I got super sick last week and read a half dozen trashy and less trashy PNR/UF books to salve my soul. Also, I managed to tear through all of the Mercy Thompson books, so I'm a little at loose ends as far as light reading goes. I hit a lot of different series to try them out, and first up is my accounting of Alyssa Day.
I started with The Cursed, because I think I had a copy already on my ereader (this will become a theme.) I've seen her name in conjunction with other writers I like (specifically Meljean Brook) and I was hoping it would be a readalike. The Cursed ended up being really fun, set in a pocket universe place on the edge of a bunch of other demonic and elvish realms, I like this sort of word, folded into and on the edges of our world, just a stop off the wrong street in Manhattan.
The main dude was a rugged wizard detective type, all powerful and broody, but the text poked a fair amount of fun at him. The humor was solid, and not entirely dependent on "banter", which I find generally tiresome. All in all, a fun ride, and I was full bummed to find that this was the first in a series that doesn't seem to have any other books. Given that it's been a couple years (and the breakneck publishing speed of these kinds of books), I suspect it must not have done well, and that's that. Drag.
So I then moved on to Atlantis Rising, which was Day's very first novel, and successful enough to spawn a solid series. Frankly, I thought it was awful: clunky characterization and cliche everything, with a raft of unlikable assholes and dodgy enough theology to get me going in a very serious way. Apparently, Atlantis is real, as is Poseidon, but they've dropped out of the world because reasons. Meanwhile, vampires and shifters are also real, and they've come out of the closet, so to speak, and are now running Congress and the like.
The dick prince of Atlantic ends up coming ashore and falling instantly in lust with some girl with heretofore unknown powers. He's been held and tortured for the last couple years by a vampire queen, and this is his first foray out into the world. He's followed by his complaining compliment of dudes, the worst of which is a priest. I couldn't possibly conjure the ins and outs of the plot, but I found just about everything about Atlantis awful, from the bitching leadership to the plot-expedient whims of the god of the sea.
Not to invoke the dread voice of cultural critic Harold Bloom too loudly (and for sure he'd absolutely choke on his Manischewitz if he heard me say this), but Day's first novel has all of the earmarks of the anxiety of influence. The Atlanteans appear to be modeled on the Black Dagger Brotherhood, all black leather and bulging muscles. But the BDB can produce just pages of funny dialogue, and here the repartee was more along the lines of the single entente.
Set against the later The Cursed, you can see Day in Atlantis Rising working off the books and characters that influenced her writing, trying (and failing) to produce the the things she enjoys to read, but isn't particularly gifted at producing. The world of The Cursed is way more sensible than anything in the BDB, and her humor more situational than quipping. It was cool to see that she has found her voice, and also a downer to think that maybe it wasn't as successful as her earlier, shakier writing. Alas, the whims of the market are jerks.
A lot of these quasi-feminist icons are, as they say, problematic. Wonder Woman solidly formed my childhood notions of the expanse and limits of female empowerment: you can save the day, absolutely, but you're going to need a patsy/beard to pin all the credit on. She was also the bondage fantasy of the dude who invented the lie detector.
Likewise, there's a lot of fuckery in Howard's Hyborian books, way moreso than in Wonder Woman. That WW's creator was into bondage and polyamory feels quaint and sweet compared to Howard's literally barbaric escapades, with sexual violence lurking around every corner. I'm not sure that anything Howard wrote is reclaimable, because his stuff (like Kipling) is just too damned entrenched in the mores of the day.
Ms Sonja stands out in such a place, revenge playing her way through grubsome slavers and bandits. You go girl! Etc. But she stands out precisely because every other woman is backdrop or victim, and I don't have a lot of time for fictions that posit a single woman in the "strong female character" role, not including villains, who are just domme fantasies anyway.
So, point being, taking on such a creature as Red Sonja is going to be no easy feat. I see her appeal, which hits me in much the same place as, say, Slave Leia does: good lord that's hot, but also, ish. In fact, I think probably the hotness is a function of the recoil, a sort of attraction/repulsion. You've got to put in enough transgression to get the blood running, but not so much you get all grossed out and overwhelmed.
