Six Stories: Remnants

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!

Remnants tells a story of someone living on their own in an abandoned house, crafting a world out of detritus and cast-off junk. The story felt much more spooky than creepy, with creepy describing the previous two stories, At Eventide and Baby. To me, the difference rests with the fewer hints of dark, supernatural wrongness. Instead, the prevailing mood is one of diminishment, sadness, and forgetfulness, buoyed by a touch of enchantment. There is still the mystery of exactly who the narrator-character is, what they have gone through, and how they came to their current state of affairs, and though this is not precisely revealed, enough information is presented for the reader to understand the current situation and make strong guesses at their background. And this ambiguity actually strengthened my sense of sympathy and sadness, in how much this person had lost so much that they cannot even recognize that loss.

The city inspectors’ visits show a clear difference between the view of most people in western culture and the point of view of the main character. A distinction between an enchanted, imaginary world, and the common view of material reality which ignores the beauty to be found in these scenes.

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!

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Six Stories: Baby

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!

Baby is pretty creepy. It is much more “nightmare fodder” than the previous story, albeit less so as the story winds towards the end, but dolls are just kinda creepy and uncanny. So a doll of a baby with unnatural powers and that can move and communicate its desires, and that hungers? That is super creepy.

That said, I really enjoyed and respected the resolution for several reasons. It was unexpected, simultaneously hopeful and touching but uneasy and potentially threatening. The ending also looped into the beginning of the story extremely well, and used the thread of history of the doll to seal the past and open the way for the protagonist’s future.

This is more of a note about Six Stories than any individual story, but the collection felt like a well-composed album rather than just a collection of similar stories. For example, the contrast between Baby and the previous story in the volume, At Eventide, contributed positively to my experience reading the stories. Structurally, At Eventide is two narratives interweaving, aiming towards a single point in time, told exclusively in third person, distant. Then Baby opens with the protagonist speaking straight to the reader, and the story isn’t a series of structured vignettes of the past as much as a fluid stream of experience and relived memories. Both stories are written skillfully, and share similarities in general tone and content, but are different from each other such that they feels fresh and distinct.

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!

Six Stories: At Eventide

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.

At Eventide is very creepy, but not in a scary way or a gross way. The creepiness originates from combining mystery and a slowly growing sense of menace and imminent confrontation, the building suspicion that something supernatural, unnatural, and wrong had taken place. And subsequently the confirmation that something indeed fucked up had happened, and we are witnessing the aftermath, the fallout, which does not dispel that sense of creepiness but reinforces it.

Koja has a strong command of provocative, unique turns of phrase that foreshadow and establish a very particular mood. Her word choice also simultaneously builds vivid, unique images that contribute greatly to the mood, while also providing foreshadowing and insight into the characters and plot.

Obligatory Kindle Note: Read this on a kindle!

A Stranger in Olondria

I am always nervous writing a review of a book that touches me deeply, as I feel my writing is insufficient to convey that deeper experience with the story. I type this before typing that, of all the things I expected A Stranger in Olondria to be from its title and a too-short descriptive blurb (not the one on the back cover), I did not expect it to be a well-told literary epic telling the tale of a man’s childhood, his journey into the depth of Olondria, and his entanglement in a struggle between two ideologies and cultures, a rift that threatens to rip the kingdom apart.

A Stranger in Olondria is amazingly well written, with vivid descriptions of a young man discovering a foreign world, with a winding plot that unfolds with no shortage of foreshadowing and connections to the past. The most important of these connections occurs as a result of his bond with the ghost mentioned on the back cover. Most importantly to me, the story is a poignant tale of life, with plenty of travel and adventure, but told honestly, rather than dramatically, with no edges blunted. Jevick of Tyom shares his childhood memories, the joy and pain of life, both with and without the sting of adult awareness, and the varied experiences he falls into, from imprisonment, to conspiracy, to living alone with only the company of a ghost.

The story is slow paced, and takes quite a while to reach the heart of the narrative, which may be engaging or tiring, depending on your persuasion. I found it worked very well with the descriptive depth of the novel, and the sheer number of thematic threads woven together. I also found Jevick’s interest in reading, writing, and storytelling fascinating, as these topics are deep in the soul of the story itself, and that meta-commentary resulted in a few moments of genuine wonder. I really enjoyed the prevalence of culture and to a lesser extent ideologies in driving the plot, with the differences in place and dynamics resulting in power struggles with wide-ranging effects. The two viewpoints were generally depicted more than explained, and such explanations usually fit the scene, never feeling forced or like a lecture to the reader. In fact, nothing in the novel felt forced to me: everything had its place and its time.

Off Hiatus, Half Speed Ahead

Good news: Morning Book Review will be posting book reviews again starting this week, October 19th! Hurrah! Wait, that’s a Wednesday…

Sad news: Morning Book Review will be posting one review per week for the foreseeable future. The reason is a new schedule that gives me less time to read than previously.

Good news: Morning Book Review may experiment with some other content occasionally in addition to the once-weekly review.

Anyhow: looking forward to sharing some opinions about great books, terrible books, and in-between books!

 

On Hiatus

Sad news: Morning Book Review will be on hiatus until early October. The reason is simply a combination of work, projects, and life summing up to more time than exists in a day, so something has to give.

Good news: Morning Book Review will definitely be back up and posting regularly by the first week of October at the latest. By then I should also have a good amount of buffer built up, so this sort of interruption should be less tragic.

