Introducing the Miskatonic Review

In the absolute off chance anyone still visits or follows this old blog of mine, I want to point you to my new project:


There I’m reviewing short stories in the Lovecraftian vein,  though not HPL’s own stories.  I hope to see you there, it’s lots of fun!


And we’re back…

I’d like to say I haven’t been blogging about reading because I’ve been doing so much reading, but that’s only partly true.  Despite many protestations and formal requests, the day has not been lengthened from 24 to 36 hours and thus, not everything can get done.  Having a baby sure does reroute your priorities. 

I’d like to say and write a ton about each of the books I’ve read since last I blogged, especially as some of them are very deserving.  But if I try to do that, I just plain won’t get through it.  So each of these works will get a sentence or two and then I’ll be caught up so to speak.

After The Heroes it’s almost unfair to pick up another fantasy.  It just wouldn’t stand up, and indeed, The Blood of Ambrose by James Enge did not.  It was very poorly written and did not keep my attention.  I gave it the ole 100 page try and then set it aside.

Following that I selected a quadrilogy by an author I’d been hearing a lot about in many contexts: Daniel Abraham.  I read his Long Price Quartet and really enjoyed it – it had such a new and different flavor to it that even if at times it was a little slow, I enjoyed savoring it.  He’s a good writer, great conceiver of characters, and an excellent evoker of place.  While it’s nothing like Abercrombie’s style, and perhaps because it isn’t, this series stands apart from a lot of fantasy I’ve read.

Following that, I picked up a steeply discounted e-book version of Sharps, the new novel by K.J. Parker, and my introduction to the author (whose identity and even gender remain one of the most interesting secrets in fantasy literature!).  Loved it.  Even if there was no magic (something of a hallmark for the author I take it)  Very intelligent writing, but writing that moved and flowed with an unusual grace.  I will enjoy reading more from this author, and, as they’re quite prolific, there’s plenty more to read.

I departed fantasy for a moment a read a book given me by my mother-in-law: Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You.  Laugh out loud, gut-bustingly hilarious.  Sadly true.  Deeply emotional.  A book to give to others, no doubt. And I did.

Then I tried N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  Again, been hearing a lot about it and her.  While I finished the book, the first of a trilogy, I decided not to pick up the rest of the trilogy.  It was below average for me, a little boring, and suffered from the non-use of what I might call the unrealized potential of some of its characters.  You can’t write about god-like characters and then have them be impotent to effect change.  Maybe this is why I like flawed characters better.

Since my friends enjoyed it, and they’re making it into a movie, I picked up World War Z, the zombie mockumentary book.  It was, well, just boring.  Maybe too much zombie stuff out there right now?  I don’t know.  Didn’t finish it.

Departing from genre fiction again, I read (mostly by candlelight as the power was out for 24 hours because of Hurricane Sandy) Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.  It was boring and hard to follow, not at all like his other books I’ve read.  I can see why it was an influence for Abercrombie’s Red Country, but it wasn’t the groundbreaking, award-winning awesome book I was expecting.

Then Red Country arrived and I devoured it, like all other Abercrombie works.  It was very, very good.  But, and I hate to say this, it was not as excellent as I was hoping.  Maybe there was too much anticipation, particularly for the return of Logen.  Maybe I had elevated Abercrombie to writer-god status and thus was expecting more nectar like The Heroes.  There was just something missing – perhaps a greater sense of grandeur like we’ve gotten in his other books.  Loved the characters though, especially Dab Sweet and the wizard character who gets about three lines.  An Abercrombie work that is not quite up to par with his previous works still blows most other fantasy books out of the water though and this was no exception.  

A while back I had found a $2 copy of Alex Bell’s Jasmyn, an author Abercrombie recommended.  So, not wanting to make the same mistake I made after reading The Heroes, I picked up this more urban/dark fantasy.  I have to admit, had he not recommended it, this was a book I likely would never have read.  But I am glad I did-  it was a good yarn.  Not a great one, but fun and different enough to make it an enjoyable read.

