Monthly Archives: May 2017

Review: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

The Hexarchate is facing a catastrophic defeat. To stave off a crippling loss, Kel Cheris recommends using the tactical genius of Shuos Jedao, an infamous general who slaughtered his own troops to achieve victory centuries ago. Damn, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee is freaking awesome. Yoon Ha Lee has crafted an amazing blend of intellectual science fiction, military science fiction, space opera, and weird fiction.

The world building is excellent. And quite weird. Melded with real physics is a sort of consensus physics by which many exotic effects are achieved through adherence to various calendars. To rebel against the hegemonic calendar is to enact heresy, which threatens the entire fabric of the society of the Hexarchate. And many of these exotic technologies have become essential to the continued existence of galactic society.

Which explains why the Hexarchate is a very authoritarian, brutal culture to live in.

Several reviews I have read remarked upon the difficulty of following along with the weird/ exotic science Lee develops for Ninefox Gambit. But I do not agree. I find no problem understanding the science, even if it is weird.

In fact, I had no problem following along with the cultural world building either.

Ninefox Gambit is a relatively slim novel that packs quite a punch. Especially during the siege and battle that takes place over the last third of the novel. The Siege of the Fortress of Scattered Needles is one of the best science fiction battles I have ever read.

My one criticism, though, is that I wish the Neo Liozh Heresy had been more of a match for Jedao and Cheris. I wish more had been done with Vahenz (whose communications with Liozh Zai are delightfully hilarious) to make her a more credible antagonist.

The characterization is subtle and very well done. The reader feels for these characters. The readers rage at Kel Command with Cheris, feel for the soldiers fighting in the battle (and often dying), and come to recognize the ignored importance of the servitors. The characters, no matter how short their appearance, come across as multidimensional.

My one major criticism is that Ninefox Gambit is only 317 pages in the edition I have. I want more. I want to know what happens to Cheris after the end of the Siege. I want to see her next moves.

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Review: The Night Ocean by Paul LaFarge

Did H.P. Lovecraft write the Erotonomicon, a diary of forbidden sexual desire and experience? Did R.H. Barlow fake his suicide in Mexico City to live a new life in Montreal? Who is L.C. Spinks? What drove Charlie Willett to suicide. That is what Charlie’s wife, Marina Willett is determined to find out. But will Marina’s quest drive her to the madness that claimed Charlie? If you want to find out, read The Nigh Ocean, Paul LaFarge’s own Lovecraftian pastiche. Or is it parody? In either case, I would urge a prospective reader to pull back before it is too late.

The Night Ocean is not a good novel.

The plot is ridiculous and convoluted, surviving on the audaciousness of the salacious implication that H.P. Lovecraft may or may not have been fond of teenage hustlers. And R.H. Barlow. Before readers jump to Lovecraft’s defense (and spoiler alert!), the Erotonomicon is revealed to be a forgery. Like the rest of the various narratives designed to evoke Lovecraftian paranoia and madness.

It is all a bunch of hot air that does not even capture the evocative power of Lovecraft, even at his worse.

The characters are all flat and unrealized. Especially as the novel is told second and third hand.

Are there any redeeming features of the novel?

Yes. There is one.

I did enjoy the scenes of Barlow’s life in Mexico City before his suicide. That is, for me, the sole interesting thing in the novel. Pity the novel is not about Barlow in Mexico City.

Otherwise, this is just a truly terrible novel.

 

2017 Book Haul Two

I’m late on this post. I intended on going to Golden’s Book Exchange the first week of March and picking up some books on sale. But circumstances prevented me from going. I’m hoping I can go in June (or earlier). We will see.

Anyway. While I did not go to Golden’s, I did accumulate quite a few books from Amazon and Alibris over the past few months.

Here they are.

From Alibris, I bought:

Brad by Ken Smith

The Black Halo by Sam Sykes

The Skybound Sea again by Sam Sykes

The Third God by Ricardo Pinto

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Hawkmoon by Michael Moorcock (an omnibus edition including The Jewel in the SkullMad God’s AmuletThe Sword of the Dawn, and The Runestaff)

The Black Unicorn by Tanith Lee

Starring Miss Marple by Agatha Christie (an omnibus edition including The Body in the LibraryA Murder is Announced, and They Do It With Mirrors)

Five Complete Poirot Novels by Agatha Christie (an omnibus edition including Murder on the Orient ExpressThirteen at DinnerThe ABC MurdersCards on the Table, and Death on the Nile)

From Amazon, I bought:

The Wall of Storms by Ken Liu

The Mirrored Empire by Kameron Hurley

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

Almost Infamous by Matt Carter

Twelve Kings of Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Blood on the Sand  by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Kings of the Wild by Nicholas Eames

Sins of Empire by Brian McClellan

The Vagrant by Peter Newman

The Malice by Peter Newman

Amberlough   by Lara Elena Donelly

The Garden of Stones by Mark T. Barnes

The Obsidian Heart by Mark T. Barnes

The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard

The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

A pretty impressive amount of books, I should think.

What will I haul next? We shall see.

 

What I Read in April

My April reading has continued the general trend of my readings over the course of the year so far. But, there have been rays of light. I know what has been plaguing me. I’ve been forcing myself to read a lot of literary fiction. And I’m just not in the mood for those books. Instead, I am hungering for science fiction and fantasy. Also, I have cut down on the massive numbers of books I’ve checked out of the library at any one time. Not having so many books lessens the pressure on me to speed up my reading.

