Friday, December 31, 2010

Myth #3: Myth Directions (Asprin, Robert)

Rating: 5
Year: 1982
Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
Read again? Yes.

Skeeve and Aahz are bored. The weather in Possiltum is rainy and miserable and there's not much for the Court Magician to do.

When Tanda (the hottie assassin chick) pops in looking for a shopping assistant, Aahz reluctantly agrees to let his student go with her. She lets Skeeve in on a secret: they're going to be looking for a birthday present for Aahz!

They visit several dimensions off the beaten path, looking for the Perfect Something Aahz could never have seen, ending up on Jahk, where Tanda spots a hideous Trophy. She tells Skeeve the rest of the secret: they're stealing the Trophy.

The caper ends with the Trophy missing, Tanda arrested for a theft she didn't commit, and Skeeve and Aahz putting together...a sports team?

Myth #2: Myth Conceptions (Asprin, Robert)

Rating: 5
Year: 1980
Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
Read again? Yes.

Why, yes, every title will be a pun on "Myth!"

It's been about a year since Skeeve and his scaly demonic teacher defeated Isstvan (with a little help from some friends). Now they've been summoned to the Kingdom of Possiltum to try out for the position of Court Magician!

It's not until he wins the position that he learns the reason: Possiltum is about to be invaded by an enormous army. The Kingdom's own army is sitting it out because the guy who handles the king's money has bet that magick can defeat the mighty army, at a considerable savings in both lives and gold.

Now it's up to Skeeve and Aahz to defeat the largest army ever assembled! Can they do it with the help of a dragon, a hot assassin girl, an Imp, an elderly Archer, a stone gargoyle named Gus, and his buddy Berfert the Salamander?

Another short & sweet book, not too deep. I never paid much attention to this approach before, but I appreciate the relative minimalism of Asprin's style. Just the thing after four novels weighing in at 4,000 pages, with a cast of 1,100 characters!

Myth #1: Another Fine Myth (Asprin, Robert)

Rating: 4
Year: 1978
Genre: Fantasy/Comedy
Read again? Yes.

Yeah, it's another series. I usually take a break from them once I've finished something like the 6-month slog through George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire." But Asprin's "Myth" books are at the opposite end of the spectrum from Martin's: the books average about 200 pages each!

Skeeve ia the apprentice to Garkin, who despairs of his student ever being a magician. Skeeve wants to be a thief and doesn't study as hard as he should.

Then Garkin is killed by an assassin sent by the mad magician Isstvan and Skeeve ends up apprenticed to Aahz, a scaly green pointy-eared pointy-toothed demon!

Can the two of them find Isstvan and stop him before he destroys the world?

Very light reading--both as far as the size of the book and in Asprin's writing. The plot is uncomplicated, with the characters sketched out enough to leave to the reader's imagination. I wish the gags were as funny now as they were 20 years ago, but it's still fun. Besides, I deserve a 2-day book! Rather than still meeting the main characters or just getting to the Big Crisis That Will Change Everything for the main character, we're looking at the inside back cover and ready to grab the next book.

Asprin's intent was to spoof the cerebrally serious Heroic Fantasy genre of the late 1970s. What he ended up doing was creating a genre of comic Fantasy, making way for Craig Shaw Gardner's "Ballad of Wuntvor" series and others.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SIF 04: A Feast for Crows

Rating: 5
Year: 2005
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

The fourth of five wrist-creaking supernovels in 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

The worst of the fighting has ended, most of the knights expended. Now the realm belongs to the roving bandits and carrion-eaters.

Catelyn and Robb Stark were murdered by the Freys over a broken promise.

Bastard Boy-King Joffrey has died by poison; his uncle Tyrion is blamed for it by the boy's scheming mother Cersei, imprisoned only to be freed by his brother Jaime.

Joffrey's younger brother Tommen takes the throne.

Lord Tywin Lannister is dead at the hand of his son Tyrion, who then escapes to parts unknown.

Sansa Stark is spirited out of the city the night of Joffrey's death.

Arya Stark has made it to Braavos, where she becomes an acolyte of professional assassins.

Jon Snow has returned to command the Night's Watch and defend the Wall against a massive Wildling army only to learn that the Wildlings aren't looking to destroy the realm. They're running from the same cold, implacable enemy who made the Wall necessary to begin with, centuries before: The Others and their icy army of the dead.

Cersei Lannister continues to scheme and manipulate as she rules the realm in her son's name. With her father Tywin out of the way, there's no one to keep her from pursuing her game of thrones. Many thousands of lives have been lost because of this stupid power-hungry woman, but in her eyes other people are there to do her bidding.

Daenerys Targaryen has consolidated her rule by taking a city and settling there. But her eyes are still fixed on the far horizon, Westeros and its Throne.

Despite the long haul--six months for 4 books, thanks to some health issues--this series is beyond worth reading. Martin's characters and plot are vivid through all four books.

SIF 03: A Storm of Swords (Martin, George RR)

Rating: 5
Year: 2000
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes.

Right now, I'm kind of mad at this 1100-page behemoth. After a week-long hospital stay in July, I was too out of it to be able to read more than a page or two at a time. As I recovered, I found that my will to read this book wasn't improving. It took me just short of 4 months to finish it! I'm used to taking only a couple of weeks at most.

Things just keep getting worse in Westeros. Those major players who are still alive are scattered across the continent.

Joffrey the horrible boy-king is controlled somewhat by his grandfather, Lord Tywin Lannister, who is determined to hold the throne despite growing rumors that the boy's the product of incest. His mother finds her ambitions hampered somewhat by her father's presence.

Robb Stark has married, breaking an oath made to Lord Frey to marry one of his daughters in return for safe passage at the river crossing he controls.

Jon Snow has infiltrated the Wildlings and travels south with them, hoping for the chance to return to the Night's Watch with what he's learned about them.

Arya Stark has been captured, her true identity revealed. Her captors' leader hopes to ransom her back to her mother.

Brandon Stark and his younger brother Rickon are presumed dead after their betrayal by a former friend. The family castle, Winterfell, lies in ruins.

Sansa Stark is no longer married to King Joffrey; she's made to marry his deformed dwarf uncle Tyrion Lannister instead. Through her, the Lannisters hope to take her family's lands.

Daenerys, the last of House Targaryen, has been building an army, freeing slaves and adding them to her retinue, all with an eye to return to Westeros and reclaim her family's Throne.

Long reading aside, if you've made it this far you won't want to stop.