And now I’ve begun another series.  I’m into Book 3 of The Chathrand Voyages series by Robert V.S. Redick.  It is excellent so far – a naval fantasy, very unique.  I love the world he’s created, the characters he’s birthed, and the singular problem of having the main bad guy be ever present with the protagonists, but with each unable to do anything to the others fora variety of creative and understandable reasons.  It doesn’t feel cheap or contrived, it feels frustratingly real.  In real life, your enemies rarely live in Mordor.  More typically, they are in the same office or the same block as you.  Book 2 ended with an amazing cliffhanger – again not one which felt contrived, but well planned and well executed – and so I dove into Book 3.  I have to say, this third book took longer to get into than the previous two, but I think it’s going now.  And going in some unexpected directions, with very cool things happening in very cool locations.  Delightful.


Yes.  With his First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie easily became my favorite fantasy author currently writing.  With Best Served Cold he entertained me tremendously but left me wanting more.  Now, while I know there are some who will disagree with me, I feel that with The Heroes, Abercrombie has published his best work.

The First Law trilogy had its flaws, that I will admit, and I think Joe Abercrombie would agree.  Even with them, though, it was far and away my favorite piece of fantasy writing from a contemporary author.  He matured in BSC, but there was nothing particularly original about the tale – though a darn good revenge tale it was with despicable and memorable characters.  The other night I was flipping channels and Robocop came on.  The original.  Before I knew it, I was 11 years old again watching a forbidden movie and loving it.  BSC is a fantasy version of Robocop.  Lots of fun; not particularly original.

The Heroes, however, I think is very original, well conceived, well executed, with amazing characters, fantastic scenes, unstoppable action, and a harsh gray morality.  I read it slow at first to savor it and because I didn’t want it to end.  I kept waiting for the Bloody Nine to show up.  Then I couldn’t put it down and when it was over…I was sad and elated.  It was awesome!  I love how Abercrombie takes fairly minor characters from other books and turns them into major characters in each new book.  That really adds depth to his world, as well as realism.  Each of these people have a story.  I appreciate how King Jezal was a character through Bremer’s letters, but that was it.  (I didn’t particularly like Jezal by the end of the FL trilogy.)  And the flip side, I love how Bremer came into his own as a character.

But the real joy, for me, in reading Abercrombie comes from the stories of the Northmen.  I think a lot of people would probably agree.  I’m not sure how he visualizes them, but to me, they’re a cross between everything ferocious and everything sad about the American Indians and the Vikings.  The batch we get the pleasure of reading about in the Heroes only solidifies the Northmen as probably my favorite people in current fantasy writing.  I love them!  Their brutishness, their humor (Whirrun of Bligh?  I mean, come on, that dude is awesome, scary, and hilarious!)  I love how flawed they are, how real.  I love how they all put on a bold face but inside they’re wondering: Is all this shit worth it?  I love the coward Beck and how he earns his name.  I love how you have to earn a name!  I could go on…

The writing has matured with this one, for sure.  It’s like he knows where he’s going with each character and each scene more than before.  It’s as if he’s living into these characters skin more, getting to know them more.

The battle descriptions: the best I’ve read in fantasy recently.  No long, drawn out death scenes; just blunt and to the point descriptions: he swung his mace and dented his helmet.  Everyone know a dented helmet means a dented head, but Abercrombie doesn’t have to say it.  He makes you feel it.  Ouch. And only a good writer can write a war book from opposing POVs and make you want to root for the one you’re currently reading about each time.

I thought the despair of Black Dow and Kroy at the end over the question of what the hell the whole thing was for anyway was very well executed.  Made me think about our wars, I’ll say that.  His refrain that all war is only a prelude to peace talks was haunting.

My one complaint was I wish there had been more ado made about Bayaz and Ishri’s surprises.  By this point I hate Bayaz, but I want to read more of him so I can hate him more.  He’s a great, I mean a fantastic character, and I think he and (even more so) Ishri go the short shrift this go around.  To me, they almost didn’t have a point in this story the way it was written, so I’d say either get them out of it, or do more with them.  Minor complaint, though.

