Monday, April 13, 2015
The books of Robin Hobb are some that have been sitting there on the shelf for a long time. I first read The Farseer Trilogy nearly 15 years ago and followed relatively quickly with The Liveship Traders Trilogy. I’ve always meant to read the books in The Tawny Man Trilogy, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. And now, with Hobb returning to the story of Fitz in a new trilogy (The Fitz and the Fool Trilogy – first book Fool’s Assassin), and seeing people whose opinions I trust say how great that return is, I finally took the plunge with Fool’s Errand, the first book of The Tawny Man Trilogy.
So, what’s it like to return to the story of someone after a 15 year break? Well, when your reading ‘old-fashioned’, 1990’s/early 2000’s era fantasy, it works great. Fool’s Errand is quite long for the story that’s told – much of it is spent re-introducing the reader to Fitz and others, which is exactly what I needed. There are hints and remembrance of the Farseer books, and I vaguely remember what happened, but only in broad terms. So, the details don’t mean much, while providing me what I need to move on.
While I often avoid traditionally, BFF (big, fat fantasy) books, I can see a real value in the level of immersion that it provides. You really get to know Fitz, see what drives him, understand those motivations, and therefore, share in the journey – tragic or triumphant. This further impacted by the first-person narration that Hobb does so well.
As I read Fool’s Assassin, I felt a lot of nostalgia – this is in part driven to me searching my memory for books read 15 years ago, and in part because the style of Fool’s Errand feels like something from the past in comparison with so many of the books I read today. And it was like snuggling down into an especially comfortable bed and piling on those warm, soft blankets – it was pleasure.
Looking up, I see that this ‘review’ has rambled on about how I felt about reading the book, without much actual discussion of the book itself. Well, take it or leave it – most of you reading this review have probably read Fool’s Errand, or at least one book in The Farseer Trilogy. You are ‘the choir’. There’s a damn good chance that reading this review is your own form of nostalgia. Isn’t it great?
So, do I have you feeling all warm and fuzzy about a book that’s about an assassin coming out of retirement? Returning to the court that ‘executed’ him in spite of him saving the kingdom? As you remember The Farseer Trilogy, do you think this one is going to turn out well?
Warm and fuzzy.
The Farseer Trilogy
The Liveship Traders
The Tawney Man Trilogy
Fitz and the Fool Trilogy
Friday, April 10, 2015
Over the past couple of years I've repeatedly heard the praise for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). That praise is basically summed up by some version of the following: if any of your formative years were spent in the 1980's and if you spent any time watching movies and playing video games, then this books is for you. Well, I did those things, so it should be for me, right?
YES! To repeat what I've seen one version or another – it’s like this book was written exactly for me. I did see all those movies, I watched those shows, I had that Atari game. And that one. I spent hours at the arcade plugging quarters into that machine. D&D.
This book was made for geek culture – particularly us geeks who spent time in the 1980's. It tells the story of a frightening, but all too likely future, that is if not dystopic, is the next thing to it. Only the stratification of that future, where there are haves and have-nots – the top is dominated by that geek who huddled in the corner, who had no life, who couldn't talk to girls. He went and took over the world – or perhaps, more correctly – re-created the world via virtual reality to suite himself. And then he made everyone like exactly the things he liked. Ready Player One works so well because it tells the story of that stereotypical nerdy underdog rising up and not just winning, but winning everything. It’s the story about the legacy of one such winner and the creation of another.
And it’s told almost entirely through references to the 1980's. TV shows, videogames, movies, computer games, D&D, etc. It’s very nearly perfect. It’s way fun. And it’s triumphant. Of course it’s going to be made into a movie directed by none other than Stephen Spielberg – how could it not be? The book isn't a journey, it’s a game, it’s a quest, it’s an Easter egg hunt. And everyone gets to play.
There’s only one issue I had with the book – an issue that fits in so well with a book rooted in geek culture of the 1980s. This is a dude book. The reality is that there is only one female character in this book, and she is completely defined as love interest number one. The geek goddess that the geek protagonist falls in love with. She serves no other purpose. It doesn’t matter that she’s, smart and capable (even ’badass’) – her purpose in this book is to serve the geek protagonist. This is an unfortunate reinforcement of so much of embedded misogyny of geek culture – one issue that geek culture is struggling so hard to get past now. Some will point to a spoilerific moment toward the end as a refutation of the above, but really, that changes very little in how ‘girls’ are framed in this book. Some may point to the final pages of the book to say ‘look, see, it’s OK dude’, but I’m sorry, the climax of geek’s wet dream doesn't fix anything. Essays could be written, but this review isn’t the place, and I lack the pedigree to pull it off as it should be.