SIF 02: A Clash of Kings (Martin, George RR)

Rating: 5
Year: 1996
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes!

The second of 5 fat novels in 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

The blood-red comet has grown brighter and larger, now visible by day, and everyone's sure it's a sign.

Stannis Baratheon has named himself the rightful Heir, setting himself against his younger brother Renly to the south, Robb Stark to the north, and the boy-king Joffrey. Stannis is certain that Joffrey is Cersei Lannister's bastard child, fathered by her twin brother Jaime.

The kingdom is in pieces, as is the Stark family.
--Lord Eddard Stark is dead, executed as a scapegoat for the death of King Robert.
--Robb Stark has marshaled an army and leads the North against King Joffrey; his mother Catelyn travels with him.
--Sansa Stark (the 'good daughter') is to be wed to Joffrey.
--Arya (the 'wild daughter') managed to escape the city the day her father was executed and is making her way north, hoping to rejoin her family.
--Brandon Stark and his little brother remain at Winterfell, the family castle.
--Jon Snow is with a band of the Night's Watch, traveling north to spy on the Wildlings.

Half a world away, Daenerys Targaryen leads her three dragons and a small group of followers on a quest to regain her family's rightful claim to the Throne, facing starvation, assassins, and betrayal.

All the good things I said of the first book apply here as well.

SIF 01: A Game of Thrones (Martin, George RR)

Rating: 5
Year: 1996
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes!

This is the book that changed my tastes in Fantasy novels. Before I read this, I was reading Mercedes Lackey's "Valdemar" series at least once a year. But Martin's darker, grittier style of storytelling, solid plotting and characterization simply puts Lackey to shame. She can be dark, yes, but her longer works tend to sag under their own weight even for being a third as long as one of Martin's novels.

"Thrones" is the first in Martin's epic 'A Song of Ice and Fire.' For all the characters he introduces--close to 1,100--this series boils down to the scheming of one evil, petty, power-hungry bitch named Cersei of House Lannister.

Cersei is Queen of the realm of Westeros, wife to King Robert Baratheon I. She loathes Robert and wants him out of the way so she can rule in his stead. She tolerates his occasional attempts at lovemaking, but has avoided having children with him, preferring to warm the bed of her twin brother Jaime instead. All three of her children (Joffrey, Myrcella & Tommen) were fathered by Jaime. Seemingly only a few people bother to find the truth, but Cersei has them killed to protect herself.

King Robert was a mighty warrior 15 years ago; these days he's a fat drunkard. He doesn't like his wife any more than she likes him, so he spends his time wenching and drinking, fathering a bewildering number of bastard children during his reign. He knows he's surrounded by people with more loyalty to his wife than to himself, so he travels far to the north to convince his old friend Eddard Stark to come to stand beside the Throne and advise him.

When Robert dies after a hunting...accident...the realm quickly falls apart; his brothers Renly and Stannis each claim to be Heir to the Throne, questioning Joffrey's parentage and opposing his succession. Joffrey quickly shows himself to be as evil and spiteful as his mother, having Eddard Stark executed--and this brings Eddard's eldest son Robb into the Game of Thrones.

The realm fractures, the families resume their old rivalries, and the bodies pile up in a bloody harvest.

Meanwhile, far to the north, Eddard Stark's bastard son Jon Snow has joined the Night's Watch, long ago set to guard the northern border of the realm from bands of wildling people and the Others.

Meanwhile again, in a more distant land, Danearys Targaryen (the last daughter of this formerly ruling family) faces an arranged marriage to a barbarian king. Robert feared the return of a Targaryen--any Targaryen--to the realm, and he ordered her murder.

There could be so many more "meanwhiles."

This book should come with score cards and wrist splints. Once King Robert dies, the body count goes up. The reader shouldn't get too attached to point-of-view characters, either: Martin kills them off in service to the story. This adds some weight to the narrative that I'd really like to see from other authors. He doesn't protect his POV or "main" characters any more or less than those supporting them and it brings a realistic sense to his books. Even relatively minor characters have a story, even if it's just a few words to let us know that this is someone's father, or that one is the town drunk. This makes them into people, even if they're put to the sword shortly thereafter.

This is where those wrist splints come in: "Thrones" runs to 807 pages. Martin doesn't waste them. The story is gripping and fast-paced even when little is happening.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Pearl Harbor: America's Darkest Day (Susan Wels, 2001)

Rating: 3
Year: 2001
Genre: Nonfiction/History
Read again? Maybe

First off...printed in Hong Kong?! Really? I'm bombing two points for that. Having a Foreword by WW2 vet Senator Daniel Inouye doesn't make up for it.

This isn't much of a reading book. It's not an in-depth scholarly work. There's just enough information to keep the narrative moving and hopefully enough to make the reader want to know more.

The book's strength is in the pictures. It's lavishly illustrated from cover to cover with period photos and beautifully-rendered paintings.

Why Buildings Fall Down (Matthys Levy & Mario Salvadori)

Rating: 5
Year: 1992
Genre: Architecture
Read again? Yup.

I don't remember why I started reading this little book back in May; I must have been tired from the Dresden books and looking for anything that wasn't a series. Whatever the cause, this is a neat book, a series of short investigations into some notable architectural failures.

They tells us about pyramids, bridge collapses, a WW2 bomber running into the Empire State Building, stadium roof failures, and how one little old lady making tea caused the failure of an apartment building in Britain.

There's just enough detail to sketch out each situation without burying the reader in formulae and technical terms. It's not exactly light reading, but it's something different to read.

No Country for Old Men (McCarthy, Cormac)

Rating: 4
Year: 2005
Genre: Drama
Read again? Maybe

McCarthy's got an unorthodox writing style. No quotes on dialog. Likes to chain things together with "and." That being said, once you get used to McCarthy's style, it's still a good story.

Llewellyn Moss is a former Vietnam War sniper. It's the late '70s, somewhere along the Texas-Mexico border. He's hunting antelope.

He thinks he's made a kill, but the wounded animal was still up on its feet, so Moss has some hiking to do if he's going to get it.

Instead of his prize, he comes across a miniature war zone: dead men lying on the ground, trucks riddled with bullet holes, and one pickup truck loaded with heroin. He does some math, figures that there's a guy missing, and follows his tracks out of the area and into the hills. The dead man's propped up under a tree with a case loaded with more than two million bucks.

He knows he's making a mistake in grabbing the money, but he grabs it and gets the hell out of the area.

He's soon being looked for by a principled killer who won't settle for simply getting his employers' money back. Moss has to die. Nothing personal. It's about the principle and the inconvenience.

