book review: pre-holiday 2013 roundup

I suppose I’m getting used to the fact that this is less a book review blog than it used to be. I’m sorry. Maybe I’ll be more diligent in 2014? Regardless, here’s what I’ve read (for a certain value of) recently.

  • Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker. A sequel to In the Garden of Iden, but there’s another book in between that I haven’t read. I like these books because they’re all about the historical anachronism. This one wasn’t as tragic as the first though.
  • Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut. This was the only Vonnegut novel I hadn’t read when I started Unstuck in Time, Gregory Sumner’s book about Vonnegut’s novels. I liked Galapagos more than I’d expect to like a book about inbreeding, stupidity and evolution. Which means I liked it a lot. Unstuck in Time was a decent bit of biography around what was going on in Vonnegut’s life when he was writing the novels, which, fine, whatever, but was also a really good Cole’s Notes kind of refresher on what was actually in those books. It tickled my Vonnegut itch which means I can keep tackling new books in my to read pile rather than rereading the ones I know I love.
  • Paintwork by Tim Maughan. Three short stories set in a near future SF world. I liked the Cuban giant fighting robots story the best, though they were all fine stories in a Strossian vein.
  • Battling Boy by Paul Pope. A boy-god is sent to Earthish to fight monsters as part of his adolescent trials. I love Pope’s art, but wish the story was less of a first chapter and more complete. Selah.
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. This is the second book in The Raven Boys cycle, and this one I liked a little less than the first because it was such a continuation, instead of introducing us to characters and situations. Yes, this almost directly contradicts my issue with Battling Boy. Whatever. I quote Whitman at you.
  • The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Maalouf. I am not a history buff, but a friend who is one recommended this and I loved it. Part of the appeal is that I know shit about the crusades from the European perspective since my education wasn’t really big on celebrating wars of any sort, so now all I know about them beyond very basic Indiana Jones stuff is from this book about bickering Seljuk princes and the politics between Damascus, Aleppo and Baghdad. Neat stuff did happen in the past (and it totally gave me a lot more context for when I play Crusader Kings, which I enjoy anyway).
  • Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon and Little Hits by Matt Fraction & a bunch of artists. These are good gritty-ish Marvel crime comics about what Hawkguy does when he’s not being an Avenger. Funny and clever. I read this because Fraction is probably my favourite superhero writer these days. The Pizza the Dog issue in Little Hits is the best though. The best.
  • The Land Across by Gene Wolfe. This one is about an American travel writer going to a strange European dictatorship. It feels like it’s going to be a Kafka pastiche but then it turns into a ghost story and noir secret police detective tale. It’s very weird and I really liked it. I like The City & the City better, mind you, but not by much.
  • Battle Bunny by John Scieszka, Mac Barnett & Matthew Myers. This is a picturebook a well-meaning grandma has given to a little boy about a Birthday Bunny that the boy has repurposed into the tale of thwarting Battle Bunny and his evil world domination plans. I love love love the idea of this so much. That said, I’m a little nonplussed by the gender role implications that boys have to turn everything into violent confrontation for it to be interesting and wish that the protagonist (who is the person defacing the “original” book) was a girl. I might have to write separately about this book.
  • Plow the Bones by Douglas F. Warrick. This collection of mostly dark SF short stories was excellent. The writing in its density and consideration of the implications of the premises reminded me of Ted Chiang. Really really good stuff.
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. This is a dystopian novel that’s far more realistic than most. Economic downturn has forced communities to hunker down and maybe hope for the best, while drugs and deprivation force people who have even less to descend upon the people who have a little bit. And in all this, a teenage girl with overdeveloped empathy (she feels injuries in other people) is building her own way of seeing and being in the world. It’s hard to take a lot of other fanciful dystopia at all seriously when this was done so well. I’m kind of ashamed it took me so long to read this classic.

Phew. I’m leaving out a few that I’ll try and do separate writeups for.

book review: lars the last viking goes to the end of the world

Matt Taylor’s comic Lars the Last Viking Goes to the End of the World is about a Viking named Lars in the year 1065. He is not the most realistic of comic book Vikings – he has horns on his helmet, a talking pig as his foil, uses a Nokia and does death-metal jams with Norwegian pines – but not the most unrealistic either. The story is told in rhyming couplets as all Norse epics should be, right? That’s a thing isn’t it?

Anyway the story is about the end of a youth bulge, and having everyone you know grow up and settle down. If that’s tough for 21st century round-about-30-year-olds, imagine how crappy it would be when your lifestyle was based on unsustainable partying(/raping/pillaging) as Lars’ was. The story kind of comes full circle though and while it doesn’t really resolve Lars’ tensions with the world around him, does give him an outlet for the future that doesn’t involve babies and Ikea.

I got to see Matt Wilson perform a live reading of the book at Graphic 2011 at the Sydney Opera House. The live reading included a practically unrehearsed heavy metal guitar accompaniment performed by a friend of Taylor’s who’d just flown in from Sweden(?). It was an excellent performance. I can’t get the rhythm of the couplets right when I try to perform it at home.

book review: rite

I hadn’t read any Tad Williams (though Ivy’s recommended him) until a friend lent me this collection of short stories, Rite. Evidently he’s more of a fantasy author than SciFi which doesn’t bother me. I think my problem with this book was the introductions to each story. I found them annoying and filled with “Aren’t I so clever” type stuff. Which kind of put me off the stories. Also I found that almost every story was just way too long for what it did. Williams talked in one of the introductions about loving language and that’s why he writes, which is fine, but few of the stories really felt like they’d been pruned down to the necessary.

That’s not to say I didn’t like anything about it. The Dark Destructor story was good. I kind of liked the airplane story, it had a good Twilight Zone feel to it. The unicorn story was good. But the Otherland story annoyed me with its fake swearing; the Elric stories weren’t as funny as he thought they were; and the vampire story was too long and he shouldn’t have told the readers it was supposed to be French crusaders because you could see the hasty paint-over job done to make them 13th century Arabs (and it was too long).