If you’re not sure about Abercrombie, this might actually be a good place to start.  Sure, you’d learn some stuff out of order, but you wouldn’t have to commit to a trilogy.  And this is a damn good read.  It made me want to read the others over again, I’ll say that.  So, if you’re not sure about Abercrombie – why?  Get reading or go back to the mud.

Well done, Joe – I can’t wait for A Red Country!

Some Quick Summary Comments

I haven’t posted here in forever – something about having a baby now that limits my time.  So, here are a few things I’d like to say about what I’ve been reading.

This was on NPR’s “best books of 2011” list and it was about Florida, so I really was looking forward to it.  It had its moments, that’s for sure, but overall it wasn’t as tight of a narrative as I would have expected from a best books of 2011 entry.  There were also a few times when I wondered, without knowing the answer, just how much time the author spent in the everglades before writing this book.  I also wished she had used real place names.  I can’t decide – the book either tried to do too much or it didn’t do enough.  A better book like this is one called A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith.

I moved on from there to something that I knew I would certainly enjoy a bit more, but was for sure not on any top ten books of the year list.  Returning to my favorite sci-fi author, Alastair Reynolds, I read his Century Rain.  It was very good, though a bit of a departure for him from his normal, thematically.  It was still very much sci-fi, but not quite the hard core, vacuum of space, type story I’ve come to expect.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed it and also enjoyed how he incorporated little tidbits of real history into the flow of his narrative, like the bit about how Guy de Maupassant ate lunch under the Eiffel Tower because that was the only place in the city of Paris where you could eat lunch without having to see the tower.  Wanting something a bit more “spacey,” from him, I next turned to…

Pushing Ice, I had heard, was quite the fan favorite, and it was easy to see why.  I was riveted to the narrative, and genuinely felt some of the emotion behind the tough decisions the crew had to make.  One minor complaint was I felt the back and forth in terms of leadership position between the two main characters went one back and forth too much.  It felt a little bit forced then.  But that really is so minor because this is a fantastic story, a hard core space story with high stakes just like I was looking for. Reynolds has said he might like to return to this universe for another story and I for one would love that.

Then I left space and returned to a fantasy world for a bit, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about over Brandon Sanderson.  He’s currently writing a big fat huge fantasy epic “decalogy” and before I invest any time in that I wanted to get a feel for him and read the Mistborn trilogy that got him noticed.  The first book was pretty great, the second boring as grass growing, and the third just about as good as the first.  I loved the system of magic in it, though at times, when he would introduce something new about it just in time for it to impact the plot I was annoyed as that felt a little contrived.  The characters were fun, though some of the supporting characters were a bit 2D.  He tried really hard to create a dark fantasy environment, what with constant ashfalls and killer mists at night, but for some reason I just never bought it.  The danger wasn’t real for me.  I’m not sure this was his fault or not, cause he mentioned it often enough.  All in all, this was a fun, light series to read that probably could have been two, slightly larger books rather than a trilogy.  But, if you want to get noticed in fantasy you have to write a trilogy.  It’s like author hazing.

Having finished that, I wanted to read something that would be both quick and more literary, so I picked another of the books from NPR’s top ten of 2011 and went with Ben Lerner’s debut novel (he’s apparently more well known as a poet) Leaving the Atocha Station.  This is a story (maybe?) of a young American student on a prestigious poetry fellowship in Madrid, Spain that he feels he neither deserves nor particularly wants.  He is an unsympathetic character as he constantly lies and deceives everyone around him for personal gain, and by the end of the book, I just really didn’t like him.  I did, however, spend a lot of time (for a 150 page book) thinking about some of the social situations he found himself in and recognizing myself in those.  They weren’t particularly fond memories.  At times I felt like I was reading a younger Hemingway, but Hemingway would never have cared as much as this guy pretended he didn’t care.  There is some debate among readers about whether or not the character actually was a profoundly good poet, despite his protestations.  The thing that sucks is, I think he probably was.  I think what makes these kinds of books “good” is their ability to evoke that emotion in a reader, rather than a kick ass plot or edge of your seat suspense.  So, I get it.  It still wasn’t all that fun to read though, but it was probably “good” that I did read it.  I liked it.  I didn’t like it.  I read it fast.  I thought about it a lot.  I’m ready to move on.