On Moss' side is a sheriff who's trying to protect him and an ex-Special Forces guy who can't protect him but is hoping to stop the killings.

If you've seen the movie, you won't miss anything in the book. The screenwriters stayed very close to it.

A Word from Limbo...

Just stopping in to knock the dust out of the Blog; all the Dresden reviews are finally done seven months after I finished reading the books. At first, I was bored with the whole review thing. Then in July I had some health issues that still haven't been resolved enough for me to do much more than read and sleep, usually more of the latter than the former.

I've got the remaining books of the year in my sights: Cormac McCarthy's "No Country for Old Men"; George R. R. Martin's wrist-hurting "A Song of Ice and Fire" series; and Robert Asprin's much lighter "Myth" series. If I can stay awake and focused, they'll be up shortly along with the Top Ten and Ten Worst for the year.

Dresden Files 12: Changes

Rating: 5
Year: 2010
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup.

Another WHAT?! opening: Susan, Harry's long-lost almost-vampire girlfriend, calls to tell him that their daughter has been taken by Red Court vampires. He didn't know anything about the kidlet before the call, so he's understandably pissed off at her.

She and an associate come to town, the same guy she was teamed up with in "Death Masks." They're part of an organization dedicated to fighting the Red Court vampires.

The Red Court sends operatives of its own to blow up Dresden's office and sends an ambassador to the White Council to cut him off from any help, ostensibly to secure peace between the Wizards and vampires after a decade of war that has devastated both sides.

Lots of threads come together here: relationships revealed, awful decisions to be made, and the biggest battle yet in the ongoing war with the Red Court.

This is the "pivot" book; everything balances on it. And everything changes from here on.

And now I have to wait 'till April 2011 for the next book.

Dresden Files 11: Turn Coat

Rating: 5
Year: 2009
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup.

This one begins with a good "holy shit!!" moment as the Warden who's been after Dresden for years turns up badly wounded on Harry's doorstep, begging for help. Morgan is wanted for the murder of another Wizard.

It seems as though everyone's looking for Morgan, hoping to claim a reward: the White council, White-Court vampires, a bounty-hunter wizard with a private army of not-men, and worst of all, a Skinwalker--a fearsome shapeshifting demon.

There are some awesome little moments between Morgan, Molly the apprentice, and Mouse the dog--and no, I'm not going to describe them. If you're not reading the Dresden Files after all the hyping I'm doing, you're missing out!

Here's one more reason you should be reading: The traitor on the White Council is finally revealed!

Dresden Files 10: Small Favor

Rating: 5
Year: 2008
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

It never lets up on Harry Dresden, does it? This time around, someone is trying to kill him by sending Gruffs, billy-goat-like creatures. When he defeats one wave, the next ones are larger!

Mab, the Queen of Winter, wants him to find Gentleman Johnnie Marcone. She gives him a vision of Marcone being captured by the Denarians, the evil demons from "Death Masks." If they're back in town, dealing with the Gruffs and having Molly as an apprentice are just nuisances.

Butcher takes us further into the ever-expanding notion of a Black Council slowly consolidating power in the world. Dresden has long suspected the existence of such an organization; he knows there's a traitor on the White Council of Wizards, but Marcone's capture points to a traitor in the gangster's company as well.

Apparently, there's a traitor amongst the Denarians as well....

Dresden Files 09: White Night

Rating: 5
Year: 2007
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Someone is killing witches in Chicagoland, leaving biblical verses as tags on or near the bodies, cheerful messages like "Suffer not a witch to live!"

Harry quickly learns that someone wearing a grey cloak--the mark of a White Council Warden--has been seen with some of the victims. Harry's a Warden, he's in Chicago, and people are afraid he's the killer. He's got a less-than-shiny reputation.

And what the hell is up with Thomas, Harry's vampire half-brother? Why do some of the clues point to him as the killer?

Cowl--one of the Necromancers from "Dead Beat"--is back in town. Where does he fit in?

That's not all!

Harry's ex is in town.

Dresden Files 08: Proven Guilty

Rating: 5
Year: 2006
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Harry attends the execution of a kid caught practicing black magic. Kid or not, any violation of the Laws of Magic can get you killed unless you have friends on the White Council like Dresden did: he was a sword's length from death after his own self-defense killing of his evil master.

This kid didn't have friends.

Harry's own protector, his replacement teacher & father figure Ebenezar McCoy, asks him to look into an increase in black magic activity around Chicago. Nearly 200 wizards--mostly the grey-cloaked Wardens--and some 45 thousand noncombatants--men, women and children--have been killed in the ongoing war against the vampires. Their massive onslaught was timed to take advantage of recent attempts by three Necromancers to raise a zombie army.

Harry quickly finds more trouble: the eldest daughter of his evil-fighting friend Michael Carpenter practically falls into Harry's lap when she calls him begging for help. Molly's boyfriend has been arrested for attacking an old man in a restroom.

Dresden rescues the girl, bails the boyfriend out, and in short order finds himself at "SplatterCon!!!" (a horror movie convention). The threads of black magic are still all over the restroom where the attack took place. The old man was beaten severely and gleefully--but not by the kid.

Then the lights go out and the screaming starts!

Butcher keeps delivering good, fast-paced storytelling. The book's title is the first that doesn't pun on the theme of the story ("Fool Moon" had werewolves, "Dead Beat" had zombies, etc.). "Proven Guilty" reminds us of the execution of the opening scene (which troubles Dresden throughout the story) and could easily be applied to another kid caught practicing black magic: Molly Carpenter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dresden Files 07: Dead Beat (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2005
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

It's been about a year; that little pup Harry picked up in Blood Rites has become a big dog, with a little more growing ahead. Thomas the Vampire Slob is still living in Dresden's living room. Murphy leaves for a Hawaii vacation with Kincaid; Harry tells himself he's not jealous, but he's still having a bad day.

He gets a note from Mavra, bundled with some incriminating photos of the big kill-the-vampires fight. The pictures could easily ruin Murphy's career and put her in prison. The note calls for a meeting.

Mavra wants him to find something called The Word of Kemmler and gives him until Halloween midnight to bring it to her. Otherwise, she'll destroy Murph's life.

Harry soon learns that Kemmler was an evil necromancer, a magician who can raise the dead. The Word is his collection of notes, a how-to manual--and there are other people looking for it, with plans for Something Big come Halloween.