I was excited about Gail Simone taking this on, because I like her stuff. But, alas, this just felt a little wan. The narrative slips around through Sonja's life, a retrospective of How We Got Here. There's a fair amount of killing and revenge killing. Some of it treads real lightly into crazy lesbian tropes, which didn't so much make me mad as bore me: if you're going to go there, then by god go there. I feel like so much that makes a character like Sonja compelling/infuriating was just skipped over, and we end up with this stock badass.
Which is fine. I like stock badasses; we could use more of them. First volumes are often kinda wobbly, and maybe this character will tighten up as the writers learn to write for her. So a success of a sort, considering how difficult it is the thread the needle of this kind of character.
Eh. I like Lemire, and I have all the praises for Descender, but this is a bust. The story just strikes me as dumb and simplistic. Part of Descender's charm, of course, is Ngyuen's just ravishing artwork. The art here is good, Lemire's trademark black and white, now with slashes of red, but like the story, if feels a little unformed.
Beth Cato really has a skill with furious pacing, and she's gotten even better with her latest novel. The alt-history setting is novel, which I appreciate, because there's only so many times the Axis powers can win the war. Well, or that's not true -- I like a United States of Japan -- which is what we have in this novel, but it's not because the US conquered Japan or vice versa.
Oof, I can heartily say that I am l.o.v.i.n.g. this series so hard right now.
My latest at B&N SciFi.
The publisher used a line from my review on the blurb page for Obelisk Gate! Squeal! (It's credited to B&N Scifi, because that's who I write for.) Super exciting, especially because I adore the Broken Earth series.
Such an enjoyable book, especially if you like libraries, Sherlock Holmes, and steampunk. My latest at B&N Scifi.
After I was done screaming and freaking out, I wrote up my experience at the MST3K reunion show last night for B&N SciFi.
Might I begin by saying that Booklikes not having a cover for this novel is weak as fuck. I've recently been assigned a bunch of Jewish science fiction to read for my B&N gig, partially because of my own interest, certainly. It's been an illuminating couple of books, grounding myself in the terminology and world view of a real world people set into fictional worlds.
Judenstaat is an alternate history in which Israel does not exist. Instead the Jewish state encompasses Saxony in Germany, bordered between East and West. It's a murder mystery of sorts (and writ large), beginning with the almost long ago murder of a Saxon conductor. Slow moving and (honestly) hard to get into, Judenstaat eventually rewards the patient. But you're going to have to do a dozen googles and struggle to remember your hazy Soviet history, because the author is not going to fuck around and hold your hand. Good. The way it should be.
If high fantasy mechanics are your bag, there are way too many "but, wait" moments here to make you happy. The evil, possibly immortal mom should be way more effective; the neighbors slash rivals shouldn't fall in line as fast as they do; &c. But the central romantic relationship is something I'm not sure I've seen before, and it's very well done.
A human girl and a Kai prince are joined in a political marriage. Both are superfluous -- a second son and the niece of the king -- only useful as chips in a game of thrones. The Kai are something bestial: grey-skinned, with fangs and black claws, nocturnal. Humans are, well, human. The pair meet before the marriage, unknowing of who the other is, and are charmed by the other's candor: They both think the other is physically repulsive.
Which, whoa. Romantic leads who are emotionally compatible yet not at all turned on by the other? Who even does that? I've seen the opposite many, many times, often to skeevy, repugnant ends, because two people are young, hot, and turned on by each other, but otherwise dangerously incompatible. This is the playbook for a lot of alpha sociopaths who make it with the good girl: Hotness overrides all.
Instead here we have a slow, sweet meeting of minds, one that starts immediately, and isn't undercut by some second act histrionics based on a Threes Company style misunderstanding. The human and the Kai get to know each other, work carefully and thoughtfully to understand the other's culture, and grow to love and desire one another. It's just, it makes me a little mushy in a way my black heart doesn't allow a lot of the time. A damn fine job.
The story here feels a little perfunctory, but holy God is the art fucking gorgeous. I mean, who uses watercolor in a comic? I know watercolor is a little derided, because it's so often treated like it's easy or a beginner's art form, but it's dead difficult to do with the looseness I see here. Nguyen, man, he is not fucking around.
