Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

Sun of Suns (Virga, #1)Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A few years ago, Tor made some of their back catalog available for download as .pdf files.I don't recall how many I got before they stopped, but it was a good list. The problem has always been that I really don't like reading on the computer, so they have sat in a folder. I got a Kindle for Christmas this past year, so I have finally got around to reading some of these. Sun of Suns is one of these downloads. It is also the first book I've read that can be classed as steampunk.

The setting is a world that exists inside a fullerene sphere. Countries within the sphere are made up of cities composed of structural wheels that spin to produce gravity. Light and warmth is provided by artificial suns. Countries that have their own suns have more power and influence, and those that don't are dependent on the ones that do. Airships and fan-powered "bikes" are common. I found the concept to be a little hard to envision, although you don't need to have a perfect grasp of the structure to understand the story. Most of the story is concerned with the political goings-on among several of the worlds inside the sphere. Characters are not deeply developed and, in some cases, edge on stereotypical. The main protagonist is the young man out to revenge the death of his parents in an attack on his country which was trying to construct a sun.

The main story is a quest undertaken by a group from one country to find a "weapon" that will give them the advantage in the current war. One of the enemies has built a huge warship and they are trying to find a way to defeat it. (Yes, I'm being vague, but I don't want to give to much away.)

The story itself was interesting enough to keep me reading, despite the lack of depth in the characters. The technology stays true to the steampunk idea- there are no hyper-warp drive ships, communication between airships is via semaphore flags, and more of that sort of thing.

It read through pretty fast and I may look into the sequel, if only because it tells the story of one of the two most interesting (to me) characters after the climactic battle in this one.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I only started reading Neil Gaiman a short while ago. I knew of him, but mostly the Sandman works, and, really, comic books, er, graphic novels haven't been my thing for a long time. But everyone talked about how GOOD he is. Then I found myself with a copy of Stardust on my to-read shelf. I enjoyed it. (No, I have not seeen the movie.) Since he is coming to my area in June to do a talk on American Gods, and I plan on going, I decided I probably should read it. And I am very glad I did!

(There may be some minor spoilers in the following, so if you have not read, and do not like knowing, you may want to skip. Fair warning.)

"This is not a good country for gods." I think that quote, which appears in several places in the book in various forms, pretty much says it all. The story involves gods, ancient and new, in America. The old gods, who are drawn from many mythologies, are faded, almost caricatures of their former powerful selves. The new gods, born of the modern world's love of technology, are rising. They are all gearing up for a final battle for control. Or so it seems.

But the story really is about Shadow, who is not a god. He just works for one of them, although he doesn't, at first, realize what he is getting into. It's a coming of age story, even though Shadow is something like thirty-two in the book. It's a road trip story, on several levels. Shadow criss-crosses the continent several times during the course of the story. It is also a "road trip" through his inner self, where he finds as much that is surprising as there is that he already knew.

There are little vignettes starting many of the chapters. Some of them expand the stories of some of the gods. Some of them delve into the character and development of America, as much in explanation of why this is not a good country for gods, as why perhaps we need them. Some found these distracting. I did not. I felt they added a lot to the overall sense of the story.

The story doesn't end where and when you think it will. Many find the ending unresolved or lacking. And perhaps if you read with the anticipation of the Most-Epic-Battle-Ever, it is. For me, it was an excellent ending, if not what I expected.

I guess some of the reason I liked this as much as I did is that I have always been fascinated with mythology and ancient gods. American Gods draws on much of what I have read about for years, and adds to it. It also brings some fresh ideas about how gods are formed and kept alive, and brings a modern interpretation to all that. There were some things I was able to figure out based on what I knew, but plenty of surprises, also.

I also find Mr. Gaiman exceptionally easy to read. Not that this is a simple story. It is not. But his writing style flows very well and makes for comfortable reading.

All in all, I recommend this book highly, with a couple warnings. There is some "bad" language and explicit sex, as well as some violence. If those are not to your taste, this is probably not the book for you. If you can tolerate the above, it is a wonderful read.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: The Baker's Boy by J. V. Jones

The Baker's Boy (Book of Words, #1)The Baker's Boy by J.V. Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this after reading and fully enjoying Jones' later novel, The Barbed Coil. It was a good, but not outstanding book. Most of the characters were interesting, the political manueverings were many and the writing style easy to read.

The problems, for me, were in the two main characters, Jack (the baker's boy of the title) and Melli, the daughter of a Lord. They seemed a bit flat and one-dimensional: Jack was the lowly kitchen boy with an unknown and powerful talent he can't easily control, and Melli was the apparently spoiled daughter of a rich noble who discovers she is stronger and more resourceful than she ever thought. That said, they are not completely lost as characters. They have their own voices, and I did want to find out what happened to them. Far more interesting are the bad guys, though. Plots and counterplots, intrigue and cunning, greed and hunger for power are all driving forces for these fellows.

The plot never really seems to get going. It is pretty evident this is the first book in a series, as all the plotlines are left dangling at the end of the book. The end really didn't seem like the end of a book to me. It was more like a chapter break, really.

It is easy to read. The dialogue is well done with no stiff or too high handed feel to it. Action scenes are fast and there is a fair amount of tension. The book does tend to want to wander into the fringes of a romance style, but never goes there completely.

All in all, it was a decent read, and though I will read the last two in the trilogy, it did not leave me needing to grab them off the shelf right now.

