Ink and Bone

I’m going to start my book review of Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine with the most important part. I finished this book then went and bought the second one and started reading. It has been pointed out to me that is a rare circumstance and speaks more to the quality of the story than anything I could have to say about it. So there’s that ~ there might be spoilery stuff below…

What if we didn’t lose all the works from the great library? What if indeed.

I really enjoyed the pace of this book. The story didn’t slow down for me. Even when the students were studying or working out how they were going to be tested next there were bits and pieces that tied in to the rest of the story. There was a lot more action than you might think for a bunch of librarians. The action was also believable – Jess ends up in the hospital more than once. None of that “I’ll just continue on because I’m so tough…” actually working out. He’s got the attitude for that, but more often than not he wipes himself out with that thought process.

Jess as a character was trying to do the right thing. He was not a whining anti-hero. I enjoy and appreciate that more and more these days. He was anxious, clever and dense in various turns, in love and certainly passionate about what he was doing. He really worked as a character for me. He played well off the others as well.

The rest of the cast of characters developed well. I consider it a well written character when I’m reading and think, “wow that guy is a douche. I wouldn’t get along with him…” and I got those visceral reactions more than once. Well done.

There is one thing that I would quibble with – and it is just a quibble really. The timeline. This book, even with the magic of obscurists, didn’t feel like a “modern” story. Despite having stated someplace in there that this was set in 2025 or something like that it absolutely felt like 1890. The technology, the locations and the general societal attitudes placed it there, but also the “technology” of the books hurts the concept if you move further forward. What I mean by that is this: you’ve got the ability to pass notes from one linked book to another all over the world. You have the ability to transport matter (if you can send books, you can send anything) and people across the planet without appreciable delay… even if it’s a limited ability. IF you take this time line as an “alternate history” those bits of technology change how major developments in our past happen during the 1900s. World War II CAN’T happen the way it did in our world if you have instant communication across distances like that. There’s no accident of timing. There’s no struggle to travel the distances necessary to fight others in a distant land… but why would you send soldiers at all? Just send the bomb and let that do the work for you with none of the danger.

I think there’s a lot of potential for this series and I am already enjoying the next book. I would recommend picking this one up and giving it a shot.

Divine?

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1)City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m going to give this one a weak 3 stars. I struggled with this book on a couple of fronts.

Third person current tense? I’m not sure, but it was like a nature show narrator during certain parts and it really bothered me.

I actually liked the characters quite a lot once I got past the author’s style. I think the indestructible secretary was a little much, but I understood why he was there. It’s useful to have that sort of “action” person around if you are not that action person. There were times when Shara didn’t look like a hugely experienced operative, but I was totally willing to roll with that. I also really liked Mulaghesh.

The world building perplexed me a bit. I wasn’t sure how certain parts of technology were or were not supposed to fit. There was no clear definition of what worked and what didn’t, what people were aware of and what they were not aware of. Eventually I put it into the same category as an 80s Batman movie.

There are lots of parts to this book that look like a thinly veiled condemnation of modern religion. I think there’s a lot of potential conversation stuff in here. For that alone, I would say pick it up and give it a shot.

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The West?

Straight Outta TombstoneStraight Outta Tombstone by David Boop
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was really excited about this collection. It has a story in the Monster Hunter universe and a story in the Dresden Files universe – IN THE SAME BOOK! How could that not be amazing?

Well, it could not be amazing because it’s westerns. Don’t get me wrong, I like them, they’re just not the top of my list. It is rare for me to be deeply impressed with a western – the western is very much my father’s genre.

I liked the Monster Hunter story. I liked the Dresden files story. I didn’t love either of them, but they helped fill that need to read in those universes. I liked the story by Phil Foglio even if I could see the end coming. There were a couple of stories that were MEH. My favorite story – far and away was actually “Chance Corrigan and The Lord of The Underworld” by Michael A. Stackpole. Western, steampunk, magic… definitely a worthy read.

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Do not rocket while impaired…

Space TrippingSpace Tripping by Patrick Edwards
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Three stars-ish.

IF you’re looking for distant planets, space battles, far ranging corporate plots and drunk aliens doing the equivalent of “hold my beer” then this book is for you. It was amusing and a very quick read. I think I actually knocked it out in a day.