COOL: Dresden's zombie Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Dresden Files 06: Blood Rites (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2004
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Sam Spade never had it like this! We join Harry Dresden as he finishes a case, rescuing a litter of Temple Dog puppies from a troop of evil monkey demons that fling flaming poo bombs. He hands off the box-o-pups to a thankful monk...only to realize that one of the pups has adopted him.

His next case pops up quickly: he's hired to protect a film crew after a pair of unlikely deaths take two of the executive producer's staff.

It takes him a little longer to realize that the producer makes porn movies.

Meanwhile, Mavra the Black-Court vampire has brought a scourge of her minions to get Dresden. For once, Harry decides that he's just going to find them and wipe them all out.

His cop sidekick Murphy jumps at the chance to join the fight, since it'll get her away from the big Murphy family reunion (and questions of why she's not settling down and getting married).

Dresden hires Kincaid, a bodyguard/assassin/mercenary type to help. Kincaid agrees, but warns Harry that he has to pay in full and on time (whether he's got the money or not) or his ticket will get punched.

As usual, great pacing, humor, some bad puns, some emotional moments, and more growth for Dresden and Murphy as people. Watch for that pup and Thomas the White-Court Vampire in future books.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dresden Files 05: Death Masks (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2003
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup.

Harry Dresden, wizard and detective, doing an appearance on a local talk TV show, finds himself face to face with Duke Ortega, one of the most notorious and highest-ranking Red Court vampires. Ortega's using the show setting for protection: since the Red Court and wizards are at war, there wouldn't be anything to keep Dresden from wasting him if Ortega just knocked on his apartment door.

Ortega wants to talk and make a deal.

He wishes Dresden to face him in single combat. If Harry refuses, he'll see his friends and allies and some former clients assassinated. Dresden agrees to kick Ortega's ass. If he wins, Chicago will become neutral territory as long as those friends, allies and clients stay there. If they leave, they're prey.

The other special guest is a priest who has come from the Vatican to hire Dresden to find a bit of stolen cloth, the Shroud (yes, that one)! It was stolen a few days earlier and tracked as far as Chicago, where someone's apparently hoping to buy it.

Another snag: "Gentleman" Johnnie Marcone seems to have put out a hit on Dresden!

As if that's not enough, there are some new demons in town: Denarians. Remember those 30 pieces of silver? They're real, and each one contains a Fallen angel. If you take up one of the coins, you're open to the influence of that demon--and you get super powers!

They're after the Shroud.

On Harry's side is Murphy the cop and the three Knights of the Cross: Michael (the sword-swinging carpenter), Shiro and Sanya.

Plenty of action, suspense, and fun. Dresden delivers one amazing, well-deserved beating to one of the bad guys. The third time through it seems a bit over-the-top; there's a lot of that in the series, but it's so much fun I don't even care!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dresden 04: Summer Knight (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2002
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup!


The Red Court of Vampires have declared war on the White Council wizards. In the few months since the end of "Grave Peril," the vampires have sent assassins after Dresden and other wizards. The White Council convenes a meeting in Chicago--technically, the war is his fault--to discuss the war and whether there even needs to be a Wizard named Harry Dresden.

They're aware, of course, that the Winter Queen of Faerie wants him to solve the murder of an old man. Chicago PD says it's suicide. Queen Mab says it's not. The man was murdered, and since he was the Summer Knight, the Summer Faeries are gearing up to war, convinced that their Knight was killed by Mab or one of her own.

Solve the murder, prevent an impending war, save his own ass from the wizard Council...all in a day's work for the Wizard P.I.

AWESOME: Harry battles a chlorofiend in the garden center of a Super Wal-Mart!

Cool stuff: Dresden goes to visit one of the Faerie chicks by going through Undertown, a sort of underground Chicago. Turns out it's real, to an extent. Dresden's Chicago is more of an alternate Chicago. Butcher lives in Kansas City!

Fun, fast-paced, great characters, all the good stuff I've said about the previous three books. If you haven't read them yet--what the hell are you WAITING for?!

Dresden Files 03: Grave Peril (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2001
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

The ghosts of Chicago are freaking out! A demon is after Harry, looking for revenge!

And then there's a "must-attend" costume ball hosted by a vampire.

Harry teams up with Michael, a Knight of the Cross who always seems to show up where he's needed, as if guided by a holy power.

The pace is tight and solid right from the start. Dresden and Michael face a ghost in the maternity ward of a hospital, only to discover a torture spell woven into the ghost's "flesh." The same spell shows up a few more times: ghosts being tortured. But why?

Harry soon finds himself in over his head, trying to protect himself and his friends from a demon that can invade their minds. Who the hell has time for a costume party?

It's good to read a series where the characters grow as the story moves along, and where things don't simply go as expected. There are plenty of bendy spots, HOLY CRAP!! moments, and (as always) a wicked pop-cultural reference right when it's needed.

"Peril" introduces a minor annoyance that becomes a recurring one in later books: Dresden's battered Volkswagen Bug must be at least part TARDIS; it's got quite a bit of interior space. As Dresden and Michael are suiting up for their attack on the hospital ghost, they pull a long-ass (5-foot-long) sword and Dresden's wizard staff out of the back seat. By "Dead Beat," the car's carrying Dresden, a vampire, a coroner, a dog the size of a mastiff, Dresden's wizard staff, and a polka suit.

Polka suit, yes. Read the book!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Dresden Files 02: Fool Moon (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 2000
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup

A rash of grisly murders took place during the previous full moon. Now Harry Dresden, Wizard P.I., is trying to prevent more. Yup--this book's about werewolves!

Butcher gives us three kinds of werewolf:
The "classic" werewolf--human uses magic to change self into a wolf.
hexenwolf--human uses someone else's magic in a talisman (a belt, in this case) to transform into a wolf. Any weapon that'll kill a person can kill either of these.
loup-garou--human is cursed to become a wolf on the full moon. Only inherited silver can kill him.

Chicago is overrun with wolves: one loup-garou, his mate, a gang of nerdy college kids led by one Billy, a biker gang called the Street Wolves.

On the Law & Order side, there are four FBI agents who keep showing up and taking over Chicago PD's investigation.

On the Criminal Underworld side, there's crime boss "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, who wants to hire Dresden.

Then there's Dresden's sometimes-girlfriend Susan, a reporter always looking for the next big story.

Butcher's second offering is as good as the first. The plot is fun and engaging and the chemistry between the smart-assed Dresden and the other characters just feels right. I really like how Butcher gives us several different kinds of werewolf at once--a werewolf biker gang? Werewolf nerds? Awesome.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dresden Files 01: Storm Front (Butcher, Jim)

Rating: 5
Year: 2000
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yup.

