Swimming with Pattern Jugglers

I finished Absolution Gap this morning, after furiously reading it the past two days.  The end was absolutely incredible, and a wonderful way to conclude the trilogy.  Alastair Reynolds’ matured in writing this book, even more so than from Redemption Ark.  The narrative was tight, while still containing all that neat astronomy and science-fiction description that I so enjoy.  I loved how, in the end, many loose end were tied up and you really weren’t left wondering too many questions about what happened to characters or places.  Which is not to say the end did not raise questions, it did, but they were questions about going forward, not questions about things a reader would want/need to know about the characters in the story in order to feel a sense of closure and completeness.

The ideas in this novel were big, as befits a space opera, and they were sufficiently alien.  That’s one thing I admire about Reynolds’ universe, the aliens are very alien, not just little, green men.  They are so alien as to be unknowable.  I suspect, if we ever encounter intelligent life beyond Earth, that it/they will be more like this than like the Star Trek version of things.

I enjoyed how much the ship, Nostalgia for Infinity, became a character in its own right, for a variety of reasons, but not the least of which was the slow but total assimilation of the ship’s captain into the ship via the melding plague. 

I appreciated how Reynolds’ paid attention to the passing of time, enormous amounts of time, and it effects on the characters and how their motivations changed.  The chief, excellent, example of that was Scorpio.  His was perhaps the most complete character arc in the whole trilogy.  By the end, he was my favorite character.

It is incredible to me, and I don’t know why it should be after all the times I’ve experienced it, how much a good book demands that you read it.  The last book I was reading, I disliked so much that I loathed picking it up.  Absoluti0n Gap seemed to go out of its way to find itself open in my hands.  It’s the kind of book that makes you late for work. 

I look forward to reading the rest of Reynolds’ corpus of literature, but I will be somewhat sad to leave the Revelation Space universe – I was just coming to understand it.

Next, sticking to the sci-fi genre, I’m picking up Iain M. Banks The Player of Games.

Not wasting any more time

I had to give up on the Age of Misrule.  I just couldn’t do it any more – I found I didn’t really know much about the characters, let alone care about them or what happened to them.  I had a hard time differentiating between some of them even.  I made it to about 1/3 of the way through the second book when I caught myself thinking before bed, “Oh, I don’t want to read tonight…” which is never, NEVER a good sign for a book for me.  So, I shelved it.

And was thoroughly excited to pick up Absolution Gap by Alastair Reynolds, the third and final book in the “Revelation Space” trilogy.  A bit unusually for me, I’ve not read this trilogy back-to-back-to-back, like I normally like to do.  It’s been pretty good that way, as Reynolds’ books tend to be dense, packed with information, and mostly by the end of one two things have happened: I end up loving the book, and I don’t want to read another one of his right away.

I picked this one up because I had been reading so much fantasy recently that I decided it was time for a shift and I’ve been having my hard sci-fi/space opera itch lately (probably cause I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect 2).  I’m about 80 pages into it so far and I think Reynolds’ writing has gotten better with each novel.  It’s tighter, somehow, which is daunting, given how much information is already in his books.  But I love reading about stars and star systems – the grandeur of it all impresses me.  I love how much he knows about astrophysics, and I’ll happily go to his school for several pages if that’s what he wants to do.  This trilogy took some time getting into, but the payoff is definitely worth it – the end of the second book, Redemption Ark, has really stuck with me and this final installment picks up right where he left off.  The only thing I would say might be helpful to add is a glossary of terms (astrophysics), factions, characters, and locations.

Like a hammer

While I understand and appreciate Chadbourn’s book as fiction, and take it as such, I am slowly becoming frustrated and disenchanted with his persistent and obvious declarations that gnosticism/dualism are really the way the world is made up.

I would be less frustrated with this worldview (after all, it is far from new) if he didn’t wield it with all the subtlety of a dentist with a claw hammer.

I get that he is pretty antagonistic towards Christianity, and that doesn’t bother me that much either – I’ve read plenty of novels before where that was the case, but I am finding it laborious to keep reading characters explanations of things that contain the word dualism or some derivation there of.  I get it, thank you, now show me what you mean instead of telling me.

The book started off better than it is finishing up – about 100 pages to go.

From one end of the world to another

Two nights ago, I finished Glen Cook’s The Black Company: Chronicles of the North.  It was just ok.  The short, clipped style I referenced before didn’t entirely disappear, but it definitely calmed down as the stories went on.  Throughout it all, you still lacked a sense of what was really going on.  Well, perhaps in the third book you got a bit of that, but then what you knew misled you from what was really going on.  That sort of a twist only works well for me if it was set up properly; as in, looking back through the book there was evidence that the twist was either coming or plausible, even if you didn’t recognize it at the time.  In this case, there was neither.