The Tomorrow Log

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When trying to summarize this, my first attempt came out to “What even is I don’t even but whaaa…” But it is essential to note that this confusion feels masterful and intentional. This is not a lack of skill, this is Lee and Miller throwing together a surreal world and, through excellent execution, getting you to care about it and want to figure it out. Sharon Lee and Steven Miller produce fascinating cultures/societies as always, with stellar writing and amazing, evocative turns of phrase does a great job at submersing you into this weird little universe. If you have read books from their Liaden series, then this will feel familiar, but strange.

I honestly could not figure out how to define this as I was reading it. In the jacket description, Gem is named a wizard – literal description or metaphorical description of his mechanical training? Spaceships, communicators – science fiction? Houses and clans, powerful artifacts – fantasy? Action, drama, and advanced medical tech – sci-fi? Speculative fiction? Science fantasy? Mythos? I quickly decided that whatever it was, it felt magical and I liked it. This may sound inconsequential, but often knowing the genre you are reading sets a certain mood and expectation, and here nothing was certain.

The Tomorrow Log is also on a treadmill of crazy. It starts out fairly reasonable, but then slowly picks up craziness and gets crazier and more cray until it’s just blasting along and you don’t even care that it feels incoherent because it’s such a strange and evocative adventure and your brain is spinning hard to connect pieces to make sense of it.

Cover Art Review: This is a pretty great depiction of feeling of the novel. Dark, mysterious, but with playful elements. Additionally, it’s hilarious to me that this rendering of Gem ser’Edreth looks a little like Neil Patrick Harrison.

The Forge of Mars

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My time spent reading the Forge of Mars was mostly spent agape in sheer stupefaction at how not good the novel was.

The characters were simply unreal. They were generally consistent, at least, but in the way that a flat, stereotypic impression of a character is. The villain was literally a moustache-twirling 100% evil ex-Soviet General and his little dog. And he was less cringe inducing than the main characters, Tai and Yvonne.

The story also suffered from extreme tonal dissonance. Is the story grim and serious? Is it sexy? Is it profound? Is it goofy? Is it deadpan? Is it HILARIOUS? The Forge of Mars is all of those! And thus it suffers from extreme tonal whiplash, where you have a breakup and serious discussions of relationships and future career plans followed by a character slipping into the Museum of Bureaucracy to escape someone chasing him, and running through office dioramas and jokes about government employees.

Additionally, the world was very confusing. There was real AI, nanotechnology, nanotech 3d printers, and regular no-big-deal space travel, to name just four big developments. And society did not change in the slightest as a result. It felt completely unreal to have that level of technological development, but have everything else feel like the early 2000s.

The dialogue was not enjoyable, and the scene descriptions generally went on too much and were not of importance. This dragged down the plot, especially when combined with jarring scene transitions between the multiple viewpoint characters.

Now, the bit I enjoyed: There are some cool and enjoyable bits with alien robots later on, as in B movie enjoyable. Still, if you want something like that, you should check out a Keith Laumer book, or one of Fred Saberhagen’s lighter Berserker books.

Inherit the Earth

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I thought that Inherit the Earth was a very odd book. The plot is slowly paced, but in a way that detracts from it. The extra space/time is dedicated to building up the characters and institutions, but the plot also spends a lot of time convincing you it is about to go somewhere before… not going there. Or, spending a lot of time/pages presenting a particular version of history, which is then promptly revealed not to be true. Additionally, there are several situations where something interesting is about to happen, and then just… doesn’t. That was the main thing that stuck out to me.

The conspiracy theory aspect of figuring out who was telling the truth and who was lying and what the truth and lies were and also did not grab me. I am not sure why: I generally like that kind of thing in novels, especially those “of this sort” such as in the Jump255 trilogy, (Infoquake/MultiReal/Geosynchron), or in the Cassandra Kresnov series (Crossover/Breakaway/etc…), or the Culture novels, but I think a lot of it just came from not being especially grabbed by the writing, characters, world, or plot.

Cover Art Review: Not going to lie, the cover art was about 5/8ths of my motivation for purchasing this book, with the book jacket description being the rest. I really liked the slanted concrete building face, the pursuit and escape parkour action occurring center stage, and the stacked verticality of the cityscape.

Wulf’s Yarn

WulfsYarn_All.jpgWulf’s Yarn is a slowly unfurling ribbon of a tale which orbits the plot, casting illumination here and there as it drifts from character to situation to the storyteller’s notes: after all, the book is titled Wulf’s Yarn for a reason, and Wulf is an interesting storyteller indeed. Wulf tells the story at its own pace, providing necessary context, rearranging events, quoting from others, and the result is a sedately paced, rich, detailed view of an atypical universe. The characters and institutions are well developed, and I found the religious background to the Gentle Order of St. Francis Dionysos is particularly unique and captivating.

Beyond the unusual character of the world in view of its characters and institutions, the story felt unique as well. The story of Senor Confrere Jon Wilberfoss is a great tale about facing challenges, failing at those challenges and the suffering and trauma that results, and recovering from that trauma and the form that recovery takes. This is a topic that feels rarely touched upon in the science fiction and fantasy media that I read, or indeed in American society today in general. The story is slow, deep, and enveloping, with a lot of interesting and important themes and sub-themes, such as vanity, character flaws, the nature of religion, the intersection of religion and history, the coexistence of different cultures, the nature of humanity / artificial intelligence / non-human intelligence, to name a few.

Cover Art Review: I am digging the title font and color, and the color scheme is good overall. But the ship itself is disappointing to me. While the surfacing itself is nice, the ship’s design is not particularly attractive, and it’s not clear if it is even the entire ship. However, the man whom I presume to be Jon Wilberfuss is very well illustrated, and matches my impression of him during his time aboard the Nightingale.