Could Ready Player One both be the book that it is and deal with this issue respectfully and intelligently? I have to think the answer is yes. If geek culture is going to get passed these issues, then authors really need to step up to the challenge of making it so – and really, it’s often not such a great challenge at all.
But, as I said, this is a dude book, and I’m a dude. It was written for me. In more than a few ways, it was written about me. And yes, even considering that little big issue I mention above (of which I have my fair share of culpability for in my own time), I loved every fucking minute of Ready Player One. This is one of those books that kept me up late reading, it stayed with me after I stopped reading, it had me truly excited to read in a way that so few books can achieve.
In retrospect it’s damn near depressing how a book that is so rooted in a flavor of pop culture could affect me so strongly. Again, essays could be written about this. It’s Meta, maybe intentional, maybe not, but Ready Player One is paradox in what it rebels against as it embraces just that. Perhaps that’s THE paradox of geek culture itself. Which I suppose makes all the more appropriate in Ready Player One.
But in the end, I can only repeat what I said above…
I loved every fucking minute of Ready Player One!
Friday, April 03, 2015
I find that some of the books I enjoy most are basically a form of modern mythic – sometimes this is called mythic fiction, and what feels like a long-lost time ago, many of these books were considered urban fantasy. However you choose to define them, these are books that are set in a modern(ish) world and contain a deep connection to some mythic past, often through or including nature, though not necessarily so, often through some form of spirit or mythic race, and music often plays a very important role. The books of Charles de Lint immediately come across like this and other names like Robert Holdstock fit just as easily. And now I’ve found another name to add to this list – Alex Bledsoe and his Tufa novels. Two are currently available, The Hum and Shiver and Wisp of a Thing, with a forthcoming book titled Long Black Curl.
The Tufa are a people in small area in Appalachia that have a mysterious past and deep connection to music and the land they live on – they mistrust outsiders and many rumors swirl about them – often dark, tragic rumors that are only whispered.
When I first came across the description of these books – something like that paraphrased discussion above – I knew these books were for me. I had the second, Wisp of a Thing and was very hesitant to jump in – once I was informed that while related, each book stands on its own, I could no longer resist the call and plunged into the deep, old forests of Appalachia and the Tufa.
I’ve often wondered why these mythic books appeal so much to me and I believe it begins with my love of the outdoors. But it’s way more than that, because these mythic books can succeed without ever stepping out of the concrete jungle of a city. I think it must be the combination of what is often a love and respect for the world that is beyond what is found in modern life, with a deep connection to the past in combination with an otherworld-ness that feels just out of reach. It’s that ‘irrational’ fear of that dark place, the ‘unnatural’ feeling of an old forest at night, the unexplainable connection of hugging a tree, the transcendence of music.
When stories achieve this place, they lose that common focus of an external goal – be it a quest, or vengeance, or whatever. It becomes a journey internal to those who experience it. The pace slows and the story takes over like a song while escape is an unwanted dream.
Wisp of a Thing does all of these. There is a deep, personal journey, not a hero’s journey, not one where the end is known, but a journey none-the-less. The old world music of Appalachia plays a big part, along with weathered epitaphs in lost, overgrown cemeteries. It’s tragic and hopeful. Love is lost and found. Old wrongs are righted. Blood runs deep.
I loved Wisp of a Thing – now I crave a journey into the mountains of Appalachia, a hike down my favorite trail to visit that giant old-growth Ponderosa Pine, to look out over the beauty of the land around and listen to the music of the wind. For whatever reason, my love of mythic fiction doesn’t end, but it does fade to the back only to seemingly leap up out of nowhere. Through Bledsoe and the Tufa, I now have another ever-present beginning of a journey waiting for me. I will be back again…and again…and again…
Monday, March 09, 2015
I have something to admit that is likely not a surprise to anyone who pays attention to what I read and review here at the blog (but let’s face it, how many people are actually paying attention to that). I’m rather limited in what I read – it’s mostly fantasy, and generally some form of second-world fantasy. Yes, I read some SF in there, some urban fantasy, some historical fantasy, some thrillers, and a few books that are either all or none of those and find themselves described with trite phrases like ‘transcends genre’. I say this because even though we in the SFF world certainly claim Tobias S. Buckell as an SFF author, some of his latest books are much more thriller/adventure/spy books that have as much in common with the books of Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy, and those fall outside of my typical sphere of reading. But that doesn’t mean that us SFF fans shouldn’t be reading those books – especially anyone who is looking for some form of near-future SFF that actually presents a very possible future that doesn’t immediately become overly post-apocalyptic.
