Jun 22 2017

Celine: A Novel by Peter Heller

I always love an older female crime solver, and Celine is hopefully the first in a series featuring such a heroine, loosely based on the author’s mother, who was also a blue blood debutante turned private investigator, handling primarily cases of family reunion. Hired by a beautiful middle-aged woman to investigate the disappearance of her father twenty years earlier near Yellowstone National Park, Celine and her laconic husband/sidekick borrow her son’s camper and take to the woods on an adventure that’s difficult to describe, but is deeply satisfying to fans of mystery and of nature writing. Throughout, Celine’s own life and motivations are explored in parallel with her client Gabriela’s. It’s a beautiful piece of writing that imagines this complex woman’s interior life with sensitivity and lyricism, without sacrificing the thrills of the genres.

My only criticism is that sometimes the writing is just a bit too precious. The text is overly peppered with the one-word sentence “Well.” Used sparingly, it is a delightful reminder that we are privy to Celine’s thoughts, but it definitely begins to grate with overuse towards the end.

I am hoping that Peter Heller writes more of Celine’s adventures, as this is a heroine too tremendous to be confined to one book. There’s so much more of her past to be explored, and I definitely want to hear of her continuing exploits.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/22/celine-a-novel-by-peter-heller/

Jun 21 2017

This Census-Taker by China Miéville

This Census-Taker, by China Miéville, did not add up for me. If it were not a Hugo finalist, if I had not read and liked close to half a dozen of his other works, I would have pronounced the Eight Deadly Words and set the book aside. Miéville is aiming for the mythic, but mythic is not where I am as a reader just now, and so what I think was meant to be archetypal read more as vague to me.

The story is set in and near a small town located in a remote mountainous region. The narrator, who slips among first- second- and third-person storytelling, is the only child of an odd couple who live atop a flinty hill some distance from the town. The wider setting features signs of a civilizational collapse, with people scraping by amidst scenes of technology that no longer works and a population much reduced by circumstances that include war. The boy’s father makes keys that seem to have magical properties, though they may also be mainly psychological in their workings. The boy’s mother tends the hard-scrabble gardening that produces much of their basic needs. At the story’s opening, the boy runs screaming down into the town because one of his parents has killed the other, though just who killed whom are cast into immediate doubt by the boy’s state. Later, his father claims there wasn’t any killing at all. The narrative, told by the boy an unspecified amount of time later when he is an adult, moves about before and after the opening scene, showing events leading up to it, the months immediately after, and how he came to leave the town.

+++

This Census-Taker was the twelfth bit of Hugo reading I have done this year, and the ninth I have written about.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/21/this-census-taker-by-china-mieville/

Jun 17 2017

Golden Son (Red Rising #2) by Pierce Brown

In an alternate universe, I’m a professional fiction author and Pierce Brown and I have beautiful literary babies together. I mean, what greater compliment can I give this series? It’s smart and beautiful and moving. It examines the compromises of society, and the ethics of war and love, and does it all with a stunning sense of humanity rivaled only by Brandon Sanderson, whose books I also loved but not this much. Not this much and that is saying a lot, since Mr Sanderson is the author I respect most in all the world.

So Red Rising was one of the best sci-fi books I’ve ever read, and of course I expected a bit of a sophomore slump with the sequel. Mr Brown defied all my expectations. There were parts where I was all “You’re not going to make me cry, motherfucker” then of course, mere paragraphs later, the tears would be coursing down my face. And then THAT ENDING. I’m so mad. You guys, I’M SO MAD. I want to talk about things but I can’t because there is so much that is gorgeous about this book that to dissect it for you is doing you a disservice when you should really be going out and immediately enjoying this book in its entirety on your own.

Though there was one small thing that didn’t really ring true for me, and that was Darrow’s reaction to the revelation of Eo’s final words, which she chose to say to her sister rather than to her beloved husband. This, of course, might be a defect in my own empathy, simply because what was revealed was something I did not feel quite so viscerally in anticipation vs when it actually happened. And there, I hope I’ve been obscure enough to not spoil it for you when you do read the book, though I hope you come back and tell me what you loved or otherwise about Golden Son once you do.

