Author: MBRMIAM

Tainted Blood

Tainted BloodWhile I greatly enjoyed Tainted Blood, there were two issues on which I feel the need to be nitpicky. On reflection, the focus on the metsän kunigas feels like a missed opportunity. The most interesting thing about them is their social structure and interaction with other supernatural groups, and none of that is dependent upon the particular strengths/weaknesses that the metsän kunigas.
The other point of weakness for me personally is how the elves and half elves from the previous story make only brief appearances. That is fine, but it felt odd to have them introduced as a lead and then left largely untouched. (Then again, perhaps this is for the better. There are definitely series, cough Mark del Franco’s Connor Grey series, cough, where every book feels as if it includes something from every preceding book. That’s amazing and I love it, and it leads to an atmospherically dense and compelling world, but it gets very bulky by book 6). I didn’t especially expect them to show up in this book, but then they were introduced and I expected them to show up later, and they didn’t. So that was a mite awkward.

These two minor points aside, Tainted Blood is as well written as the previous entries in the Generation V series. The situation with the metsän kunigas is superbly plotted, and the prime Finnish were-bear suspects are well characterized and distinct. The mystery of who killed Karhu Mattias and why is engaging, and while the resolution feels a bit out of left field, I am also traditionally bad at predicting these things. The further development of both Fortitude Scott’s relationship with his vampire family and his partnership with Suzume and the Kitsune sparkle brightly here as well, although now that I think about it, his roommate Dan and his boyfriend was also amusing. The signature humor is present as well and amusing as ever, as well as the seriousness that sneaks in and settles meaningfully.

Cover Art Review: Cover art continues to showcase a Fortitude Scott who is looking increasingly manly. I like the color scheme a lot for this one as well. Note: I do not have this book with me, so no front / back cover image until it catches up with me. #woops.

Iron Night

Iron Night cover art

I really liked this second installation of the series, as it maintains the quality of writing and atmosphere I enjoyed so much about Generation V while plausibly continuing the narrative threads from Generation V and adding new elements that fit comfortably with it.
After Fortitude Scott’s various encounters and challenges dealing with being in danger in Generation V, he has realized that he needs to be able to protect himself and be somewhat less of a naive, dewey-eyed dweeb. This totally removes the one main thing I did not enjoy about Generation V, which was how insanely naive he was. He’s still Fortitude Scott, but it seems he has learned a lesson and is a bit more understanding that naivety is a weakness in the supernatural world. There are still plenty of “Fortitude Scott moments”, but those moments are not as overpowering as previously.
I found the investigation into the murders captivating, and there were a lot of good “o shit!” realization moments along the way. The plot flowed at a good pace, and the ending in particular caught my attention for being the perfect length.

Suzume is still a total smart-ass, prank-loving joy to behold. The relationships between Madeleine, Prudence, and Chivalry deepen and become more interesting, with Chivalry’s relationship with his wife giving a plausible reason for Fortitude to take over more of the family business. And the introduction of elves and half-elves not only reuses characters from Generation V very well, but also gives us several new characters and an innovative take on elvish culture.

 

Cover Art Review: I apologize for the terrible photography of the back cover, I was in a hurry and sadly cannot rephotograph it for a while.

Generation V

Generation V cover art

Generation V was quite an enjoyable read, and I have already ordered the following books. While the book pushes the “reality bites” line pretty hard, it’s mostly humorous and spaced out well enough to not be overwhelming. The more imminent danger to the reader’s immersion is how much of a pure soul Fortitude has. Granted, most of the time it’s fun and entertaining to see more pragmatic minds react to him, but occasionally his shocked reactions are just too much and it becomes obnoxious. Fortunately, those moments tend to be short-lived, thanks to the witty banter between Suzume and Fortitude, Chivalry and Fortitude, or the perils of working a minimum wage job at a coffee shop. There’s plenty to help ease you back into the story, and Fortitude’s worry for the safety of those targeted by the vampire is understandable and infectious: there was a sense of dread that grew as the plot drives onwards and we see who the outsider vampire is preying on and why.

With those pain points out of the way, on to the things that made Generation V such a great read. First, the characterization was really good. The characters all felt distinct, unique, and like actual people, with a strong first impression as well as further depth. Suzume is probably the best example, being sexy and not afraid to flaunt it, mischievous and loving a good prank (or seven), but sensitive enough to back off on issues that really hurt. Further, there are some excellent instances of character development that made me leave bookmarks and take notes later, especially in Fortitude’s case. These moments arise out of the relationships between different characters, and drive the plot forwards. Essentially, there’s that perfect relationship between the world, the characters, and the plot where they are all coupled tightly, and developments to any one feel organic and drive additional organic developments, rather than feeling like an author decided that something has to happen.
As someone who reads a decent amount of urban fantasy, the mythos also felt fresh and unique. Fortitude’s introduction to his vampireness aside, his strained relationship with his vampire family and his refusal to engage with the supernatural world means the reader is right alongside him with learning about the supernatural world for the first time.

