book review: infidel

Years ago I read God’s War by Kameron Hurley and then went a long time before reading anything by her again. Then last year I read The Mirror Empire and was blown away and have become a Hurley fan. Our library doesn’t have her new space opera book yet, but I do have the rest of the Bel Dame Apocrypha trilogy so I gave Infidel a whirl.

It had been a while since I read God’s War, and I was a little unsure if I’d be able to slide right back into its sequel, but the uniqueness of the setting hooks right into the details you’d thought forgotten and I was right back in it. I love how brutal and gruesome the world of this series is. Nyx is still a ruthless assassin who is hard to kill, but she’s getting old and doesn’t have the kind of team she used to. There’s a lot of action, tonnes of bugs stitching people back together and getting shat out as bloody waste. In Infidel they go to a less war-torn country where the brutality of the characters plays in huge contrast to the polite bourgeois society that’s profiting off the war tearing everywhere else to shreds.

It’s great, pulpy action and I won’t be taking as long before reading the end of the trilogy.

UPDATE: I finished the trilogy with Rapture and yup it was similarly good.

book review: preacher (vols. 5-9)

I had always thought I’d read all of Garth Ennis’ Preacher, but it turns out I only had the first four volumes before I went off travelling and got interrupted. I don’t know why I never came back to finish it, except that I thought I had. Anyway. I’ve finished it now and Preacher remains a great comic.

The basic story is that Jesse Custer is a hard-drinking ass-kicking southern preacher who has been given the power of the Word of God and he’s off to track God down for abandoning its creation. He has an Irish vampire buddy named Cassidy and the girl he used to steal cars with, Tulip to help him. There’s an organization called the Grail that is trying to stop him to usher in Armageddon on their terms. It’s a pretty big story.

There’s a lot of backtracking in the story to go back and give us more background on characters, which, by the end turns this huge epic into a couple of guys duking it out on a street in San Antonio. It’s blackly funny and very situated in the 1990s, which is kind of fun to read now (because I am apparently becoming nostalgic in my old age).

book review: 1q84

Haruki Murakami is one of my favourite writers. I make no secret of this, so take this review with that in mind. I really liked 1Q84 (though I still don’t know how to say the title in English – it’s Ichi Kyu Hachi Yon in Japanese – maybe Nine-Cue-Eighty-Four).

One of the things about knowing an author’s work pretty well is you can see the recurrent characters and themes from other works. 1Q84 feels a bit like a greatest hits collection of Murakami themes. We have (and here thar be spoilers): two worlds being traversed (Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Sputnik Sweetheart), disappearing women (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), affairs with an older married woman (Sputnik Sweetheart), mystical people with weird powers (TV People), Ushikawa (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), a cynical older peer figure (Norwegian Wood), a piece of classical music with great significance (The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, The Second Bakery Attack), cults (Underground), becoming a writer (Norwegian Wood), a thirty year old narrator vaguely disconnected from life (almost every thing Murakami’s ever written) and there are probably more. In any case, a lot of the book felt familiar, but it was all rearranged into a more or less pleasing form.

There is a fakeout ending that isn’t so severe if you read the three volumes in one shot the way my translation is put together, which was robbed somewhat of its impact. And I feel like the whole thing ended too easily. There was a lot of time spent talking about issues, restating them and not pushing forward. I feel like this could have been a leaner story, and it’s not going to be the first Murakami book I’d recommend to someone. For me so much of the pleasure was in the interplay of the old stories and seeing how these characters behaved differently from their previous incarnations.

For my money I’m still pegging Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World as my favourite Murakami novel. The themes are very similar to 1Q84’s but I think it’s a better working of them.

None of this is to suggest I think 1Q84 was a bad book. I loved it as I read it. The page-numbering goes up and down the margins, flipping into horizontal reflections as they pass the midpoint. That’s the kind of beautiful little detail emphasizing the characters’ situations that I loved to pieces, and really only gets to happen in a book by a famous writer who keeps on being in the Nobel Prize conversation.

Actually, a bit about that. I don’t really understand why Murakami would be in the running for a Nobel. I love his books, but they don’t scream “This is the pinnacle of World Literature” to me. They are books that I love but they feel too idiosyncratic to be winners of that kind of award.

book review: assassin’s apprentice

Reading Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb reminded me how much I love the A Song of Ice and Fire series. If you’re aware of the current authors in the fantasy field, you know that A Song of Ice and Fire is not written by Robin Hobb, and so I probably wasn’t a huge fan of this book. However, that’s not entirely true.

The story is about the bastard of a prince who was next in line to be king but then abdicates. The boy grows up in the stables and the king takes an interest and then he’s trained to be a very Heinleinian hero who can do anything in the world, but mostly poison people for political gain.

There are some good bits, especially to do with magic, and how one man has to hold the marauding pirates at bay by clouding their minds all by himself and stuff. Also the soulless returned victims of the pirates are a good takeoff on zombies which tried to bring up the notion of it being politically difficult to kill them (they are the kingdom’s own subjects after all, just made sociopathic through magic).

The thing that strikes me false about the whole story is the lack of cynicism. It’s very clean and shiny, even though it’s trying to portray how shitty life is for a royal bastard who prefers to sleep in the stables. I wanted this to be told with the George R.R. Martin kind of grit where [SPOILER ALERT] one of the heroes gets his head chopped off before the first book is even over. But it wasn’t.

There are some contrived conflicts and not a lot of real “Oh god, what’s going to happen to whoever?” moments. It all feels very safe. Even the murdering, which is very glossed over.

I’m debating reading the next book in the trilogy. It wasn’t a bad book, but didn’t really get me terribly invested in the whole thing.

book review: transition

Iain M. Banks’ latest book (I think) Transition is pretty great. It’s about a multiverse hopping assassin who’s on the run from the organization that he works for. Remember Sliders? It’s sort of like that but there’s no big portal that they jump through, the Flitters have more control over where they end up (and can go home again) and they arrive Quantum Leap-style, in someone else’s body, worn like a disguise.

But it’s more than old TV shows. The book’s really about competing philosophies of life and solipsism and the possibility of doing good in an infinite existence. There are completely self-absorbed characters and completely delusional ones and one is a torturer (from a world where militant Christians were suicide bombers in Thatcherite London, prompting a huge scale war on terror and abrogation of civil rights). There’s lots of sex and high adventure. Heartily recommended.