Any way, what did I read this last month?

The best two books I read in April, and contenders for the best books I’ve read this year, are Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente and The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard. Both books are awesome. And I posted reviews of both novels Monday.

I also finally read Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood and Burger’s Daughter to a disappointing end. I talked about my feelings for both books in a previous post as well, so I won’t spend much time on either of those.

The first book I read in April was The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales. I can’t say much about this collection except that I was less than impressed with it. What is it about literary speculative fiction that so often falls flat?

The second book I read was Idaho by Emily Ruskovich. This novel is definitely not my cup of tea. I never connected with the characters or the writing.

Next up was Jump and Other Stories by Nadine Gordimer. I really enjoyed “Jump” and a few other stories. But other stories were not terribly compelling.

I also read Carrie Fisher’s Postcards from the Edge. I didn’t care for it at all, I’m sad to say.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift was boring. Why did I have it on my to be read list again?

I really liked The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery. The story of the people who fell in love with octopuses is touching and well done. But I wish more attention had been paid to the octopuses.

Finally, I read Ismail Kadare’s Broken April. This novel is evocative and haunting. I enjoyed this story of early twentieth century Albania.

That is what I read in April. On to May’s readings!

Review: The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard

In a shattered Paris ruled by fallen angel dominated houses, House Silverspire is fading, its past glories departed with its former master. A dark power rises, intent on shattering Silverspire’s very foundations. So begins The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Boddard.

I love this book.

The world building is amazing. The incorporation and realization of so much mythology into the world is extremely well done. The postapocalyptic look of Paris is stunning in its magically induced state of perpetual ruin. The magical systems on display are eclectic, differentiated, and well thought out.

The writing is lush and gorgeous. The narrative subtly differentiates itself depending on narrator, which is so rare to read.

The characters are especially strong. Each character is fully realized and amazing in their own right. The three lead protagonists particularly so.

Selene, the last apprentice of Morningstar, struggles in a role she was never intended for: head of Silverspire. She must balance her innate compassion and moderate nature and the ruthless demand of her position as she confronts the greatest test Silverspire has faced since Morningstar’s disappearance. Selene’s arc is amazing as it is frustrating, in a good way.

Madeleine, the alchemist of Sivlerspire, goes through the motions of killing herself through the abuse of a magical drug. On the run from Hawthorne, a rival house to Silverspire, Madeleine finds herself drawn into the threat facing Silverspire, only to find herself drawn inexorably back to Hawthorne.

Phillippe, a seemingly young man from Annam (the name of Vietnam in the text), is a mystery to those around him. Originally part of a gang and openly hostile to the Houses, Phillippe finds himself drawn into the fall of Silverspire when he becomes psychically connected to Isabelle, a recently manifested fallen angel.

Of the three protagonists, Phillippe is the most interesting. It would be so easy to romanticize Silverspire and the courtly politics and intrigue of the Houses. But Phillippe puts a cold stop to that. His rage and impotence is raw and clawing. His desire for home, for what he has lost, is powerful. And heart breaking.

But, Phillippe is a frustrating character in both good and bad ways. The reader struggles Phillippe, forced to think about losing one’s place in the world, colonialism, post colonialism, and the struggle to survive.

Phillipe is also frustrating because he is impotent. There are moments in the novel where I, personally, am screaming at the book for Phillippe to be more active, to fight back. Especially when he has the power to do so.

This is where my big problem with The House of Shattered Wings comes in. I wanted Phillippe to be more active. I wanted him to fight back. I wanted him to leave Silverspire to its well deserved fate. But he doesn’t. Like so many other initially unhelpful antihero protagonists, Phillippe’s connection to Isabelle forces him to go back to Silverspire to attempt to save the day. Even if the narrative description of his internal struggle to help or not is not convincing.

Despite my criticism, The House of Shattered Wings is amazing and fun. The frustration is a good thing. It forces the reader to think about things that are so easily glossed over in most fantasy. And fantasy needs more of that.

Review: Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

In an alternate universe where every planet in the solar system is inhabitable, Severin Unck, documentary filmmaker, vanishes while filming in a mysteriously destroyed Venusian village. What follows is an amazing homage to old Hollywood and science that never was through the lens of the weird.

I adore Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. But how do I write a glowing review?

The book is amazing, the best thing I’ve read so far this year bar none.

But talking about why I like it is so damn difficult. There is no one thing that I can point to. And many of the elements of the novel may be off putting to other readers.

Catherynne M. Valente is a difficult writer. She melds science fiction and fantasy with a highly experimental literary sensibility. She does not always succeed. But when she does, the work is amazing.

The writing for Radiance is gorgeous. It is baroque and ornate and fits the social milieu of the characters like a glove.

The structure is amazingly well crafted, telling the story through textual home movies, diary entries, film scripts, radio scripts, transcripts, and the ever changing novelization of a film that will never be made. All the narratives combine to create both a powerful homage to a lunar Hollywood that never was and a complicated narrative of grief and the search for solace.

The characters are amazingly realized even as the artificiality of the movie industry transforms the characters both physically and mentally.

My words cannot do this novel enough justice. Just know that if you want to read a novel that reaches the heights science fiction can achieve when it marries literary ambition and experimentation, Radiance might just be the novel for you.