Once I clear a backlog, I will immediately start on the final book in the trilogy. God, I can’t wait!

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/17/golden-son-red-rising-2-by-pierce-brown/

Jun 16 2017

Postwar by Tony Judt

Two things stand out for me about Postwar, by Tony Judt. First, it is a stupendous historical synthesis that aims to tell a mostly political history of all of Europe — East and West, North and South — from 1945 through its publication in 2005. Second, I should have been writing reflections about it as I went along, or at least written soon after finishing the book.

In his Preface, Judt gives one of the reasons I found Postwar such fun to read: “Without, I hope, abandoning objectivity and fairness, Postwar offers an avowedly personal interpretation of the recent European past. In a word that has acquired undeservedly pejorative connotations, it is opinionated. Some of its judgments will perhaps be controversial, some will surely prove mistaken.” (p. XIII) I learned from Judt, especially concerning the early years, concerning France, and concerning political and social developments that were internal to the left side of the spectrum. But I also argued with Judt, thinking that he was off here or there, that this particular thread was overlooked, or that matter should have been put a bit differently because it pointed to this or drew on that. I, too, am opinionated, and I enjoyed testing my opinions against Judt’s to see where they aligned, where they differed, and why.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/16/postwar-by-tony-judt/

Jun 16 2017

The Ottoman Endgame by Sean McMeekin

“So far from a sideshow to the First World War, the Ottoman theater was central to both the outbreak of European war in 1914 and the peace settlement that truly ended it.” (p. xviii) In The Ottoman Endgame, Sean McMeekin makes a strong argument that understanding the First World War without understanding the part of the conflict that took part in the Ottoman Empire is a fool’s errand. The tinder that was sparked by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand had been gathered into a box by the Balkan Wars and dried by conflicts between the Ottomans and other European powers, particularly with Italy over Libya and Russia over naval passage through the Bosphorous and the Dardanelles.

McMeekin agrees with the contention that the “roots of today’s Middle Eastern problems” can be sought “in early twentieth century history. But the real historical record is richer and far more dramatic than the myth.” He reminds readers that “The Ottoman fronts stretched across three continents … embroiling not only Britain and France but all the other European Great Powers (and a few smaller ones) — and of course the Ottomans themselves.” (pp. xvii–xviii)

The Ottoman Endgame draws deeply and carefully on that real historical record. McMeekin draws on primary sources in English, French, German, Russian and Turkish. One hundred years after most of the conflict has passed, something like the full archival record is now open to scholars. McMeekin deploys these sources to check accounts against each other, to see how opponents reported on the same events, to see how contemporaries on various sides interpreted events, and to show readers where accounts agree and where they diverge.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/16/the-ottoman-endgame-by-sean-mcmeekin/

Jun 15 2017

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

The dwarfs of Uberwald will soon be crowning a new Low King, and Ankh-Morpork needs to send an ambassador. In times past, the powers-that-be in the great city of Ankh-Morpork might not have noticed such a change in under-Uberwald, and if they had noticed they would not have felt any need to be involved. But as the Discowrld series has developed, the world in which the stories take place has changed as well. As a result of ongoing migration, Ankh-Morpork has become the home of the largest dwarf population anywhere. Divisions in Uberwald’s forests and mines are making themselves felt on the streets of the city.

“The dwarf community has been talking about little else for months, sir” [said Captain Carrot].
“Really?” said Vimes. “You mean the riots? Those fights every night in the dwarf bars?” (p. 27)

Uberwald is a bit tricky, in terms of international relations.

“Only that it’s not really a country,” said [the Patrician, Lord] Vetinari.
“It’s rather more what you get before you get countries,” said Carrot. “It’s mainly fortified towns and fiefdoms with no real boundaries and lots of forest in between. There’s always some sort of feud going on. There’s no law apart from whatever the local lords enforce, and banditry of all kinds is rife.”
“So unlike the home life of our own dear city,” said Vimes, not quite under his breath. The Patrician gave him an impassive glance. (pp. 28–29)

It’s not only the ties of new city dwellers to their ancestral homeland that has drawn official interest, there is of course money involved. The dwarf mines under Uberwald produce not only metals but some of the finest fat on the whole Disc, the remains, according to legend, of the Fifth Elephant. All of the big countries want a piece.