This'll be my third time through the Dresden series, and it's a pleasure--more so because of the rash of crappy "Star Trek" I recently ingested. You'll find most of them listed in the "2/5" category. Just make a note of the title...and don't read 'em. I'm like the bookish Jesus--I suffer so you won't need to!

Chicago's Harry Dresden is a modern-day take on Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade: a hard-boiled wise-ass detective who's just good enough at his job to get by. Only...Dresden is a wizard for hire. Lost your car keys? Need a ghost removed from your attic? Dresden's your guy!

He gets hired to find a wayward husband. Guy's been gone three days.

He also gets a call from Lt. Murphy with the Chicago Police. She brings him in on a double-murder: a couple in the midst of bumping uglies were targeted by evil, hateful magic, their hearts exploded.

The man was an employee of "Gentleman" Johnny Marcone, Chicago's resident crime boss. The girl was a high-high-high-high-end hooker prostitute whore escort employed by Bianca. A vampire.

Marcone wants Dresden to sit this one out. He wants to get the killer himself.

The Dresden books are fun as hell. Butcher's treatment of magic is logical, realistic, practical-seeming. Dresden is powerful, but limited in how he can use his power. He's very young for a wizard, barely past being an apprentice. On top of that, he's on parole with the White Council for killing his mentor in a to-the-death duel: one wrong move, one violation of the Laws of Magic, and he is dead. Dresden comes across as a stand-up guy who wants to do what's right, but fumbles pretty badly when it comes to dealing with people.

All he's got do do is find the killer, find the missing husband, keep a vampire from killing him, keep the cops from busting him, and keep from being the killer's next victim!

Characterization is excellent, the plot romps along, and it's well-paced. There's wicked humor, plenty of little pop-culture references for sci-fi and fantasy buffs.

I'd recommend reading the books before trying to watch the Sci-Fi channel's TV adaptation from a few years ago. The show is different enough in some important ways as to be entirely unrelated to Butcher's books.

Star Trek--TNG #06 Power Hungry (Weinstein, Howard)

Rating: 2
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Nope.

This is somewhere in Next Generation's second season--hottie Troi, Riker and his beard, and bitchy Dr. Pulaski. It's a time when Data still hadn't figured out that he could link to a slang dictionary so he could stop interrupting conversations for the obligatory comic relief.

It should be noted that Troi and Riker are prominent on the book's cover...but Troi barely figures in the story.

The Enterprise is escorting five cargo drones in a relief mission to the planet Thiopa. This planet's not part of the Federation or any of the other big political groups, so the Federation's hoping to ifluence them by sending food and medicine to the near-starving, badly-polluted world.

When they arrive, they find that Thiopa is bitterly divided between the polluting technocrats and the nature-worshiping Sojourners.

This is a very linear plot; Thiopa is essentially Ethiopia, right down to regular people being starved while the ruling class (warlords, in their case) feast and live well and demonize the Sojourners as terrorists.

The book drags--and most annoyingly, it just ends. The two rival leaders are given a chance to talk, work things out--but not even face-to-face, just by visual teleconference. They bicker back and forth, so Picard just divvies up the relief supplies and leaves, leaving a good bit of unresolved plot behind without any significant diplomatic effort. One would think that such an important planet would have rated some effort.

Let me summarize the entire story:

"Your world is an environmental wreck. We want to help you, but you have to work together."


"Okay. Here's some rice and grain for you to plant in your polluted ground and arid desert, to be watered by your acid rain. You're farked. 'Bye."

The end. I just saved you almost THREE HUNDRED pages of suck. Characterization was so-so. I could have done without the Data-hasn't-heard-this-figure-of-speech-yet gags. The most wasted character, however, was the so-called ambassador in charge of delivering the cargo to the Thiopans. He wasn't much of a diplomat, really, spending most of his time being an ass to just about everyone, including the people he's supposed to be helping.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Star Trek--TOS #45: Double, Double (Friedman, Michael Jan)

Rating: 3
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? Eh. I don't know.

At some point after the Trek episode What Are Little Girls Made Of?, the USS Hood receives a distress call from supposed survivors of an expedition. The ship is quickly taken over by androids designed to replicate the crew.

The androids are led by a replica of James Kirk--and while he wants to finish the work of his creator, Dr. Korby (to establish an android colony), he also wants revenge on the real Kirk for his interference in Korby's work.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is mounting a rescue mission. A swarm of asteroids is about to conveniently wipe out an entire civilization of aboriginal people on an island. The swarm's inconveniently large and fast, so there's no shooting or pushing them around. With minutes to spare, Kirk rescues a kid who went foraging for eggs. Beamed up in the nick of time, and all that.

It turns out that the kid's people have a life-debt thingie where the kid's got to stay with Kirk for a year, or until the life-debt is paid off, whichever comes first. So the kid (conveniently an empath) comes along (hint: androids don't have feelings).

There's also trouble with the Romulans.

Pedestrian. Few surprises in the plot and plenty of things that could have been tightened up. The book doesn't drag, but I really wish it had been more fun. I should have taken more points off for having so many pat plot points--and I should send Friedman a bill for doctor visits to fix rolled-eye muscle strains.

The big "pro" for this book is that there are no Space Animals--no anthropomorphic cows, wallabies, sheep, mice, cockroaches, snot puddles, or any of the other things that populate some Trek books.

The big "cons": stuff Friedman got wrong (I hope he eventually learned his "Trek" stuff, since someone kept giving him work):
--Romulans use disruptors and plasma--not phasers and photon torpedoes.
--Spock is a touch-telepath (can read thoughts, if he's touching you), not primarily an empath.
--The characters are 2-dimensional and stock: the emotionless Vulcan, McCoy the a-hole, Kirk the amiable hero.
--(spoiler) The Enterprise crew isn't killed after replication the way everyone else was.

Star Trek--TOS #39: Time for Yesterday (Crispin, AC)

Rating: 3
Year: 1988
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? In a few years.

This sequel to Yesterday's Son takes place just before "The Wrath of Khan."

Stars are dying. Time is running too fast and making them burn out! Kirk, Spock and McCoy--three of only a few people in the Federation who know what the Guardian of Forever really is--are sent to try to find out why it's suddenly wreaking havoc with the galaxy's time-stream.