Hurricane Fever is Buckell’s second book about a not-to-distant from now world where climate change has changed everything. His first book of the vein, Arctic Rising (my review), follows a young UN pilot who becomes wrapped up in a global conspiracy. In Hurricane Fever, Buckell focuses on a secondary character form Arctic Rising, the Caribbean spy, Roo, who is forced out of retirement and becomes wrapped up in a global conspiracy. Yes, these books are full of the typical spy thriller tropes that we’ve all come to love, and there are not a few jabs poked at those that have popularized that genre, most obviously James Bond.
The difference is that Hurricane Fever (and Arctic Rising) are very smartly written. They feature non-standard protagonists doing things just as well as the white guys. The future world is eerily possible – the socioeconomic, political and military possibilities presented are scarily likely. Seas have risen, balances of power have shifted, the weather is crazy, and drones change everything. This is the future.
And it’s shown through the lens of a good, old-fashioned, shoot’em up spy thriller. Smart and fun. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Friday, February 20, 2015
Honor’s Knight by Rachel Bach (aka Rachel Aaron) is the second book in the Paradox series which falls somewhere in the area of new space opera or military science fiction, or whatever – really it doesn’t matter how you choose to (or not to) shelve these books. What does matter is that they are so much fun and such a pleasure to read.
In my review of the first book in the series, Fortune’s Pawn, I get into a bit of discussion on entry-level SF and even the similarities of Fortune’s Pawn to urban fantasy. I think that all was an interesting discussion, but Honor’s Knight moves the conversation forward and so should we. This book does what most (good) second books in a trilogy do – it ups the stakes, expands the world (or galaxy in this case), and gets a bit deeper. All in all, it’s a classic second book in a space opera.
All of the fun, exciting and adventurous aspects of Fortune’s Pawn are here, only bigger. And of course things get a bit more interesting as true moral crisis begin to appear – who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Where does Devi stand in all of this? And let’s not forget the romance aspect of Devi and Rupert – because things get complicated.
All of this adds up to a great book. Call it a beach read, an escape read, or what you read on Tuesday night – it has that feel for me. A good, fun, entertaining book. It’s complex and ‘deep’ enough to not feel cheap, but it’s still got plenty of explosions, violent encounters with aliens, lovely moments of romance, and even arena-based mortal combat. All in all, Honor’s Knight is a step up from the already good Fortune’s Pawn, and I can’t wait to read the conclusion of the series, Heaven’s Queen.
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
Patrick Rothfuss warns you not to read his latest novella, The Slow Regard of Silent Things – for reals – he says it repeatedly in the Foreword. I can understand this – it’s very different from the epic fantasy he’s most famous for. People looking for anything that’s more of the same will be…unrewarded in their quest. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t read the novella – because it’s good, very good in fact. But not classic fantasy and not what most people think of when they want to read something from Rothfuss.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is more a character study of Auri, a minor character from his world of epic fantasy. It’s simply the telling of a few days in Auri’s life as she prepares to meet with Kvothe, told in her own form of first person. The power of Rothfuss’ story telling is quite evident even in this more experimental novella – he makes a multi-page description of making soap exciting and entertaining. His playful prose only enhances his storytelling mojo, which makes this weird tragedy of an exploration of Auri something fun to read.
Of course the real beauty of the story is Auri – she is a tragic character, ‘broken’ in some way. But she’s found her world, her form of happiness, and it works. It reminds us to look past the exterior and consider an actual perspective. I think many will find her world something quite special, something they can relate to in some way, and something that brings of tear to their eye.
For the most part the experiment of The Slow Regard of Silent Things works well. Rothfuss shows flexibility and understanding and he once again entertains. Though he does slip up a few times where the story abruptly slips into a male gaze, and it still seems unfair that the world of Auri in this story entirely revolves around Kvothe.
So, some fans may heed Rothfuss’ warning and not read it. Many will not – some of those will love it, some will not. But I think a lot of them will ultimately feel as I do, that it is was a wonderful regard of a moment that has me even more excited for book three.