“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” said Vimes. “Uberwald is like this big suet pudding that everyone’s suddenly noticed, and now with this coronation as an excuse we’ve all got to rush there with knife, fork and spoon to shovel as much on our plates as possible?”
“Your grasp of political reality is masterly, Vimes. You lack only the appropriate vocabulary. Ankh-Morpork must send a representative, obviously. An ambassador, as it were.”
“You’re not suggesting I should go to this affair, are you?” said Vimes.
“Oh, I couldn’t send the Commander of the City Watch,” said Lord Vetinari. “Most of the Uberwald countries have no concept of a modern civil peacekeeping authority.”
Vimes relaxed.
“I’m sending the Duke of Ankh instead.”
Vimes sat bolt upright. (pp. 29–30)

And so Vimes is off, hoist by his own coronet.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/15/the-fifth-elephant-by-terry-pratchett/

Jun 15 2017

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Volume 2: Don’t Stop Me-Ow by by Kate Leth, Brittney Williams & Megan Wilson

I so very much loved Volume 1, and Volume 2 was looking to continue the adorable shenanigans, but then Civil War II happened, and I hate big crossover events because they wreck the overarching narrative flow of books like these. But also, since I was only first introduced to Patsy and She-Huik’s friendship via this book, I didn’t really feel the solemnity behind what happened to Jen and how Patsy et. al. reacted. So it was really annoying when the Black Cat story arc, which I’m guessing needs only another issue to wrap up, had to be dropped from this issue because OF COURSE the Civil War II story butted in and took up space. I felt that the creative team did their best to work with what the editors gave them but in terms of impact on the general storyline it was too much pathos too soon into the book, and that is not the fault of the creative team at all.

Anyway, it was good to see Jubilee again even if it’s been forever since I’ve read her exploits (so now she’s a vampire teen with no mutant powers but with an adopted son?! Goodness!) and I loved the interactions between the Hellcat-specific characters. I did, however, think Hedy’s manipulations of Hellcat’s exes far too amateurish for the men to fall for, and then later I didn’t understand Black Cat’s motivations. I guess I just remember Felicia as Spiderman’s Catwoman-esque minor villain and sometime love interest, but she’s definitely more malevolent here than I recall. Still a fun book, and I’ll definitely keep an eye out for the third and sadly last volume, but it definitely wasn’t as good as the first volume.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/15/patsy-walker-a-k-a-hellcat-volume-2-dont-stop-me-ow-by-by-kate-leth-brittney-williams-megan-wilson/

Jun 08 2017

Patsy Walker, A.K.A. Hellcat!, Vol 1: Hooked On A Feline by Kate Leth & Brittney Williams

Freaking adorable. It’s less superheroics than woman-with-superpowers-tries-to-deal-with-the-real-world and I loved it. It reminded me a lot of old Archie comics, from the slightly more cartoony art style to the all-ages humor and storyline. I loved that it leaned more towards the original Patsy Walker romance comics than to the almost gratuitously tortured iteration of the character from the 2000s. I mean, I loved the husband-and-wife occult investigators aspect from the 1970s, but her resurrection etc seemed awfully derivative to me.

Anyway, this comic is like a breath of fresh air, as Patsy tries to adjust to a normal life despite being a superhero and broke and, embarrassingly, exploited by her childhood frenemy, Hedy, who’s somehow managed to obtain the rights to the popular romance comics Patsy’s now-deceased mom once wrote about Patsy and her friends. PWAH is sweet and funny and emphasizes the importance of friendship (and is unafraid to include non-heterosexual characters in important roles and everyday situations.) This was another book I immediately went and bought the sequel to, tho the final volume will only be available in August (and boo, Marvel’s epic sale on Kindle seems to be over.)