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30 Day of Genre, Day 29- A Genre Novel You Thought You Wouldn't Like, But Ended Up Loving

The first one that springs to mind is The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump by Harry Turtledove. I'd been told for years that Turtledove wrote really good stuff, but, honestly, historical, alternate universe stories have never been at the top of my favorite list. I found this one day browsing a used bookstore, and decided to give it a try. It was a good choice. The story is set in a world much like our own, except magic works instead of much of the technology we use today, and there are waste sites for spent magic, much like our toxic waste dumps. When there seems to be a leak at one of these dumps, Environmental Perfection Agency agent David Reynolds is sent to investigate. From there, the plot, well, thickens.

It's a fun read, to be sure. There are jokes and puns a-plenty, but there is more to the story than just humor. Turtledove creates a world that is at once fantastical and believable. The characters are interesting, with personalities that are not just cut-out comedians. There is obviously a fair knowledge of several religions and their traditions, as well as good use of fantasy magic.

I enjoyed this one so much, I've since read several more of Turtledove's books, and have liked most of them.

30 Day of Genre, Day 28- Favorite Publisher of Genre Novels

Gotta be Tor. Glancing at my shelves, I see more Tor logos than any other.

30 Day of Genre, Day 27- Most Epic Scene Ever

Leila tore desperately free of whoever was holding her. Shalhassan of Cathal staggered back. He saw her stride, stumble, almost fall. She righted herself, reached the altar, and claimed the axe.

"In the name of the Goddess, no!" one of the priestesses cried in horror, a hand before her mouth.

Leila did not hear her. She was screaming, and far away. She lifted Dana's axe, which only the High Priestess could lift. She raised that thing of power high over her head and brought it crashing, thundering, echoing down upon the altar stone. And as she did, she cried out again, building the power of the axe, the power of Dana, climbing on top of them as upon a mighty wall to hurl the mind command:

Finn, I command you. In the name of Dana, in the name of Light! Come away! Come to me now in Paras Derval!

She dropped to her knees in the Temple, letting the axe fall. In the sky over Andarien, she watched. She had nothing left; she was empty, a shell. If this was not enough it had all been waste, all bittersweet waste.

(from The Darkest Road by Guy Gavriel Kay)

I chose this because this scene always leaves me as drained as Leila. No, it's not a huge battlefield of knights and warriors, nor is it wizards or mages throwing spells at each other. But it follows several other climactic (for the individual characters involved) scenes and is, for me, that last, stomach-churning drop on a long roller coaster ride. I can't read it without feeling elated and exhausted at the same time.

Monday, May 9, 2011

30 Day of Genre- Many Days

Since I am so far behind, I am just going to list my choices without much in the way of explanation.

Day 20- Favorite Genre: High Fantasy of the sword and sorcery type
Day 21- Genre Novel with the Most Interesting Character Interactions: Sardonyx Net by Elizabeth A. Lynn
Day 22- A Sequel Which Disappointed You- King Kelson's Bride by Katherine Kurtz
Day 23- Genre Novel You Haven't Read but Wish You Had- A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin ( it is on the tbr list)
Day 24- Favorite Classic Genre Novel- The whole Amber series by Roger Zelazny
Day 25- A Genre Novel You Plan On Reading Soon- Dragonquest by Donita K. Paul (it's the next sf/f on my shelf)
Day 26- Best Hero- I'll just say one of my favorites is Sparrowhawk from Ursula LeGuin's Eathsea books. I tend to like my heroes a bit internally tortured.

And that brings me to today. Later for that one.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 19- World/Setting You Wished You Lived In

Much as I like to read sword and sorcery fantasies set in Medieval-like settings, I don't think I would want to live in one. I am far too comfortable with indoor plumbing, hot running water, heat and air conditioning, and all the other amenities of modern day life. I can certainly understand those who chose Star Trek, and I think I could live quite nicely in the TNG universe. But if I get to choose, I would pick the Babylon 5 setting. Just a personal preference. Or Zelazny's Amber, but only if I could live with Mandor. Yeah, yeah, I know- Lord of Chaos and all that. But the guy has great taste. Being a bit of a "food snob" (as some would call me!), I think I'd enjoy dining there!

30 Day of Genre, Day 18- Favorite Protagonist

For this one, I'm going back to Day 3, and saying that one of my favorite protagonists is Melacha Rendell (aka Skyrider) from Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series.

At face value, Skyrider is a rather stereotypical seeming "tough guy" (nevermind that she's a girl) heroine. She's a daring pilot, a bit of a scoundrel and rather enjoys her reputation as a swashbuckling mercenary. But she has flaws, as well. She carries a lot of guilt under that tough exterior, both for her non-role in the Colonial War and the death of her lover in a shuttle malfunction. She tries to hide her feelings under a brash cover. She is as likely to start throwing punches as she is to buy a teddy bear as a present for a relative's child. And she has a soft spot for cute, blue-eyed six year olds, which leads her to the two people who manage to get under that tough hide. Oh, and sarcasm.  Did I mention sarcasm? Yeah, something near and dear to my heart!

Again, these are not deep books, but they are really fun reads. And gave me a character I truly enjoy reading (and re-reading).

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

30 Day of Genre, Day 17- Favorite Antagonist

Yes, I'm way behind! Was out of town for 5 very busy days, and although I had the computer with me, it was out of its case only on the last night we were there and I was so tired, I just wanted to browse mindless stuff. So there will be a flurry of posts-

My favorite antagonist is from an older sci-fi novel by Elizabeth A. Lynn called Sardonyx Net. It was one of only two (I believe) sci-fi books she wrote. It is a story set in a world of slaves and drugs, smuggling and corruption, with very overt sexual overtones. The character that won't leave my mind, these many years after reading the book, is Zed Yago. He's cruel, has some rather disturbing sexual preferences and has a deeply sadistic side. But there are undercurrents and deeply buried motivations there, too. I can't actually say I liked Zed, but he still haunts my memory, so I guess that makes him a favorite of sorts.