They take a psychic Space Wallaby, the best candidate for talking to the Guardian. It zaps her brain, so there's only one thing to do: go back 5,000 years, find Spock's son Zar (who once talked psychically to the Guardian), and bring him back to the present! Great Spock!

There's a snag. For Zar, it's only been about 15 years since the last time he saw them. He's been using the time to build a little kingdom in a pleasant valley. But he's surrounded by enemies! When they find him, Zar is marshaling his forces, preparing to die in battle.

A much better book than its predecessor. More twists and turns, better characterization. But the science sucks, even for a "Star Trek" novel.

"When a star burns all of its hydrogen, it dies." (page 33). WRONG. Stars aren't really "burning" hydrogen--they're doing nuclear fusion, where hydrogen atoms are fused into helium atoms and energy. If it's a sun-sized star, once it has "burned" through a certain amount of its hydrogen, it expands to become a red giant (there's more to it than that, but dammit, Jim, I'm a book reviewer, not an astronomer!).
Crispin's got stars going nova all over the place and uses that as the "ticking clock" gimmick that's supposed to push the plot...but they've got a freaking TIME portal they could use to minimize that problem.

One point off for the sucky science--and another for the Space Wallaby.

Star Trek--TOS #8 Yesterday's Son (Crispin, AC)

Rating: 3
Year: 1983
Genre: Sci-fi/Star Trek
Read again? In another decade

The book starts off with a weak premise: Spock & Dr. McCoy are playing chess; a new girl comes over, asks Spock about Sarpeidon, the planet where Spock & McCoy went back 5,000 years in time (and Spock nailed Mariette Hartley--"All Our Yesterdays"). She's got pictures of some of the relics of Sarpeidon's lost civilization, including a recognizable Vulcan painted on one cave wall, where no Vulcan had gone before!

Here's the weak part: the Vulcan's so recognizable that Spock knows it's not himself--therefore it must be his son.

Of course he's going to use the Guardian of Forever to go back there. McCoy and Captain Kirk tag along. Poof! They go back and find Zar, now in his mid-twenties, living alone in the icy wilderness. He's a proficient hunter and survivor, but he's been lonely for years since his mother died. He willingly agrees to go back to the future!

This is a much better book than Diane Carey's Battlestations! and Dreadnought!; characterization is reasonably good, but the plot's very linear. There have to be Bad Guys, so Crispin brings in some Romulans who wonder why the Federation is spending so much time trying to keep the Guardian's planet a secret. Big fight, of course. Zar goes back to his own time--pretty much has to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Star Trek--TOS #31 Battlestations! (Carey, Diane)

Rating: 2/5
Year: 1986
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Nope.

Hot on the heels of "Dreadnought" comes its sequel, with Diane Carey reprising her starring role in her own book!

It's only been a few weeks since the end of "Dreadnought!"; Piper--now a Lieutenant Commander--is sailing the Caribbean aboard James Kirk's sailboat, the Edith Keeler (really? Ugh.). Bones and Scotty are along as crew. They're boarded by Security types. Someone has stolen transwarp technology! Kirk and Scotty are beamed away to be questioned. Piper bravely hides below decks until she can engineer a brilliant escape from the remaining guards.

She gets the ship to either Haiti or the Bahamas--doesn't really matter, but Carey muddled things here--and finds the ship Kirk told her would be her first command. See, Kirk knew Something Was Up, just like in the first book, and he wants Piper as his ace in the hole because she's so damn brilliant and stuff.

Her ship is a Space Tug--and two of her adventure-mates are back: Scanner, the rumpled redneck tech genius and Mereta the med tech. Oh, and Bones McCoy comes along.

The mission: go to Argelius to find the transwarp thieves (conveniently disguised as mad scientists from Central Casting), meet up with Kirk and Spock, and save the Universe.

Carey's weak on the math and science stuff, but it's her clumsy narrative and dialogue that really make me wonder how she got more work after these two dogs.

I'll be reading a few of the later books, because she did get better.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Star Trek--TOS 29: Dreadnought! (Carey, Diane)

Rating: 2
Year: 1986
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Oh, no.

This was a painful read, coming on the heels of Roger Zelazny's "Amber" books and J.M. Dillard's "Star Trek: The Lost Years." Those were all good books.

This one wasn't.

"Dreadnought!" is Diane Carey's first Trek novel. At first I thought the clumsy sentence construction, strange word choices ["fifteen hundred hours in the afternoon"], and bad dialog were intentional, given the book's first person narrative. But the deeper I went, the more it felt like a piece of ego-trip fan fiction starring Diane Carey as the heroine, right down to Boris Vallejo's cover art on the book: a James Bond-ish couple who are supposedly Carey and husband/collaborator Greg Brodeur.

It seems that many others feel the same way; there's even a term for such a character: "Mary Sue."

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author or reader. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the "Mary Sue" character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an "author's pet".

The main character could certainly be called an "author's pet." We're given Lieutenant Piper of Proxima Centauri. As the story opens, she's in the center seat of the USS Liberty, taking the Kobayshi Maru simulation, and she very nearly beats the no-win scenario. Captain James Kirk is watching and gets her assigned to the Enterprise.

Piper--just Piper--gets aboard and soon finds out that Enterprise is shipping out to investigate the theft of a dreadnought-class battleship prototype, the Star Empire. The Space Terrorists who took the ship left a message requesting that Piper be present at an arranged rendezvous with the stolen ship. Her bio-readings will be the key to talking to the thieves.

No, there's no big investigation. No, she's not immediately named a Person of Interest and implicated in the theft. Hell, LIEUTENANT Piper's not even required to wear a proper uniform! That outfit on the Farah Fawcett-haired chick on the cover is what Piper wears for the entire story. Author's pet.

Characterization is spare. Spock is mysterious, perks his eyebrow, and argues with McCoy; Kirk is sexy, commanding; McCoy is a wiseass who argues with the Vulcan. There's little military bearing or professionalism in any Starfleet officer we encounter. Too casual and familiar.

As the plot limps along, we find that Vice Admiral Vaughn Rittenhouse was the head of the Dreadnought project and that he commissioned the ship with nefarious intent: to subjugate the Federation's enemies (and its own people if need be) and force everyone to live happily together (hence the clever name of the ship). He's installed lackeys at many levels of Starfleet, from ship captains to high-level officials, intent on pulling a military coup.

The people who stole the ship did so to block Rittenhouse and bring attention to the crisis. Kirk seems to have figured out that something was up; he wanted Piper as a tool for digging into things because he recognized her obvious abilities, I suppose--but Piper's played as naiive, damn near ignorant of starship or Fleet operations...makes me wonder why she went to the Academy if she couldn't remember any of that stuff.