The reason this suffers in my opinion is that I have other drunken adventures that I am much more partial to. Totally not a “fair” thing to this author, but it is how I feel.

If you like this book and you’re looking for something else, you will probably very much enjoy the works of the Drunken Comic Book Monkeys in Scary Tales of Scariness (Fortress Publishing).

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Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold! by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I read this once a long time ago. I suspect it didn’t fit with the sort of fantasy I was expecting at the time so I didn’t particularly remember it, but I picked it up again since it was a book group choice.

This actually falls directly into the category of “matters when you read it”. The main character is NOT the typical fantasy hero. He’s already had a lot of life and success in his career. He’s middle aged, not the mystery secret sixteen year old prince who’s been in hiding all his life. At this time in my life I really appreciated the difference in character.

Yes, there are other fantasy tropes in there that were kind of expected. Yes, there are some small hints of anachronism since the book was written over 30 years ago. None of those things bothered me and I really enjoyed the story this time. This may very well move up to the top of the Terry Brooks list for me.

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Justice

Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch, #1)Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the best science fiction works I’ve read in a very long time. I really enjoyed this book. I understand why it garnered the praise that it did.

Taking the point of view character away from being a human is never easy, but splitting that character apart into the many places an AI can inhabit would be particularly challenging and the author handles it wonderfully.

There is a lot of discussion worthy stuff in here. IF you’re a fan of science fiction this is very much worth the read.

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Barbarian

Conan the Barbarian: The Complete CollectionConan the Barbarian: The Complete Collection by Robert E. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Conan. It took a barbarian’s strength to push through this whole thing. It was a test of endurance for me. Not because I didn’t like the stories, just because there was so much of the same thing stacked up in one place!

This collection was assembled (as I understand it) from multiple novels that were not originally part of the same work. What happens when they are lumped together is that you get a repetition of phrasing you might not otherwise notice. Comparisons to wolves and tigers using the same descriptors gets really old – quickly.

I see clearly where the inspiration for Frazetta and so many others comes from. This is a cornerstone in the building that is modern fantasy. There are many, many things that clearly descend from this ancestor.

At the same time, it does have issues. IF you decide to take the challenge and plow through this whole thing, be prepared for turns of phrases that are out of date. Prepare for the use of language that has developed different connotations over the intervening eighty years or so – giving an odd flavor to the text despite the technically correct usage of certain words. Also be prepared for characters that are placed / labeled or otherwise called out based on their physical descriptions. Any non-white persons in this book are judged and categorized based on that fact. I don’t know if that was the opinion of the author or a shorthand sort of cheat. Why develop a villain when all I need to say is “he was of the darkest jungle with fuzzy hair and sharpened teeth”? It’s uncomfortable and makes certain aspects of the book less enjoyable for it. Females fall directly into either weak and lust worthy or strong and lust worthy – either category to be part of the conquest. There really are women of power in here, just don’t expect them to take on significant roles.

I would say it’s important to read this original Conan material to learn where so much of today’s fantasy comes from, but read it with the age and context in mind.

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Balticon 51

I made a quick note on Facebook about giving a longer and more detailed review of this year’s convention. IF you’re seeing this connected to FB – here it is!

I started going to Balticon back at number 27. Yup, that puts me at about 24 years for this one. Sounds impressive until you realize that I know at least one person (Hi Ray!) that’s been to them all. Yes, all of them. That’s impressive.

First and I think most importantly credit where credit is due. Programs this year were smooth. Really smooth, not simply as juxtaposed with the struggle of last year. Got my invitation early, got my survey and panels early, and the schedule was posted and available before the week of the convention. WELL DONE!

I had 4 panels and 2 book launch events over the weekend.

The panels I had were editing the short story, reading outside your genre for SFF writers, being a fan of problematic things and the xenoarchaeology road show.

I think editing the short story went relatively well. I also thing reading outside your genre went well – I did my best to toss ideas out there of things I’d read that I felt could be of interest to folks. I got the biggest reaction when I mentioned Devil in the White City as apparently some others have read it. All in all, not bad.

