Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:
The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.
Angelmaker was my first Nick Harkaway book. It’s about superspies, the clockworking son of London’s criminal king (but the good kind of crimes that are all about sticking it to society’s betters), a corrupted cult of technologists against mass-production and a globe-spanning swarm of mechanical bees. It’s pretty amazing.
In a lot of ways it reminded me of a more pulpy-fun Thomas Pynchon novel, though Neal Stephenson might be a bit more apt a comparison. Joe Spork doesn’t fall into the Stephenson-ultracompetence trap though. He’s just a guy caught up in things too big for him to deal with on his own. There’s a murder and torture and with the support of his lawyer and some revelations about himself and his ancestry there’s a plot to save the goddamn world. Very good book. Lots of fun.
I’ve known about David Petersen’s comic Mouse Guard for a long time, flipped through pages in the bookshops and game stores but never taken the plunge. Now I have and man, Mouse Guard is everything I wanted Redwall to be.
Basically the gist of the setup is that there are communities of mice, who are small and easily preyed upon. They’re the kind of mice that walk on their hind feet and sometimes wear armour but no pants. They have communities that trade with each other. And they have the Mouse Guard, who defend mice (from snakes and crabs and the like) outside their settlements.
In this first book in the series, a spy is selling information about one of the communities to a faction that wants to control it. There are three mice who stumble onto this plot and have to try and save their society. It’s awesome.
The art is all in browns and reds and is incredibly moody. It feels old, like this is a tale from long ago and it works really well.
There’s also a roleplaying game based on Mouse Guard, which is also supposed to be fantastic. It uses modified Burning Wheel rules and I’ve heard it really captures the idea of being small and heroic in a world where anything can kill you.
I read The Weirdstone of Brisingamen because Neil Gaiman talked about what an influential writer of fantasy Alan Garner was. While it does feel influenced by Lewis and Tolkien (with its very English kids off visiting the romanticized countryside), it’s much better than most knockoffs. It’s written for children and thus does focus more on a clear plotline than on character development, but man, does it do a great job of it.
Garner describes terrifying creatures and situations so well. Hell, he describes everything so well. The story moves surprisingly quickly, eschewing faux mystery for having the kids do more stuff. There’s an underground chase scene that has hard choices foisted on them at every turn and they don’t do everything exactly perfectly and it hurts them. A lot of the story is about hiding from bird spies for three days trying to meet up with the wizard to return the stone to him, and getting rejuvenation from elves, which yes, is very Tolkieny, but the language he uses never feels like an academic writing it (though if you hate made-up words, or words from old European languages that sound made-up you will hate this book).
There are more books in the series, but the book does have an ending (though it’s a touch abrupt). This is the kind of thing I’d been hoping The City of Ember would be (and wasn’t). It is vastly superior to most traditional fantasy tales. I really liked it.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Sleeper: Season Two picks up where Season One left off, with Holden working for “the bad guys” but now as a pawn caught between his boss and his former boss who’s out of the coma that left Holden out in the cold as a deep cover agent.
Both of the bosses are master manipulators and this book has a different feel than the first collection, which was more fun, I think. It’s more about Holden trying to find a path out from between the two sides, neither of which can really be said to have any concern for him as a human being. There are schemes and betrayals and it ends really well.
There’s a bit more integration with the Wildstorm universe in this book, but since I’ve never read any Wildcats comics, I didn’t have any previous connections with the supers involved. Everyone is used as pawns anyway, and not many of those get out alive.
The Left Hand of Darkness is one of those science fiction classics I hadn’t ever read. And it’s really good and I’m an idiot for not having read it until now, blah blah blah get all that stuff out of the way.
The protagonist of the book is not quite an ambassador from an interstellar consortium of humans. He is the only one on this planet called Winter. He’s there to ask the planet to join them. He’s not there with a fleet of ships, just by himself so that he can be a curiosity instead of a threat. That’s the idea at least.
The planet is interesting for its sexual dynamics. They’re human but strangely modified sometime deep in the past, so out of their 26 day months they are mostly androgynous. When they go into kemmer (which is sort of like estrous) their sexual characteristics come out, randomly male or female. This non-attachment to their gender is the fundamental strangeness of the people. Otherwise we see two nations: one is a monarchy led by an insane king. The other is a civilized Kafkan bureaucracy. Everywhere is cold. The last third of the book takes place on a thousand-mile hike across glaciers.
It was a beautifully sad book. It’s about friendship and gender and the complete blindness a person has when dealing with the foreign. The language is a bit interesting for a book dealing with gender so strongly. The masculine pronoun is used for all the androgynes because the neutral would have had too strange of connotations, says the narrator.
I believe it won a Hugo and that there are more books in the same universe, which I will now slowly read.