The story had some potential; in a seasoned writer's hands this could have been a much better story--especially if we lost the ego tripping.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Star Trek--TOS: The Lost Years (Dillard, JM)

Rating: 5
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-Fi/Star Trek
Read again? Yes

It's been more than 10 years since my last time through this one. It's about as good as I remembered. Good to see my memory working properly for once.

It's the end of the USS Enterprise's five-year mission [somewhere between the end of the original series and The Motionless Picture] The ship's going into an 18-month refit, her crew going on to other assignments.

James Kirk, now 35, is offered a promotion he doesn't want, from Captain to Rear Admiral, from starship to "troubleshooting" diplomatic situations and being a public face for Starfleet, which is still stinging after an attempted coup by Vice Admiral Vaughn Rittenhouse. After fighting it for six months and threatening to resign, he gives in. Kirk is assigned to work with Vice Admiral Lori Ciana--and their first "troubleshooting" assignment drives the rest of the book.

Spock has his choice of several teaching job offers--Starfleet Academy and the Vulcan Academy being the most noteworthy. When he learns that Kirk has taken the promotion, Spock chooses to stay on Vulcan.

Leonard McCoy leaves to do research on the Fabrini--and to rekindle a romance with Natira, but is heartbroken to find that she's gotten married. He hooks up with Dr. Keridwen ("Dwen") Llewellen and does a short lecture tour, sharing his research on advanced Fabrini medical technology. They end up at Vulcan, where they hang out briefly with Spock and his fiancee'.

The first 118 pages are the First Act, getting everyone into place.

There's a dispute between two populations of Space Cows, the Djanai and the Inari. The Djanai are kind of like Amish Space Cows--their religion requires them to shun technology, live simply. The Inari are technocrats and are the ruling minority of Djana--and they've desecrated holy land with their factories and technology. It's assumed that the Romulans are stirring up trouble, since Djana is in a strategic location for both the Romulans and the Federation.

Kirk and Ciana attend a reception where the Space Cow ambassador and key Federation Council members will try working things out. Things go wrong: Ambassador Sarek (Spock's father) and Uhura are taken hostage, beamed out of the conference center by Space Cows who want to sabotage the peace talks.

So now Kirk and Ciana have to go to Djana to try getting the hostages back AND to get the Space Cows moo-ing to each other again.

McCoy gets himself kidnapped by a Vulcan carrying the spirit of a long-dead Vulcan Mind Lord bent on training Romulans (they used to be Vulcans, y'know) to use his fearsome powers.

"Lost Years" isn't a great Star Trek novel, but it's definitely not the worst. It's cleanly-written, a fun read with strong characters and a good grasp of the "feel" of "Star Trek". Though Dillard takes 118 pages to spin up the plots, there's no dragging.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Amber 05: The Courts of Chaos (Zelazny)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1978
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

The closing book in Zelazny's first "Amber" series.

At the end of "The Hand of Oberon," Corwin and his brother Benedict had recovered the Jewel of Judgement from their power-hungry brother Brand--and King Oberon (long thought missing and possibly dead) showed himself.

Now Oberon intends to repair the damage Brand did to the Pattern--and the attempt will kill him, whether he succeeds or not.

He also intends Corwin to be his successor. But with the death of his hated brother Eric, briefly King of Amber, Corwin has realized that he is unfit to rule, and that he only wanted the Throne because Eric had it.

Oberon gives him a mission: Ride. Leave Amber and ride as far and as quickly as he can. Oberon will transport the Jewel to him when his work with the Pattern is done. Then Corwin is to take the Jewel to the Courts of Chaos, to join the rest of the family in a preemptive attack.

Brand is still out there, somewhere--and he still wants the Jewel, to remake things in his own image.

Good finish! I thought for several reasons that this book was going to drag (I seem to remember the ending taking forever), but it doesn't. In the end, our kind-of dark prince realizes that he loves his family, the realm has a new King, and Corwin finds out that he has a son, Merlin.

It's a good bittersweet ending, leaving me wanting more. That's how you do it.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Amber 04: The Hand of Oberon (Zelazny)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1976
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

At the end of "Sign of the Unicorn," Corwin, Random and Ganelon found themselves looking upon the Primal Pattern. Now, a new puzzle piece has been added to the mystery: there's a dark blot running from the center of the Pattern outward, like a cloudy spoke on a wheel. The blot runs to the south, in the same direction as the black road Corwin found cutting through Shadow.

Another piece: They find a Trump in the Pattern's center, pierced by a dagger. Who is the man in the picture? Random realizes that it's his own son, Martin. But who drew his picture on the card? Was he killed by the stabbing? It's apparent that his blood caused the damage to the pattern and gave the enemies of Amber the black road upon which to travel.

They return to Amber; Random sets out to find his son. Corwin finds his way to the study of Dworkin, who created the Pattern--and Amber--and drew the Trumps. Dworkin recognizes Brand's style in the Trump drawing.

Why did Brand damage the Pattern? Doing so threatens not only Amber itself but all of Shadow--every other world (including ours) could come to an end. The only way to repair the damage is to use the Jewel of Judgement to re-draw the damaged parts of the Pattern--and Brand is after it as well, for it can also be used to destroy the Pattern.

Can Corwin find the Jewel before Brand does?

Corwin adds a few final pieces to the mystery of the car wreck that laid him up in the hospital. At first, he'd thought that his brother Eric was responsible. Then Brand told him that their brother Bleys had shot out his tire and caused the crash. Now Corwin learns that Brand was the shooter, and all the "rescue" stuff was just Brand trying to find out what Corwin knew, to determine his danger to his plans. Efter centuries of hating Eric enough to try killing him...Corwin realizes that his brother had acted for Corwin's good despite his own hatred.

Very complicated family. Zelazny was a master of making his characters complicated and coflicted, strong and wounded, and believeable.

I just thought of something: Out of all the books (single or series) I've read, Zelazny's "Amber" books are some of the only ones that haven't developed problems after repeated reading. Back in 1995, when I first started reading Lackey's ever-expanding "Valdemar" series, I devoured them, going through the entire set of what I had several times a year. Then apparently the "honeymoon" ended and I went to Valdemar less and less, finding more reading pleasure in greater variety. I even stopped reading the "Amber" books nearly as often. But where "Amber" remains a pleasure to read, the last several times through "Valdemar" grew more and more tedious. I've yet to finish the most-recent read-through (six books left), and I'm not inclined to do so just now.