Some Standouts So Far from YSNKS

That’s “You Shall Never Know Security,” J.R. Hamantaschen’s collection of short stories through which I am currently making my way.

I am over halfway through these stories now and I haven’t been disappointed.  “Endemic” was particularly satisfying, scratching that itch we all have somewhere inside of us for justice irrespective of the legal system.  One of my favorites so far has to be “Truth is Stranger than Fiction.”  This is a “found” story presenting itself as a factual document in grand horror story traditon.  HPL did this a lot to great effect and this story pays homage to those, while firmly grounding itself in contemporary society.  It presents itself as a legal opinion about a murder trial.  Very effective.

“Jordan, When Are You Going to Settle Down, Get Married, and Have Us Some Children?” was disgusting, in a can’t-help-it-but-grin-at-the-grossness kind of way.  But halfway through it I realized I knew this story.  It had been read on pseudopod some time before and I remember having the same reaction then.  I have a father and a father in law that may have this problem.

“College” I thought was a little boring.  It didn’t hold my attention as well as the others.  I feel like this concept has been explored before, though I’m hard pressed right now to say where.

“Sorrow Has Its Natural End,” though, was really, really good.  Disturbing in a fresh way and on multiple levels.  There were a lot of things of which to be fearful here.

Flaccid Squid Story

Well, at least as far as I’m concerned, China Mieville hasn’t changed his ways much. His editors must be afraid of him. By page 200 of Kraken I was bored, and found myself not caring about the characters. I soooo wanted this to be a good story. I felt like it had a lot of promise when I began. But it fell apart. Sure there were bright spots, like the villains Goss and Subby, who reminded me so much of the pair of school-children like villains called “The Prefects” from The Somnambulist. I enjoyed his exploration of cults and religion even as I understood he was poking no small amount of fun at the idea of religion and religious persons in general. I just don’t know – nothing since Perdido Street Station has been that great. Which is too bad really, cause each book seems like it has so much potential. Anyone out there (as if anyone reads this) feel differently? Which Mieville book besides Perdido stands out to you as being excellent?

So, and I’m getting much better at doing this the older I get, I put Kraken down. I used to think I owed it to the author to finish their work since they put so much time into writing it. But now I realize I don’t owe the author shit. I also thought I owed it to myself to finish the book if I paid good money for it, but alas, this was a library ebook checkout. Free from obligation, I moved on.

The good folks over at the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast – you do know about and follow that podcast, right? Right?! – have been highlighting a new book of short, horror stories by a new author. I checked it out online and the ebook version was only $5 – great! I snatched it up and have begun reading J.R. Hamantaschen’s You Shall Never Know Security. The title comes from this quote by Edward Bellamy in his 1887 novel Looking Backward:

“Do your work never so well,” the spectre was whispering–“rise early and toil till late, rob cunningly or serve faithfully, you shall never know security. Rich you may be now and still come to poverty at last. Leave never so much wealth to your children, you cannot buy the assurance that your son may not be the servant of your servant, or that your daughter will not have to sell herself for bread.”

I have to say, it’s a brilliant title for a collection of unsettling horror tales. I’ve read the first two stories so far, “A Lower Power,” and “Wonder.” Both left me uncomfortable in pretty profound way. The writing is clear and concise, contemporary but very erudite – I had to look up a few words.

“A Lower Power” was quite the disturbing story to read in the dark, at night, in bed. At least the first few pages. It got stranger after that, but the truly disturbing line that had me cautiously glancing at my ceiling was in the first few pages. It’s a tale of desire and revenge, loss and a failure to understand. Good stuff.

“Wonder” was fun. Disturbing, but fun. Goes to show you that you never truly know who you are pissing off. Be careful.

I’m looking forward to the rest.


