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My books for October

Posted by phduffy on 2007-11-01 21:41:58
 
My books for October:

Grave Peril - Jim Butcher
This is the third Harry Dresden book. Truth be told, I didn't love the first two, but I was visiting my parents, and I like to support the town bookstore, since they didn't have one when I was there. So I picked up the third in the series of the Wizard for Hire living in Chicago. This book is a bit more serious than the last two, and has way more religion. It also takes place about a year after book two, and introduces characters, with whom Harry has had adventures, with little to no explanation. I was about to give up on this book about halfway through, and while it did get better, I still didn't think it was great. I'm not sure I buy this world - so Dresden is a wizard, but most people don't believe in wizards, but the police hire him, because sometimes people do, and he investigates demons and werewolves, but most of the city passes all that stuff off as nonsense?

Tea with the Black Dragon - R. A. MacAvoy
I've had this for years, and finally got around to it this Thanksgiving. A woman goes to San Francisco to find her daughter, who's gone missing after some strange phone calls. She stays in an old, boutique hotel, and meets a strange Asian man. He offers to help her, but not before the doorman at the hotel reveals that when he's drunk, he tells people that he's a dragon. So they investigate the daughter's disappearance , and the man appears to have a wealth of knowledge, and is strangely strong. He and the mother start to enjoy each other's company, while at the same time searching for the daughter. I thought that this was a really really good book. Short, sweet, to the point, a bit of the mystic and a bit of the real world. Quite well done.

Three Hearts and Three Lions - Poul Anderson
This is the 'typical' story of a man from our world who wakes up in a magical world, questions what he's doing there, finds out it's his destiny, etc. Generally, I don't like this theme. There are a few decent versions of it (Fionavar Tapestry, Narnia, maybe Thomas Convenant) and it's only been done really well once (Roger Zelazny's Amber, and even that wasn't really the same thing). Anyways, the reason I put 'typical' in quotes on this one is because it came out as a novella in 1953 and a novel in 1961. This was one of the templates for all those future novels. (LOTR was published in 1954-55). I have a soft spot for novels written pre/concurrent with Tolkien. Anderson's The Broken Sword is similar. However, unfortunately, this novel isn't all that great. It may have been good when it came out, but it's pretty cliched right now. I really wanted to like this, and I think I wanted to like this more than I actually liked it, which is unfortunate.

Soon I Will be Invincile - Austin Grossman
A novel alternating between two characters. The first, Doctor Impossible, is a Super Villain, bent on escaping his prison and taking over the world. The other is Fatale, a young female super hero who's about to join The Champions. The cover jacked makes it seem like this is going to be a laugh riot, and it's really not. The Doctor Impossible chapters spend a good chunk of their time being flashbacks to his time as a child prodigy, and learning how he became Dr. Impossible and discovered himself. A lot of reviewers have commented that the Fatale chapters aren't as interesting as the Impossible ones, and while true, I think that the balance is needed.

The Electric Church - Jeff Somers
Novel set in a distopian future where the elites rules, and the underclass are crushed. 27 is considered old. If you've ever seen the film Equilibrium, I felt that this setting had a similar feel, except it's written from teh point of view of one of the underclass. Avery Cates is a hitman, killing people for enough cash to survive from week to week. He has to run from the local cops, who you can normally bribe, and the upper echelon of cops, who are allowed to kill with impunity. On a hit gone bad, he accidentally kills the wrong cop, and has to go on the run for his life. Meanwhile, the Electric Church, a religious group that recruits people, takes out their brain, and puts it into a robot so that this new cyborg can live as long as it takes to understand God, is growing in power and prominence. So, Cates gets hired by 'the man' to take out the head of the Electric Church. He assembles a team of misfits and gets to it. The only really original idea in this was the idea of the Church, as the setting, the main character, the background character (Oh, an assassin who finds a man who might be a legendary assassin) and plot aren't terribly original. I suspect that SOmers is trying include a metaphor about church here, with a religious group that takes over your brain and controls you, but this novel isn't really deep enough to get to that level. This isn't 1984. Despite all that, this is a fun novel. Somers excels at action, and that's almost all there is in this book. Each scene is basically an excuse to set up the next action event. I read this in two days, and recommend it if you're looking for something light (despite it's dark setting)
http://the-electric-church.com/

Blindsight - Peter Watts
Aliens appear to make contact with earth. So earth sends a team of 5 to great them. A biologist who's almost a machine, a linguist with 5 personalities, a pacifist warrior, a synthesist with half a brain, and a vampire captain. First contact novels can be very fun, but this is not a novel looking for fun. Sci fi reviewer James Nicoll said the following about Watts "Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts". Watts uses the variety of people on board, the ship's AI, and the aliens to get at the idea of just what connects intelligence and consciousness. Most of the novel exists purely to discuss this question. That said, Watts has already created a very detailed world, and he uses his website to enhance that world, including the creation of a dry powerpoint presentation discussing the creation of vampires (http://www.rifters.com/blindsight/vampires.htm). This book was an internet favourite, and was nominated for the Hugo, losing to Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End. Again, I really wanted to like this book, and it is a critical darling, but it didn't really do it for me. I didn't think that the story was strong enough to support the discussion. Blindsight is available for free here: http://www.rifters.com/real/Blindsight.htm

I also read three graphic novels this month. Runaways Volume 1, about 6 kids who find out their parents are supervillains and run away, was fun. Exterminators Volume 3, about a group of Exterminators in LA was a little bit ridiculous and over the top (ie, comic booky) but otherwise fun, if a bit brutal. Manhunter Volume 3, about a lawyer who decides to start killing the supervillians she's prosecuting was good, but I think it's taking a bit too much from the old Starman comics. It's trying to build up this mythology about former heroes, but I think it risks losing its reader with too many references to obscure comic book characters.