In the end, I liked the second book the best (a strange trend for me – my favorites in their respective series’ are The Two Towers, and The Empire Strikes Back).  It had the most coherent plot, the most well defined supporting characters, and the best scary/oppressive bad guy device – the black castle.  I really enjoyed that.

By the end of the third book, I felt like I had really grown to know Croaker a lot more than I anticipated at the beginning, but I wish we had seen more of him as the surgeon, and more of the narrative developing from his perspective in the battlefield operating room, but that didn’t happen.  All in all, it was an ok read, but not one I would consider mandatory by fantasy fans.

After I finished that book, I looked over my “to-read” pile and settled on Blood of Ambrose by James Enge.  But I was too tired to start it.  When I got up in the morning, I went to pick it up but found myself far more interested in Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule: World’s End.  Funny how one’s preference can change like that over night.  Maybe Blood of Ambrose sounded too much like the Black Company or something.
Well, I immediately liked it upon commencing it.  The style was approachable and I just like the way British authors use the language – like they’re more practiced at it, oh, wait, they are.  The cover admittedly is a bit young-adultish, but so far the novel hasn’t struck me as that way at all.  Putting that aside, that big green guy looks cool!  Good cover art, though I could do without the shadows of the (I guess they are the) heroes.  I get that the big green guy is a bad guy and that he is likely the causer of hopeless situations, so I don’t need the futilely small human figures to help me figure that out, thank you.

The story, so far, actually has some nice horror elements to it, and ones that I actually found frightening, which is always a surprise.  I found myself looking forward to being able to pick it up again, which is always a great sign when starting a new book.  The other great sign was that both of the next two in the trilogy were available on half.com for a total of $9 and change, shipping and all.  Ordered.

Some lines have already stuck out to me, which didn’t happen in The Black Company.  This means I like the style, which is great, but I already mentioned that.  Here’s my two favorites so far:

“lulled by the whirring of disk drives…”

“She didn’t have much in the way of a social life.  It was like she was holding her breath, waiting for something to happen.”


Started Glen Cook’s ‘The Black Company’

Actually, I’ve finished The Black Company proper, that is, the first novel in the trilogy comprising the “Books of the North.” These books came out in the mid-80’s and were the first fantasy books to focus on grunts in a fantasy military setting.  You’ll find no princes, kings, high sorcerers or queens here.  The highest ranking character you’ll encounter is a Captain in the Black Company, a highly touted mercenary group.

 

I have to say, the first book was slow at times as it was hard to learn about the characters.  But, by the end of the book, I had a pretty good handle on the main ones and was enjoying their exploits.  I get what the author was trying to do by only showing us the grunts’ perspective, but I find myself annoyed as a reader that I don’t have a sense of what is going on in the larger scheme of things.  Maybe that’s Cook’s point – that’s annoying to the common soldier, too.

Cook writes in a short style.  Clipped, even.  Sentences are not long.  Or complicated. Or even whole.  At times it is a bit much.  At other times it’s enjoyable.  Refreshing, too.

I like how the books are broken into shorter sections that describe episodes and scenes – because the book doesn’t have an over arching plot that is prevalent (it is present, just not the main point) these scenes are really all you are given and the book needed to be written in this way to be at all successful.

I’m halfway through the second book (I have the omnibus collection) now and I think the writing has improved and the style refined a bit.  We’ll see how that carries through into the final book of the trilogy.  All in all, not terrible, not mind-blowingly good either.  But important, because it taught future authors an important literary technique.

Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy

I’ve just finished the third and final book in Brent Week’s Night Angel Trilogy and I’ve got mixed feelings about it.  First, the good:

  • It’s action-packed and fast paced.  A really fun read.
  • The principle characters are interesting and I cared about them.
  • There’s an incredible sense of retributive justice that’s a deeply held wish of mine that gets personified in this story (though “vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.”)
  • The magic system, particularly the two kinds of magic (Talent and Vir) was very interesting.
  • I like sneaky assassin stories.
  • I enjoyed the ending.
  • Garlic chewing.
  • The bad guy was really, quite bad.
  • The emotional relationship/sexual relationship got messy as they do in real life, and I thought that was well done.

Ok, now the not so good:

  • It won’t win any awards for brilliant prose or dialogue.
  • The characters, while fun and engaging, are often shallow or a bit too 2D.
  • It only started off an a sneaky assassin kind of story, but quickly developed into a more typical fantasy, save the world story.
  • The author, I think, loses his way after the second book.  I felt the plot had really ended at the end of the second book and the third, while still fast-paced, seemed to struggle to find a plot line to hold on to.  By the time the author finds that plot line, there are only 100 pages left.
  • The cover art is AWFUL.  Part of the reason, actually, the whole reason I haven’t picked these books up before now.
  • The nods to Judeo/Christian ethics/belief were interesting, but an unnecessary part of the whole story.