Well, I finished Part 1 of Bolano’s 2666 and then put it down.  I was not inspired or excited about what I had thus far read, nor was I inspired or excited to continue.  I even called a literati friend who I happen to know loved Bolano’s The Savage Detectives.  He couldn’t help, having been unable to slog through it himself.  That was all I needed to officially table 2666.  After that experience, I needed something slightly more fast paced, so I hefted Stephen King’s Under the Dome onto my lap and began to read.

As I do most of Stephen King’s works, I enjoyed it and it moved quickly despite its millenary page count.  I really like how he populated a town and then forced them to remain together through the plot device.  Very interesting dynamics.  Now, some of his characters were larger than life and a little hard to believe, but that was acceptable.  The only thing that persistently bothered me during my romp through this tome was the timing.  The degeneration of the town took place not over months or even weeks but days.  I guess I just have a little more faith in humanity than that.  To me, the work would have been strengthened if the time frame had been expanded.  There were also some silly little supernatural things which occurred that felt out of place (mostly involving a dog), and there was one very postmodern chapter that was really out of place.  In it, a disembodied narrator appeared and flew through the town describing everything that was happening in a summary fashion.  It was weird, came out of nowhere, and disappeared just as quickly.  You have to wonder if it just got missed by an editor.  All in all, though, I think this was one of his better books and his characteristic exploration of character and setting were on full display.

Then I read online NPR’s list of the 10 best pieces of fiction for 2011.  I felt ashamed – not only had I not read any of them, but I hadn’t even heard of any of them.  At least I had heard of one or two of the authors.  So, I did an ebook check out of the only one the library had available at that moment, The Illumination, by Kevin Brockmeier.  It was very, very good.  (The nice thing (or the mean thing) about ebook loans from the library is they force you to read fast, otherwise they just disappear.  It’s not even like you could take one more day to finish the book and pay a late fee; they just disappear.)  I felt like it was much better at the beginning than at the end, but still it was very good.  It explored the notion that pain became visible as light and how that affected people.  But really it was a story about the characters’ pain.  The first section of the book was so damn sad and well written that it almost brought me to tears on more than one occasion.  The rest did not have that effect, but it was still a sad book and probably worthy of note for 2011.

The next book I wanted to read also came from that list, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!.  However, it was checked out and had a 7 person waiting list.  I joined the list.  This is risky because I could be in the middle of a book when it become available and then I have to decide, do I stop what I’m currently reading, and start that one or do I let it go, only to have to join a long waiting list again.  Now I am number 2 on the list, which means, at the max I have 28 days until it is my turn, but those people could be speed readers or not even want it at all and I could have it much, much sooner.  I decided to risk it, checked out another book, and will read like crazy.  I figure I have at least 3 weeks.

The book I checked out was one of China Mieville’s newer ones.  A while ago, I gave up on him having not cared for any of his “New Weird” books past Perdido Street Station.  (The Scar was a straight rip off from Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and The Iron Council was boring.)  But this one seemed different.  Kraken is the story of a squid worshiping cult that steals a giant squid carcass from a museum.  At least, its about that up to where I am, it may change.  But so far, it’s fun.

Malazan 3 Done and now a brief marathon

It was a struggle, it was a slog.  I haven’t wanted to talk about it until now, and I still don’t, really.  Suffice it to say I finished Memories of Ice and did not pick up Malazan, Book 4.  I may one day, but not now.

I quickly grabbed one of the books I’ve really been wanting to read but waiting on my wife to finish.  Well, after several months of her being on page 6 or so, I decided it was safe to take it for a few weeks.  The Help, by Kathryn Stockett was probably the best book I’ve read so far this year.  I’m still not much in the mood to write about books, but this one was really, really good.  It was a conversation starter at the gym when I was reading it on the bicycle.  It gave me pause for though often.  But most of all it made me remember, fondly and sadly, Bernice.  How I wish I would have been able to know her both as the child I was and now as the adult I am.  I really think we could have had some amazing conversations about life, faith, God, and raising a family.  I cried near end of this book.  The last book to actually make me cry was The Kite Runner.