Cover Art Review: Not gonna lie, the title line on the side of the book and then the composition of the cover were one of the things that made me pull this one off the shelf and take a closer look. The use of the white – black – red palette is really efficient and evocative. It also reminds me of a bad joke about newspapers…

Tactics of Mistake

Tactics of Mistake front and back cover.

 

Tactics of Mistake was an enjoyable read. It’s worth noting that I generally like Gordon R. Dickson’s work, and have read a scattering of his Dorsai novels. The main weakness in this story is how well Cletus Grahame predicts events and people’s actions. There are a handful of cases where things go awry, but these setbacks are small scale and grounded in chance, not in a failure of Cletus’ strategic and tactical acumen. For the one main character to be consistently entirely correct is entertaining, but feels quite artificial, and crushed my suspension of disbelief. However, turns out I didn’t need it anyways. Cletus’ insights are always grounded in considering the environment or his opponent’s goals and psyche. In that regard, it is less a matter of Cletus being prescient and more a matter of it being unbelievable that all his opponents are incapable of making similar insights.

While there are many definitions of science fiction, one of the more prevalent is that science fiction asks “what if this set of changes happened? How would that change the world?” In that vein, Tactics of Mistake explores how the use of mercenary forces in colonial battles might affect the structure of combat organizations and the skills and outlook required for soldiers and officers. The introduction of the mental power of concentration and how useful that is for soldiers is fascinating, especially given the current trend promoting mindfulness and meditation for efficiency improvements in the workplace. Cletus is the vector for pretty much all of this considerations, and that gives the book a strong “one self-made man changes the universe” vibe.

There is also a romantic subplot that has to my eyes not aged particularly well.

Cover Art Review: Sublime! I really really like the shading on the jacket and the color palette used, especially the contrast of the stark white book title, the fiery glow of the background, and the blue military uniform in the foreground.

 

The Alchemist

thealchemist_front

I enjoyed the Alchemist quite a lot! It had quite a range, both creating believable, sympathetic characters as well as creating a harsh world with pockets of tenderness. Khaim is a city on the brink of destruction in a world sliding towards catastrophe, and the daily struggle and the sense of loss is palpable. Nonetheless, people continue on as best they can. It was quite impressive how much the world shapes the societies, the societies shape characters, and the characters’ actions feed back in at each of those levels. I found the resulting scenes very impactful.

Bacigalupi handles the plot and pacing very well, although towards the last third of the story the pacing falters as the summary becomes too thin. However, the story’s climax and conclusion regain the excellence of the beginning, and also left me simultaneously horrified for and excited by the future of Khaim and the characters.

Bacigalupi’s writing is excellent. The narrator’s voice is gentle and easy to follow, the descriptions often lengthy but still sharp, clear, and vivid. The word choice was also an absolute joy.

Additionally, reading this story was a very strange experience, because I had an incredibly strong feeling that I had heard of these locations and nations and terms before. And then I connected it to Tobias Buckell’s novella The Executioness, but was uncertain until I realized what the bramble was referring to, and then I knew they were in the same world. Apparently these novellas were released together, but were listed as separate stories on my Kindle, and I happened to read this a week after the Executioness. This metafictional surprise lent a really odd feeling.

P.S. The concept of the bramble and its relationship to magic brought to mind Larry Niven’s short story “The Magic Goes Away”, a 1976 story / 1978 novella investigating the consequences of magic. I was excited to read another story that explores the consequences of magic.

Obligatory Kindle Notice!

The Executioness

The Executioness (Front Cover)

Having read this novella a few days after A Stranger in Olondria, I must confess being predisposed against the Executioness simply because it lacked the beauty of language present in A Stranger in Olondria.

While I enjoyed reading the novella, there were parts that made me struggle to enjoy it. The concepts were compelling – the role of women in life, politics and power; the consequences of magic and the resulting political pressures; the personal cost of geopolitical struggle; tragedy as a motivating force – and I was very excited to see them explored. However, the execution of these concepts often cooled that excitement.

I found Tana’s perspective unconvincing. However, the dialogue of other characters also frequently thrust me out of the story, even though I enjoyed the characters and found them acceptable. Additionally, the story proceeds at a breakneck pace, with little description or evocation of the world. Whether that is a net positive or negative is a matter of preference for the reader, but the chosen style inhibited my ability to feel the world and be immersed and take it seriously. It also resulted in some plot hole moments. There was also a general absence of believable human reactions that struck me as quite odd in several moments.

P.S. The concept of the bramble and its relationship to magic brought to mind Larry Niven’s short story “The Magic Goes Away”, a 1976 story / 1978 novella investigating the consequences of magic. I am excited to read another story that explores the consequences of magic.

Obligatory Kindle Notice!

Directive 51

Directive 51 by John BarnesWell, now that I’ve recovered from the post-election jitters, I have four words, followed by about 400 words:

This. Book. Terrified. Me.

Directive 51 is a grim near-future science fiction thriller charting the disintegration of modern civilization, which segues into a tale of how pockets of survivors in the US draw together and how these new-born factions see their role in rebuilding the US, and what kind of a US they have to look forward to. Honestly, reading this in the early stages of the 2016 election probably made it particularly depressing, but I definitely am taking a break from thrillers and grim stories and tales of disintegration for a while. On the other hand, I greatly enjoyed this book, as uncomfortable a vision as it portrays, and hope to read the next two books in the series someday as well, partly because I want to know how it turns out on the political struggle level, and partly because I want to see how human civilization adapts technologically and societally to the post-Daybreak world.