Being a fan of problematic things was going to be a contentious panel. Intellectually I knew this. Emotionally it took a lot bigger toll on me than I thought it might have. It was a difficult panel. I have written about this topic before (Your Protest May Vary published in Watch the Skies and again here at my site) and given the topic a great deal of consideration.
I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. Part of it was the audience. There were a couple of attendees that talked over almost everyone for the duration of the panel. It can be a very personal subject, but I felt it was a disservice to the rest of the folks in the room to do what they did. The moderator struggled against them the entire time. The other struggle was sitting between two panelists with definite thoughts on the matter. I could feel tension just sitting there. I can say that S.M. Stirling impressed me with the depth of knowledge he could bring to hand without notes or references. While I don’t know that I shared his opinions, he recalled the specifics of an example I pulled from a very old novel. I pulled the example based on the clarity of the language that might show it to be problematic. He knew the context of the characters and brought all that out in defense of his position on the matter. Agree or not, he had that information rattling around upstairs. By the end of the hour I was just done. It took a lot of effort to stay level and calm for me in there – and it didn’t really have much to do with the topic itself.

I’ve really enjoyed attending the Xenoarchaeology road show in the past. The panel pretends to be archaeologists digging up long forgotten things from a human world. See something come out of the box and make up a great explanation for what it obviously is. I signed up to be a panelist on a whim for this one. It was an hour after the problematic panel, and being funny at the drop of a hat is not easy. Clever, maybe. Witty, perhaps on a good day but not for an hour straight. I don’t know that I’ll sign up to be on that panel again because I just don’t feel like I brought the humor that panel deserved. It was something of a let down to me. I was disappointed in myself, I can only hope the audience had a good time. I know I enjoyed what my fellow panelists came up with as much as the audience did. The running gag of “it’s clearly a ritual item…” was pretty funny.

The launch events were Fortress Publishing (TV Gods Summer Programming – available now) and E-spec books (DTF – Man and Machine – available now). The Fortress launch was wedged into the hour between the problematic panel and the road show. I couldn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted to, but I did get to sign a few books while I was there. The E-spec launch was a pretty big shin-dig. It took over the con suite for 2 hours. It was really well done and it looked like everyone involved had a really good time.

In between all this programmed goodness was the chance to play test a game for a friend. I can’t give out details but I can say I think I’ll be jumping on a copy when it comes out! Lots of fun trying to break the mechanics of it and stretch the rules to see where the holes show up.

Surprisingly, I didn’t come away from the weekend feeling the creative charge I normally do. I really enjoyed having dinner with friends. I liked sitting and chatting with people that I don’t get to see nearly enough. It’s a silly thing, but I was extra excited to recognize a ‘Sky High’ cosplay and earn the pink ribbon you can see in the picture (hey – the preferred term is hero support). Somehow I just didn’t feel that juice flow, that battery charging jolt I usually have when I get back to the house.

I would call this year a successful year even without that jolt. It’s always good to see old friends and add new ones. I’m going to dive into some projects that have been waiting for me while already plotting and planning for next year!

Man And Machine!

Man and MachineMan and Machine by Mike McPhail
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Right up front – one of my stories is in here. I *might* be biased in my rating.

I really did enjoy the stories in this book. There are some really good stories and very talented writers in there and I’m very happy to have the chance to share the pages with them.

I won’t give any spoilers, but there is a punch to the feelings at the end.

Go, get a copy!

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Pale dreaming

The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1)The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First – I find it annoying that this posted to the “read” shelf despite the fact that I didn’t do that. The electronic connection isn’t making me happy.

Also – the version of the book I bought had an “extra” of the prequel “The Pale Dreamer”… at the END of the book. It would have made sense to put that at the START since that’s where it is in the time line of the story. Instead, I got the history of why the folks in her gang like each other AFTER they went through the adventure of the whole previous book. That really put me off.

So, on to the book itself. I liked the style of writing. I liked the main character for the most part. She grew, learned and took on the mantle of hero when she needed to. I have issues with the romance in the story, but that’s my issue – not the story itself. I don’t like the “I hate you, but somehow that means I love you” connection with people. I file it directly next to “boys are smelly throw things at them if you like them” emotional level. Doesn’t work for me.

The world building was a little… odd? There was an awful lot going on. That wouldn’t be such a big deal except at certain points it overwhelmed the stuff I was trying to get out of the story. It was futuristic, but also had alternate history of our current time line. There were bits of UK terminology that were in there that distracted from time to time. There are a handful of little things that I found distracting.

I gave the book 3 stars, but I really think of it as a weak 3 stars. I finished the book, but I don’t see me going and looking for more.

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