Having finished that book in record time after the several months it took me to finally be done with Memories of Ice, I grabbed another book I’ve been meaning to read that I knew I could also read quickly and get again that jolt of satisfaction that comes from finishing a book.  I grabbed Stephen King’s Rose Madder.

I’ve known for a while that this is one of King’s least regarded works, but it was on my shelf and I wanted to read it anyway. The subject matter of a picture having supernatural qualities intrigued me.  It didn’t disappoint, but neither was it earth shattering.  Actually, without any of the supernatural stuff, I thought he wrote a damn compelling story about spousal abuse.  On the list of evils, that one’s up there.  The story ended in a slightly unsatisfactory way for me, but what can you do.  It was a good read.  Even if I’ve read better King, this was the best book I’ve read about spousal abuse (actually, it may be the only one, but that doesn’t matter really).

Following that, I forged ahead, borrowing on my e-reader a book from the library that I’d heard about over the summer and been wanting to read.  Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.  Billed as a young adult book, it certainly is not.  Neither in theme nor content, at least in my opinion.  The author, Ransom Riggs, made clever use (I thought) of a bunch of old photographs to draw out and illustrate his story.  My guess is the story came after he saw the pictures and not the other way around, but who knows.  Some parts of it were bit too like Harry Potter but not most of it.  It was a neat story about difference and hatred, and about what makes a person unique and special.  A fun, quick read – I’d recommend it.

And now, I’m afraid, I’ve started another death march.  Depending, I may start another book to read along with Roberto Bolano’s magnum opus and ultimate work, 2666.  I’ve never read Bolano before, but I’ve been told to, many times by people who’s opinions I trust.  I take it that both in style and substance, it’s a challenging read.  So, far, and I’m barely into it, it’s not all that exciting.  Enough people say it is great though, truly great, to make me continue. So, until I finish it, or until I come across some inspiring quote or another, fare well.

Deadhouse Gates leaped into my hands

Once finished with Gardens of the Moon, which as can be seen from my previous post I did not find confusing, the next book in the Malazan series jumped into my hands. This made me realize two things: one, I really enjoyed the world, writing, plot, and characters of the first Malazan book, and two, the second book was about different characters.

After a moment this did not bother me. In fact, it just makes the world keep getting bigger, more real, and I like that. I also felt more a home once a few returning characters showed up. Everyone says the second book is better, and if that is true then I am in for a ride because I really liked the first one! I also did not think I would want to go directly onto the second book, but whoops, I did. A ringing endorsement.


Malazan Is Not Confusing

I don’t know why there was all this hype out there about Gardens of the Moon being so impossibly confusing as to be unreadable.  Are readers these days that unable to hold multiple storylines in their heads?  I am around 250 pages into the book, loving it, and not confused at all.  It seems that what confuses most folks is the number of characters and how quickly the narrative shifts perspectives.  People, keep up!  That’s all.  Book One within Gardens featured one large set of characters, and Book Two featured another.  Ok, got it, no problem.  It’s a 10 book epic fantasy – there are going to be a lot of characters!


The other thing I’ve heard/read that there is a lot of confusion about is the vocabulary.  It’s a fantasy, people!  Did you know what all those words meant when you read Lord of the Rings, or perhaps an even better example, The Wheel of Time for the first time?  No!  You didn’t!  But you got the hang of it as you went on.  Some people seem to be confused by the use of the term “warren” in Gardens.  Now, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I have a fairly good idea from contextual clues.  Remember that: contextual clues are your friends.  (Did all of you fail that reading comprehension section of your state’s standardized tests????)  A warren is either: (a) a magical pathway through another dimension that works like a teleport/wormhole, or (b) a particular source of energy/another dimension, from which mages draw their power; there are different warrens available to different people and not all warrens seem to be equal.  Within those places of energy reside some pretty nasty beasties, so mages should be careful. To go between the warrens is to access something called the Warrens of Chaos, which seems to be generally frowned upon.


That’s really not that hard.  If you really need to, do as I did, and keep a list of characters going in the back of the book.  I’m enjoying and can’t believe I’ve been afraid of it because of all this nonsense I’d read!