The Name of the Wind: My Review (don’t read, this one is old and I was such a ‘young’ blogger), Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon
Friday, January 09, 2015
Assail by Ian C. Esslemont wraps up a 5 (or 6 depending on how you choose to count it) book story arc within the Malazan world that Esslemont shares with Steven Erikson. The best way to think of it is that it’s a supplement and epilogue to Erikson’s Malazan Books of the Fallen series. And that brings us to what is my biggest problem with Esslemont’s contributions to the Malazan world – he’s not Steven Erikson.
Yes, this is perhaps unfair to Esslemont, but in a shared world, the comparison will be made. It comes down to this – I get Erikson, or more correctly, Erikson’s writing connects with me. The humor, the satire, the cynicism, the commentary on genre, and all the meta stuff that glues the rest together. With Esslemont, all that is absent, or at maybe it’s just that he doesn’t have the writing skills to pull it off. Whatever the specific reasons, Esslemont remains in Erikson’s shadow and I can only describe his books as a disappointment regarding what they could have been (if written by Erkison).
Esslemont has undeniably grown as a writer and story-teller since he entered the Malazan world with Night of Knives. He even pulls off some interesting thematic explorations. But he’s not Erikson. They may have co-created the characters, but time and time again, it seems that Esslemont takes a character made mysterious, interesting, and altogether fun by Erikson and sucks all that right out. Fisher is the prime example in Assail – Fisher’s origins and potential powers have always been of interest, and by the time we’re done with Assail, it’s boring, whatever reveal occurs has lost all its power and Fisher literally limps into what is supposed to the payoff for the series. Another example is the whole Crimson Guard thing – was it supposed to be a tragedy, because I think it was. Words were said to imply as much, though there was no emotional impact with it. I think that ending could have meant something, instead…well, it wasn’t as boring as the last book.
I called this a mini-review, when it may be better reviewed as a non-review. Because ultimately, what I say repeatedly in this review is that the book suffers a lot because it was written by Esslemont and not Erikson. That’s unfair. But that’s also how I felt. A mediocre fantasy adventure that fails to inspire any emotional attachment to its characters is all that the writing of Esslemont will ever be. That mediocrity is only more evident by occurring alongside the writings of Erikson in the same world.
Blood and Bone (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Assail (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Assail (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Friday, January 02, 2015
Jim C. Hines is one of those authors I've meant to read for a long time, but just never got around to it. I've enjoyed his blog and Twitter feed for years, I even won a contest for an autographed copy of Goblin Quest years ago. And yet I've never gotten around to reading one of his books.
I’m happy to say that changed with Libriomancer (first book in the Magic Ex Libris series), and while it was ‘worth the wait’, it also points out that I shouldn't have waited so long. There are many reviews of Libriomancer out there, I don’t have much to add, so this will be short. I enjoyed it…a lot. This was just what I needed – a quick, fun and adventurous read. It pays homage to science fiction and fantasy books of all ages, and really speaks to all of us dreamers who have always wished (often secretly and sometime overtly) that we could have those magic powers, play with those ‘wonderful toys’, etc. What would we do with that gift? Well, maybe we’d save the world from evil magician commanding a legion of powerful vampires and robotic automatons (OK, legion is bit big, but you get the picture).
This a fun book written by someone who is reveling in being a fan. The love of genre and secretive dreaming fans have all experienced are overflowing in this book. In short, it was just what I was looking for, and now I want more.
The great news is that a sequel, Codex Born, is out there now and Unbound will hit the stores in January, 2015. I can’t wait!
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
The Goblin Emperor by Kathrine Addison (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is looking to be one of the most praised books of 2014 (at least from the bloggers/critics I follow), and I can see why, though part of me thinks this high praise is a much a reaction against the grimdark trend as for the book itself.
It seems to me that a lot of people out there are simply tired of grimdark. Really… the world right now kind of sucks for a lot of people, and for the vast majority of us, life is hard and stressful a lot of the time. So, do we really want to read about worlds that lack and hope and/or redemption? I suppose some people probably find some form of solace in reading about worlds that suck worse than ours, and others consider it a form of ‘realism’ that they can get behind. Me…well, I've not jumped on the grimdark wagon because when I escape to the worlds I’m reading about, I do want some hope, I want redemption, I want positive, progressive change. I want to leave my world behind.