Continuing adventures of robot child Tim, who wakes up in a universe after the war between robots and humans has been firmly entrenched, pun intended. It has shades of AI and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep all over it, but I don't even care. More please.
I really liked Harrison's The Drafter, which came out last year and was ignored by everyone because publishing is a remorseless bitch. So I thought I'd go back and read the book that put her on the map. Alas, I didn't like this at all. There's some first time novelist mistakes I'm willing to overlook, but the general confusion of the world building and unlikeability of the main character makes it go down pretty hard. But try out The Drafter! That was good.
I really like McMaster's London Steampunk series, and it seems she's dropping a number of forays into different worlds this month. There was the Southern Gothic which was written full of broad caricatures and horrible dialect; clearly everything McMaster knows of the American South she learned from Steel Magnolias. I'm liking this more magical London much better than that, though I'm wondering if I were from London I'd feel differently. Shrug emoticon, I am not from London.
But, even though I'm generally digging the mythology and ornament, it is legit driving me bananas how often there are apostrophes in plurals. The first time it happened, I had to really think if I was just being nitpicky, because I'm not usually too attuned to bad spelling, etc. But I've seen it maybe a half dozen times by halfway through the book. Very, very strange.
It took a while for the gears to catch with this one, mostly because I had to slow the fuck down and take Central Station at its own pace. It's a slow meander through a worn, almost regretful world. It's cyberpunk with all the shine rubbed off, a loam blown in and now blooming. Pretty great.
Nagata wasn't kidding about the title, Going Dark, boy howdy. It's a military term for dropping under the radar, but here it's also about questioning every living loving thing you might believe in. Going Dark is a drag, a little, as a novel. It's mostly Shelley and Tran and the other guy pointing guns at other people or recuperating, but it's a necessary drag in the service of The Red. Shelley keeps saying, you can never trust the Red, but he does, on a level; he's the godamn Hero of Black Cross. But this is the novel where the rubber hits the road. The end is brutally open, the kind of thing one finds in a complex, ugly world where there are no easy answers. Hoo rah.
Setting the right tone in a horror/comedy is damnably difficult. You can unintentionally hit comedy when you're trying to be scary, but usually not the other way around. Too light, and it might be funny, but then the weight of true horror drifts away and the work just doesn't register; a diversion. Ghosted, I think, tries a little too hard for gravitas in a situation almost completely cribbed from Scooby Doo, which I think undercuts the horror. Simply put, I'm not buying it.
Danny Ocean-like person is broken out of prison by a strange old dude. Danny' last heist (one of a casino) went terribly wrong in an occult manner, and Danny is all haunted. Strange old dude wants Danny to steal a ghost from some horrifically haunted manner (which looks like the Bates motel and the Muensters house had a baby.) He also wants Danny to take along his right hand lady, a blonde ice queen with guns.
Danny hires a crew, then they head off the the manse. It takes just moments for everyone to split up and start finding the rooms with the little eyeball-holes through the portraits and portals to the eldrich terror and whatnot. And moments after that for the buckets of blood to be splashed around. Honest to god, it really was like a Scooby Doo episode, but like, redder.
Danny is supposedly profoundly marked by seeing his busty girlfriend die gruesomely and supernaturally, but I just don't buy it. Mixed up with the smooth criminal, the whole haunted angle seems frivolous, or like a con. He began to speechify more and more as the horror got on with itself, and I kept expecting him to finish with, lolsyke, I was just distracting you so I could do this! And then pull a lever and something cool would happen.
It is entirely possible that this was all intentional, this unfortunate mix of the silly and the bloody, but I'm pretty sure not. The next episode gets even sillier, full up with Mayan jaguar gods, vengeful Indian casino grannies, et&c, and the comic delves more and more into why Danny is so busted up, poor lamb.
Square jawed heroes with tragic pasts predicated on the murder or violation of their girlfriends should just lose my number. It's not that I don't feel bad for these fair chickadees -- pain is pain, after all -- it just bugs me how everyone else's pain is just that much less real. The first dude to die in the mansion watches his brother get it in an extremely bloody manner, and no one bothers to worry about him. And this is even assuming you can make some bright red line from the source of pain to its bone deep sensation, which you can't. Alas.