critcism of Heinlein is his view of women. They may be smart, capable, and strong in his stories, but they’re still evaluated first and foremost on their attractiveness. This could be a product of the time in which the story was written (women are also relegated to roles of cooks, caretakers, seamstresses, etc., even on a space ship), but for Heinlein to be progressive in other ways, it’s disheartening to see him be backward in this one.

I’m eager to read the rest of Heinlein’s juvenile works. Oh, OK, I’m interested in reading his non-juvenile books, too, but given how I remember Stranger in a Strange Land as a ponderous, overwrought, male sexual fantasy story, I’m more interested in the juveniles right now.

Started: June 19, 2018
Finished: June 25, 2018

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