Yes, this is about me and what I’m looking for. 2014 has turned out to be a particularly hard and stressful year for me, maybe the most stressful ever – even more than the harsh medical struggles of my daughter’s first year of life. That sucked bad – but I had no control over it, I could only go along with hope and prayers. The difference with now is that it’s much of my own doing, I often have direct control over how a thing will play out. That’s a whole new kind of stress for me, and way more pressure than I want to deal with. So, the urge to just walk away and escape it all is stronger than ever.
For me that, I think that’s why The Goblin Emperor worked so well. I got a journey into a world that was both an escape and something I could really relate to. Much of that that stress I mention above is due to me ascending to a position of leadership – one I accepted/volunteered for, but also one that is turning out way different than I had thought/hoped for. It actually sucks most of the time and I don’t have the time and energy that I need to devote to it. But, I’m the one in charge, so I've got to move forward anyway, because it really does all come down to me.
As a result, I could strongly relate to Maia and his ascending to the role of emperor. Now, my own situation is not one of life or death, there’s a big difference in the scope of leadership addressed, and my own situation doesn't come with racial baggage (though perhaps a little bit of the family baggage). But it was still a position I could relate to – feeling completely out of my league, no comfort zone in site, helplessness in reliance on others, those moments of losing every bit of confidence in one’s decision making abilities, and yet an overriding duty to live up to the opportunity and make things better.
Because that’s what it’s all really about, isn't it? Striving to make the world a better place regardless of what gets thrown at you. Whether that world is the small world of your own family, your place of work, or the actual, literal world around us all. It really is a fundamental part of human nature to be optimistic in the face all the contravening information, and to really want to make the world better.
Grimdark refuses to admit that about human nature, and that refusal often does nothing more than highlight just how strong a part of human nature hope really is. It deals with the exception to the rule of hope, and that’s why I don’t think it will last. That’s also why much of what gets called grimdark is anything but (however, that’s another discussion entirely). So, it’s no surprise that a book like The Goblin Emperor is receiving so much praise. And it really is a great big breath of fresh air among the stench of grimdark.
I still have another admission to make – when I was reading The Goblin Emperor, none of this was evident to me, or at least not at the level I’m exploring here. I was just enjoying a good book. A fantasy book that largely lacks violence, and is the better for it. A fantasy book that embraces the idea of hope, change, and progress. A fantasy book that has one of the best, most uplifting endings that I've read in years. But after sitting down to write this review, having no idea that it would end up being what it’s become, I realize that The Goblin Emperor affected me at a much deeper level than I imagined. Only a truly great novel can do that and I now realize that The Goblin Emperor is a truly great novel.
For the record, I've also realized that for some reason I can never spell the word emperor correctly – my hands are incapable of it. Perhaps I should unpack that one in my next post?
Monday, December 29, 2014
Having used the word herein in the title of a blogpost, I can just about say all my goals have been met with this blog. Of course that would imply this blog has ever had goals, which it may have at one time (or several), but those goals have long since passed into irrelevancy (or perhaps) apathy.
What a brilliant way to cheerfully begin the blog post that’s supposed to celebrate 2014. Did I mention that I never bothered to do one for 2013? I think that was the first time in the 8+ year history of this blog. Oh well.
The truth is that anyone still bothering to read this blog well knows that I don’t have the time I used to. I only posted 16 reviews in 2014, and a good number of those were books I read in 2013 because it takes me a while to write a review these days. And most were shorter reviews. So we’ll just stick with posts that were actually posted in 2014 for simplicity’s sake. Of those 16, 7 were written by women (~44%), which is easily the highest annual percentage for this blog. While that’s certainly a big step forward for me, I should also point out that 0 of those 16 books was authored by someone who would be classified as a minority with typical definitions. And only 1 of those books was authored by someone whose primary language is something other than English. So, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.
But the truth is that I don’t see this as the year for improvement. Life is overwhelming for me as I've become way overcommitted. One result of that is that when I read, I’m finding I mostly want relatively light reading that’s not out to challenge me. This is leading mostly to what would often be considered rather escapist reading that is much more about entertainment than anything else. Though something particularly absurd and/or overflowing in biting satire would also work well. Anyway…it’ll be interesting to see where these attitudes lead me for reading choices this year.
I do expect things to lighten up again after September, so hopefully that will bring back to the blog and my @nethspace Twitter account more regularly. That’s certainly the plan.
As mentioned above, I reviewed 16 books in 2014. I suppose I should highlight 5 of those reads that appealed to me most at the time.