Is it worth a read?  Yes, absolutely.  But don’t expect it to be mind blowing.

I have no idea what I want to read next and that’s annoying to me.

Stories 16 – 22

I fell behind in writing, not in reading, and so, just because I’m anal about such things, I’m going to catch up with my ratings, but not my summaries and comments.

Story 16: “The Dead Sexton” by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Writing: 6/10

Personal Fright: 4/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 17: “The Transfer” by: Algernon Blackwood

Writing: 8/10

Personal Fright: 1/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 18: “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft

Writing: 9/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 10/10

Story 19: “The Jar” by Ray Bradbury

Writing:  6/10

Personal Fright:  3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10

Story 20: “The Tutor” by John Langan

Writing: 4/10

Personal Fright: 2/10

General Horror Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 21: “Rest Stop” by Stephen King

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 3/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 5/10

Story 22: “A Warning to the Curious” by M.R. James

Writing: 10/10

Personal Fright: 6/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 8/10

And that does it, wraps up my October short story reading marathon.  By the end I was getting more and more familiar with the tropes and styles or each author, which, while it contributed to my overall enjoyment, reduced the level of fear and terror.  It was a heck of a lot of fun though and I am thrilled I found authors the likes of M.R. James – who write about things that actually frighten me and aren’t afraid to invoke Christianity and its tenets in their writing.  That idea has fallen away in more modern times and what is it they say about that, “the greatest trick Satan ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Story 15: “Casting the Runes” by M.R. James

Most of this story I read while riding the train to and from downtown and I don’t know what it was but that significantly added to my experience.  This is the title story of the collection of M.R. James that I have and I thought I should work that in to my cycle here.  I was not disappointed.

 

Summary:  A rather arrogant man is submitting a paper to be published by a whole host of journals and when it does not get published but rejected, the man takes matters into his own sorcerous hands.  People that somehow had something to do with the rejection end up dying, which understandably has our protagonist nervous – he is the latest person to reject the academic paper from publication.  But armed with the foreknowledge of what might happen to him, he goes on the offensive and gives the paper’s author a dose of his own medicine.  The remorse he feels at doing so, balanced by knowing other people are now safe, is part of what makes this story so emotionally real.

 

Writing:  9/10

Personal Fright: 4/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness:  7/10

Story 14: “Stationary Bike” by Stephen King

I thought it would be extra cool (or completely dorky) to read this story while actually riding a stationary bike.  As it turns out, it wasn’t all that much more terrifying.  The story itself is kinda scary when you think about it from the perspective of obsessions, but in terms of the actual plot, it really only works well as an imaginative, well-told, carefully crafted fantasy.  This is not to say that it was bad in any way, just not really that frightening.  Now, if I start thinking about a person with certain obsessions that drive them to do all sorts of weird things and wonder how close to that particular portion of the line of insanity I’ve come, then it gets a little scarier.

 

Summary:  An overweight middle 30’s man gets some bad cholesterol related news from his doctor and is told he has to eat better and lose weight or risk serious health complications or possibly death.  To convey the dire need of this message the doctor comes up with an elaborate metaphor about construction workers in his body who are overworked at having to clear the roadways (his arteries) of all the crap he dumps there and who are about to go on strike.  The man takes the message to heart, buys a stationary bike, and begins to ride, but soon he tires of looking at the wall while riding, so being and artist he paints a picture on the wall to look at.  The subject?  The road construction crew the doctor used in his metaphor.  But soon he begins blacking out during his rides and having terrifying visions of the crew and their lives.  But it can’t be real, can it?

 

Writing:  9/10

Personal Fright: 2/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness: 2/10

Story 13: “Mr. Gaunt” by John Langan

Much, much better, Mr. Langan.  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of  horror!  The pacing was so much better than your last entry (here),  and the suspense was leagues better!  That being said, you still bummed me out and kind of ruined the horror of it all by “showing” the skeleton.  At that point, just show the reader the “skin” and let them imagine whatever it is that gets the boy.  Don’t show it!  That takes away from the reader’s capacity to imagine something worse!  But, all in all, so much more enjoyable than “On Skua Island!”  Could of been about 7-10 pages shorter, but, whatever.

 

Summary:  Boys investigates father’s forbidden room and gets what he deserves, told from the uncle’s perspective many years later.

 

Writing:  5/10

Personal Fright: 5/10

General Horror/Oppressiveness:  6/10