The book is a series of scenes from many different viewpoints, both from the perspective of Daybreakers and the government agents trying to stop them. At first this was jarring, especially because the first few scenes are introductions that don’t establish a whole lot, but after each character had had a few scenes I had settled into it.

One thing that was very interesting is the depth that Barnes has put into Daybreak and their tactics, strategy, and technology. Daybreak is a fairly interesting concept for a terrorist organization, and the strategy behind it and the general strategy of the Daybreak master plan was very interesting for me. The biological science and engineering practices behind the Daybreak nanoswarm and biotes is also really interesting, and terrifying because it seems so plausible. And in general, the story has a lot of warnings about the dangers a modern globalized capitalistic society poses when it falls.

The title of the book is a little misleading, honestly. You might expect the drama to be about Directive 51 itself. In reality, most of the first half of the book is about Daybreak itself as it is enacted, the middle is about how things disintegrate, and only the very endgame of the book is about the consequences of Directive 51. Additionally, the book can be hard to stick with, as often scenes stretch on for longer than I would like. Definitely read a few pages before picking it up.

Cover Art Review: Honestly, not a huge fan. It’s very washed out, does not convey a sense of place, and it’s not entirely clear which character that is or what moment that is. But it does convey the mood of the book very well, which I suppose is the most important thing.

Six Stories: La Reine D’Enfer

Halloween Special! I recently read Kathe Koja’s Six Stories collection, all of which were  spooky or unnatural in one sense or another, and I thought that these stories would be a perfect match for the week leading up to Halloween. Then I got sick, and healthy, and sick. So: post-Halloween Special!

This story is dark and horrifying, both in a social sense of the society it depicts, and the slow simmer of underlying supernatural darkness. Pearlie is a young lad who spends days scamming drinks and trinkets off the more well-to-do in taverns and nights as a prostitute. But one night he encounters Edmund, an impresario, a gentlemen running a theater company seeking actors – and agrees to play the role of the Dark Queen in his company’s play, La Reine D’Enfer: The Queen of Hell.

Koja does an amazing job at building the atmosphere of the setting’s time and place – London or any such bustling British city in old Victorian times. The characters feel spot on, and varied, a convincing jumble of temperaments, and speaking in convincing accesnts and dialect, with evocative idioms and slang.

There is also a lot going on at the thematic level as well. What struck me most, was how Pearlie transitions between  different forms of acting, from scamming and whoring to theater. From minor manipulations to striding on the theater stage manipulating the emotions of the entire audience, and to conversing with spirits, acting and power over reality are tied.

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!

Six Stories: Far and Wee

Halloween Special! I recently read Kathe Koja’s Six Stories collection, all of which were  spooky or unnatural in one sense or another, and I thought that these stories would be a perfect match for the week leading up to Halloween. Then I got sick, and healthy, and sick. So: post-Halloween Special!

This is a story that is on point for the entire duration, and has an amazing ending. But I don’t want to spoil it, obviously, so I will do my best to talk around it.

The story follows a farm boy who has made the long trek in from the countryside to the city, to find work in the theater. It is hard work, but our narrator is honest and hard working, and he slowly gains the trust of the theater actresses, actors, stagehands, and the owner-operator, Master Konstantine. At least, until an unsavory visitor named Pytor drives a wedge between the narrator and the rest of the theater.

The atmosphere is exquisite, and established very skillfully through the details of the narrator’s story, his manner of storytelling and speech, and his impressions of the other characters.

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!

Six Stories: Ruby Tuesday

Halloween Special! I recently read Kathe Koja’s Six Stories collection, all of which were  spooky or unnatural in one sense or another, and I thought that these stories would be a perfect match for the week leading up to Halloween. Then I got sick, and healthy, and sick. So: post-Halloween Special!

Today’s Six Stories story diverges from the creepy and spooky into a more mundane, if not happier, topic. Ruby Tuesday is a story about a high school teenager, and her interest in the film “Ruby Tuesday.” After a night at a local social phenomena, “Ruby Tuesdays at the Film Theater”, she becomes enthralled by the film’s power to draw audiences and immerse them in the world and story of the film. The source of her interest in the power of this escapism is tragically sad, and devastating to consider. It definitely triggered reflections on processing loss, grief, and the stress of life for me, focusing on the role of stories and media in that process.

Additionally, there is an interesting collision of reality and fiction here. I was curious, and after a quick online search, was not able to find a movie named Ruby Tuesday, but I did find an actress named Ruby Tuesday. While the films this Ruby Tuesday starred in have similar titles to the films assigned to the actress in the story, they don’t match up. There’s also the metafictional aspect, where Rikki is telling her story and analyzing the film Ruby Tuesday, pulling apart how that film’s story draws and attracts viewers at the same time we’re reading that story. Do Rikki’s thoughts and conclusions on the art of film apply to the written form as well, and how completely?

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!