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/08/patsy-walker-a-k-a-hellcat-vol-1-hooked-on-a-feline-by-kate-leth-brittney-williams/

Jun 08 2017

Captain Marvel (Marvel NOW!) #1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick & David López

Maybe this book just suffers in comparison with the very excellent Ms Marvel that I’d also recently finished reading, but as a space opera, I felt it only really took off (if you’ll pardon the horrible pun) in the last two issues. Everything before that was mildly interesting but not compelling, though Rocket Raccoon’s reaction to Captain Marvel’s cat was hilarious. I totally dig her relationship with Rhodey, too. I’d like for that to be in the movie, tho the age difference between Brie Larson and Don Cheadle gives me pause. Enough with Hollywood pairing young women with dudes old enough to be their dads. I’m not against it in every instance, so if the movie writers come up with a compelling reason for it to happen, then I’m all for it. But let’s face it, in most movies, such pairings are just some old guy’s wish fulfillment, and it’s gross and creepy.

But I digress. I think another reason I was underwhelmed by this book is that I’ve never really cared about Carol Danvers, and find it weird that she’s considered Marvel’s biggest superheroine. I grew up on the X-Men, and while I was familiar with the rest of the Marvel Universe, Binary (as she was then known. God, I’m old) was not that big a deal. Granted, I cared more about Rogue’s side of the story, plus Danvers always felt overpowered. Anyway, it seems that she got more solo work after I stopped reading monthlies in the 2000s, but I still find her kind of uninteresting in comparison with other characters, and this trade paperback did little to change my mind. A worthy read, but not really my thing.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/08/captain-marvel-marvel-now-1-by-kelly-sue-deconnick-david-lopez/

Jun 04 2017

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Reading as a Hugo voter is a funny thing. I’ve been aware of the Hugo awards for more than 30 years now, some of the winners have been among the best things that I’ve read, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the process for the first time this year. I’m getting to play a small part in giving this award that has meant a lot to me, isn’t that neat? I’m full of squee, as the saying goes.

Still, reading for the award changes my reading process. (Writing about books so regularly here has also changed how I read, somewhat, but that’s another story.) No matter how deeply I have sunk into the reading experience, evaluation is lurking somewhere in the background of my mind. How does this work stack up against the other five finalists? Above or below the baseline established by the first finalist I read in this particular category? Is it doing something that’s been done many times before? Is it trying something new, or at least something that appears new to me? How does it stack up?

Penric and the Shaman is the second story of Penric, a young scholar and divine, and his much older demon, and I would not have read it just now if it had not been nominated for a Hugo in the category of Best Novella. I would definitely have started with the first story in the series, because I am like that, although Bujold provides enough background that the story is perfectly understandable without having read the other one first.

Penric’s world is a fairly standard fantasy setting: vaguely medieval technology, a feudal system of government not terribly unlike England’s, a European geography of temperate climes and numerous small polities. The dominant religion centers on five deities, who are demonstrably real and accessible to people in this world, including Penric himself on at least one occasion that he recalls. Spirits and demons are also present, if not necessarily in abundance. Penric’s demon, Desdemona, is a presence inside of him, separate, given to promoting chaos, and possessing certain magical abilities. Penric himself is in his early 20s, but has advanced quickly in training as both a sorcerer and a divine thanks to Desdemona’s presence.

Bujold tells the stories of Penric and the Shaman from three different points of view. The novella opens with Inglis wondering whether the nearby vultures will feast on him. He is stuck on an icy slope, pinned by rocks after a fall. A dog seems to appear, Inglis hears voices, and he cannot tell whether this is real or vision by the time consciousness slips away. In the next section, Penric is immersed in a translation, which Desdemona finds frightfully dull, when his patron and liege lady calls him in for consultations. A Senior Locator from the capital has come to their remote home in search of a young nobleman who has fled before an accusation of murder, an accusation, in this instance, with occult overtones. Oswyl, the Locator, provides the third point of view in subsequent chapters.

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Permanent link to this article: http://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2017/06/04/penric-and-the-shaman-by-lois-mcmaster-bujold/

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