- Caine’s Law by Matthew Woodring Stover (review)
- Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (review)
- Breach Zone by Myke Cole (review)
- City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (review)
- A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (review)
So…44% books written by women. I list five favorites, of which only one (20%) was written by a woman. And did I mention that my thoughts about what was one of the most talked about books of the past few years were contrary to most? That in combination with my thoughts on this book perhaps raise an eyebrow or two. Yeah, well…interesting.
Anyway…2014 for me in blogging terms has been something along the lines of not dying. 2015 will probably be more of the same. After that I’m hopeful for more time. Of course who knows what the state of things will be by then – how much of a dinosaur will I be clinging to a blog? Just maybe I’ll find time to attend a convention or two – but likely not until 2016 or 2017.
For what it’s worth – I've read and not yet reviewed 5 books. 4 of those actually have drafts in progress. Since I've tended toward posting in bursts, it wouldn't be surprising for a few more posts to come online in the next week or so, probably at least one before that rather arbitrary division in time known as the New Year. This should be a cause of mass celebration with parties everywhere on Dec. 31st. At which time everyone should resolve to make changes to become better people. Yes people, it’s always been about me.
Posted by Neth at 12/29/2014 10:55:00 AM
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Nihal of the Land of the Wind by Licia Triosi (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) was originally written in Italian and this is its first translation into English. I picked it up to read because I was hoping to find something different and exciting. Unfortunately, that was not the case – the book I read was derivative, the writing never quite feels right, and it was mostly quite boring.
Nihal of the Land of the Wind is a classic coming of age story, of a girl in a man’s world striving to succeed where only men succeed. It’s a world of sorcery, war, magical races, and dragon-riding knights. It’s YA in all the ways that people point to when they want to say something is ‘kids stuff’.
This is rather unfortunate, because the best of YA can handle all of this in a way to be equally engaging to adults and YA. With Nihal of the Land of the Wind, it doesn’t – the story feels like something I’ve read many times before and shows no subtly or grace in pounding it’s message into the reader. I can’t say if something got lost in translation or not, but writing style never clicked with me as it stumbled around. I can see this book being good for pre-teen to early-teen girls – the message isn’t all bad by any means, and they are unlikely to consider it such a derivative story. But it’s not written in a way that will appeal to an audience far beyond that rather specific demographic. In all honesty, I’m rather surprised I finished the book at all.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
As I begin this review, it’s clear that I need to establish some context – specifically about humor, and more specifically, about my sense of humor. In short, my sense of humor can be terribly inappropriate and offensive. It’s something that I’m constantly aware of, so many may not realize this, but it’s true. Yes I’m a product of the society I come from, but I’m also a product of my own love ‘Meta’. Which basically means that my humor often follows this process: 1) wow, that’s offensive and/or wrong, 2) I am aware that it’s offensive, 3) I’ll amp that up an order of magnitude or three, 4) now it’s funny.
I admit the above not because I’m looking for a discussion about the (de)merits of my sense of humor, but because I need to establish what I can find funny and my love of Meta. This leads me to Willful Child by Steven Erikson (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), which reeks of inappropriate humor and Meta exploration of society. As a result, I’m essentially predisposed to liking this book, while I can see why a good number of people will not only not like the book, but loathe the approach taken (and with good reason).
Willful Child is branded as a Star Trek parody, which is absolutely correct, while missing the point entirely. Willful Child is absolutely a blatant parody of Star Trek, with a focus on the infamous Captain Kirk. The humor (or offense depending on your point of view) develops through Erikson’s decision of how to define his parody – essentially through the sexist (even misogynistic?), anti-authority, racial/species insensitivity (OK, this is being kind), aspects of Kirk. He does this through Captain Adrian Alan Sawback of the Engage-class starship Willful Child. While the parallels to Captain Kirk are there, the vision I (and likely those younger than me) kept coming up with is that of Captain Mal from Firefly, only in the persona of Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, but I may be unduly influenced by the cover art in this instance.