Besides, I've got another quintet of "Amber" books and some short stories to enjoy before I bother thinking about that's next.

Amber 03: Sign of the Unicorn--full review (Zelazny)

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1975
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

It's been a week since the battle at the end of "The Guns of Avalon." Corwin is nominally in charge, but he refuses to take the throne of Amber. His hated brother Eric died--and with him went Corwin's ambitions for ruling Amber. Besides, there are more important matters.

Caine--one of the remaining princes--is dead, his throat cut; Corwin returns to the palace with the body of his own prime suspect, a shadowy man like those who were chasing Random at the beginning of the series.

He gets the story from Random: he had been off losing himself in a Shadow that catered to his own interests. Gambling, women, smoky Jazz clubs to play drums in, great thermals for flying a night during a card game, one of the cards seemed to speak. It was Brand, chained in a tower a great distance away from Amber, and he begged Random for deliverance from his prison.

Random set out to try a rescue only to be thwarted, so he did the prudent thing and bailed out of there, chased by a bunch of shady men who did the impossible: they followed him through Shadow. He managed to reduce their numbers in several fights, but the six who survived followed him right to Flora's house in upstate New York, where the amnesiac Corwin was staying.

Corwin gathers the remaining family members and announces his plan to rescue Brand from that tower. It works, but someone stabs Brand--and then Corwin himself is knifed in his own bedroom.

Things only get more complicated from there; Corwin learns that Brand, Bleys and Fiona had formed a cabal with the intent of taking the throne of Amber away from their father, King Oberon. Eric, Julian and Caine formed their own cabal in opposition. Corwin is told that Bleys shot out his tire, causing the wreck that put him in the hospital where he awoke in the first book.

The chess game of Amber politics continues! Now there's a murder mystery, two attempted murders, a conspiracy against King Oberon (who's still missing), and Corwin's own back-story, all puzzles to be solved. He gets some new pieces to work with, but every time he seems to get some of them in their proper places, something happens to shift the entire thing again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Amber 02: The Guns of Avalon (Zelazny)--Full review

Rating: 5
Year: 1972
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes

Prince Corwin makes his way to Avalon, intent on taking the throne of Amber away from his brother Eric. On the way, he finds himself in a land called Lorraine, where he helps to defeat some bad things that live in a blackened circle of land. Afterward, the people of Lorraine fear him, for in their folklore the evil Lord Corwin ruled the land without mercy. He doesn't bother trying to explain that this was not him--and it doesn't matter anyway, since he's still got to go to Avalon.

He and an old friend named Ganelon travel for several days, Corwin manipulating Shadow to bring them closer to the land they once knew and loved: for the "true" Avalon is long since fallen. They reach one of Avalon's reflections--much the same, but not theirs, for this Avalon's tales remember him unkindly, too.

They reach an Avalon mopping up after its own victory in battle with the forces of darkness. Avalon's "Protector" turns out to be one of Corwin's brothers, Prince Benedict.

Can Corwin complete his business in Avalon without Benedict learning of his plans?

Ahhhh, more good reading. Once again, Zelazny gets us into the action quickly. He keeps his narrative and dialogue simple, using only what's needed. Corwin tells us what he saw and felt at the time, and it feels plausible. More than any other fantasy series, "Amber" is the one in which I wish I could live, where all I need do is walk, changing my surroundings, until I reached my own Amber.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Amber 01: Nine Princes in Amber (Zelazny, Roger)--full review

Rating: 5/5
Year: 1970
Genre: Fantasy
Read again? Yes!

Awwww, yeah. It's good to begin a new year with good reading. I've been reading and re-reading Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series since maybe 1983. From then until the mid-90s, I was reading the whole set at least twice a year, especially when Zelazny started adding to the original five with another set of five. The original quintet is told from the point of view of Prince Corwin of Amber. The second set is told by his son Merlin.

Corwin awakens in a small private hospital somewhere in New York state. He remembers a car crash, but his own identity is a mystery. There's a "hard-boiled detective" quality to this part of the book. Is his name Corey? Carl? Who caused the wreck? Who's keeping him there?

Sister? Evelyn Flaumel? Nothing to do but go for a visit. She's got a very expensive house in upstate New York. They talk. She gives him his own name--Corwin. She mentions "Eric." All he knows is that he hates the man.

The mystery unfolds a bit at a time, as they should. Building, building...a name...a place...a scrap of memory...they talk some more.

No faces, no clue who these men are. He knows he can't trust anyone. Every interaction is a chess match played many moves ahead, with life and death at stake. He doesn't tell Evelyn about his amnesia.

She mentions Amber. He knows it's a place, but can't see it in his mind.
Florimel; he knows that's her real name.

The next morning, she's gone. He explores the library, ultimately finding a small case of cards. They're designed like Tarot cards--wands, pentacles, cups and swords, and the Greater Trumps are people he knows.
Corwin himself.
Nine brothers.

Florimel--Flora, for short.
Four sisters.

But what's with the medieval garb? Why does Corwin know how to use a sword?

Brisk the pace, quick the action, and short the novel. By page 141 Corwin has his answers, has regained his memories and has joined brother Bleys in raising an army and navy to take the throne of Amber from their usurping brother Eric. We've got 34 pages to go.

We're into the action quickly, as opposed to the near-leisurely pace of a 400-page Mercedes Lackey novel. By page 141 in one of her books, the protagonist is just facing the Big Crisis that ends the first act, with decades of pages thereafter 'til resolution. Then you've got two more 400-page books after that.

Zelazny takes us much farther with an economy that I really wish Lackey and other wordy writers would (or could) learn. His style is conversational and flows without distractions. But as we'll see in the next nine books, he builds a believable, complicated, sophisticated world, joining mythology, psychology, philosophy, and references to Shakespeare.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Amber: Re-reading the Classics

On the heels of Carl Sagan's "The Demon-Haunted World," I've started in on Roger Zelazny's "Amber" series.

In the meantime, here are some Amber-related scribbles from previous posts:

Amber series overview--the Corwin books

Amber 01: Nine Princes in Amber; Corwin wakes up with amnesia

Amber 02: The Guns of Avalon; Corwin embarks on a journey of revenge...and to take the Throne of Amber from his brother Eric!

Amber 03: Sign of the Unicorn, where Corwin has the Throne...but does he even want it now?

Comparing...: Magic--Transportation, a look at the magic systems of Amber, Robert Asprin's "MYTH" series, and Lackey's "Valdemar."