Let’s just say that Erikson lays it on thick. So thick that it really does become tiresome at times and it’s hard, even for someone with my sense of humor, to not feel disgusted by the choices made. Of course, that’s the point of Erikson’s humor in this book – forgetting for a moment whether or not that is a wise choice to make – we really should look at what Erikson is doing. And Erikson is essentially condemning pretty much the entire American-dominated, patriarchal, Western culture of the past 50+ years. Have I mentioned yet that it would seem that Erikson is one bitterly cynical person with a rather low opinion of humanity?**
Erikson uses his intentionally inappropriate humor in this book to focus on the absurd, horrific consequences of Western Culture. Being a SFF writer, he uses the underlying privilege of classic science fiction and its embodiment in Star Trek, as the vehicle for his condemnation. And the result really is a brilliant piece of work. The humor is over-the-top offensive, which I find funny*, and it is seamlessly woven into a completely paradoxical narrative – one that clearly loves classic science fiction and one that believes that the messages of classic science fiction embody the absolute worst of modern civilization. All the while, he makes the reader actually cheer for Captain Sawback (as they choke back vomit), in spite of him being a complete asshole, sexist pig. That’s a damn fine-line to manage.
And I can’t forget to mention the names – no author does names better. Essays could be written about the symbolic meaning names in this book, even those that aren’t blatantly offensive (I’m looking in your general direction, Security Officer Nipplebaum*).
One could (and probably should) argue that there are other, less offensive, ways to make the points that Erikson makes in this book. Erikson certainly isn’t inventing something new in his condemnation of the privilege of classic science fiction and poison that it injects into civilization. Though I have to admire the balls* that it takes to do it in this way, because the point is a rusty nail punched into the gut by a nihilistic deadpan philosopher** (now I’m laying it on thick), and it’s a point that’s not likely to win many friends.
Wrapping it up, I think that Willful Child won’t truly be a divisive book, since I think that the overwhelming majority of those who read (or begin to read) it won’t like it – whether they bounce off it being a humorous parody, or if they just find the humor disgusting – I simply think that not many will like this book. But I could be wrong, maybe my sense of humor isn’t as rare as it feels, and others will see this book as the brilliantly offensive manifesto (laying it on thick again) that I see it as. I guess I’m just a sucker of for cynicism wrapped in inappropriate humor, and I’m probably the only one hoping for a sequel***.
But I’m aware, so it’s all good.****
*See the first paragraph of this review
**Though, perhaps the in writing this Erikson is just trying spur thought and change?
***Seriously, I would love to see sequels to this, and I'm not-so-secretly hoping this book does find an audience. Does this review help or hurt those chances?
****I added a few minor edits post-publishing.
**Though, perhaps the in writing this Erikson is just trying spur thought and change?
***Seriously, I would love to see sequels to this, and I'm not-so-secretly hoping this book does find an audience. Does this review help or hurt those chances?
****I added a few minor edits post-publishing.
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
In order to add context to this review, I feel I must begin by explaining that I am a trained scientist, a lover of the outdoors, and rather fond of traveling. I often look back to a world where large parts truly were ‘undiscovered’ and the adventures of discovery was ever present, and wish that I were there.* Surprising for one with my background, I don’t read much nonfiction, but when I do, it’s often of the scientific discovery sort of variety, and they are often biographies of prominent scientists of the 19th Century. So, given all this, I can say that it’s really no surprise at all that I really, really enjoyed A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon).
The story is narrated by an aged woman of some notoriety and fame (Lady Trent) – fame for being a scientist no less, and a women scientist at that. She is looking back to the time of her youth and coming of age, when she went on her first big adventure. A time before the world had moved on to a more developed, smaller world – a world where adventures and discoveries were out there to be had and a society where women did not take part in such disgraceful activities.
It is a secondary world, though it absolutely invokes Victorian England and the aristocracy exploring colonial, ‘lesser’ lands. It’s also told in the journalistic style of the times (or at least how we like to think of the times). We could easily be reading about a trek into Africa, or perhaps the far reaches of Central Asia, but in this book there be dragons.
All I can really add is that this story was a pure joy to read. Yes, at times it gets self-indulgent and the pace slows to a crawl, but what journal doesn’t do this? However bad at times things get during the expedition, I can’t help but want to be there myself. To have been one of these early scientists making such groundbreaking discoveries – did I mention there are dragons. That just makes it all so much cooler, because it would be a childhood dream come true to search out and study dragons.
A Natural History of Dragons has been out for a while, and so has its sequel (The Tropic of Serpents) and Voyage of the Basilisk is forthcoming in 2015. It managed to get itself nominated for the World Fantasy Award (not a winner though), and all I can say is that I should have read it sooner. And I can’t read the sequel soon enough.
*I’m aware that this is a horribly privileged, Western perspective, but I am a product of my society.