Two more brief book reviewlets

Today is super exciting.  It is Friday, and yet I am home with my wife and son, who I get to spend an entire day with, and none of the three of us have to go to work or school!  Friday is always one of my days off, the boy is out because his school is doing parent/teacher conferences today (ours was last night; I was gratified to learn that, insofar as such things exist at my kid’s school, he’s in the high reading group) and my wife took the day off because my wife never takes days off and as it turns out if she doesn’t take every Friday off for the rest of the year she’s going to lose a lot of vacation days for no good reason.  So we’re all home!  I got up and had a cup of coffee and now I don’t need to hustle to get to work!

It’s exciting.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot in the last couple of days and there are more books I want you to know about:


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First, let’s talk about Corey J. White’s Killing Gravity, a book billed as book one of the “Voidwitch Saga,” which is awesome because my main takeaway from this little novella is that I want a lot more of it.  Tor has absolutely been killing it with their novella imprint; these are short books but I have most of a bookshelf dedicated to them already and I’m getting to the point where if I find out a new one is out I buy it instantly without further investigation.  I’ve never done that with an imprint before.

Anyway, Killing Gravity is compared to Firefly on the cover but I don’t find that to be an especially apt comparison; I think for most people what they look for in a Firefly lookalike is the sense of humor and this book is emphatically not funny.  It’s a 160-page exercise in tone and badassery and gene modification and bioimplants and psychic assassins and shadowy corporations and lots and lots of psychokinetic murder and oh there’s also sort of a flying squirrel?  But it’s not funny.  That’s not a complaint; most books don’t have to be funny to be good, but you do have to be funny to remind someone of Firefly.   The prose is a particular standout here; this is one of those books where it’s so distinctively written that it almost doesn’t matter what it’s about– the writing is that good– but it’s an awesome setting and a cool story too and I really want to see more of it.  (EDIT:  March of 2018!)


518d7K+AT4LThe second book I just read this morning, and will almost certainly take you less than an hour to get through cover to cover.  You Have the Right to Remain Innocent isn’t so much a good book as an important one.

The premise of the book’s pretty damn straightforward, and the author isn’t especially subtle about making the point over and over again: don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops, don’t talk to cops.  Don’t talk to cops if you’re innocent, don’t talk to cops if you’re guilty, don’t talk to cops at all unless you have your lawyer sitting right next to you, in which case your lawyer will tell you not to talk to the cops, or unless you’re telling the cops clearly and unambiguously that you will say not one word until that lawyer is sitting next to you.

Sounds pretty simple, right?  That’s not really a book all by itself, but this is America and folks need to be constantly reminded of simple shit like this, so the book is full of examples of the cops and prosecutors fucking innocent people over who were stupid enough to “head down to the station to get things cleared up” and ended up in jail for crimes they didn’t commit.

Don’t talk to cops.  If that statement isn’t obvious to you, read the book a couple of times until it sinks in.

#REVIEW: A PLAGUE OF GIANTS, by Kevin Hearne

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I’m pretty certain I’ve read, or at least tried to read, all of Kevin Hearne’s books.  His Iron Druid series is about to conclude with… I dunno, book nine or ten or something like that, and I’ve read and enjoyed all of them.  He also wrote a Star Wars book that attempted to be a first-person Luke Skywalker story, and… well, I’ll just say it didn’t work for me.

A Plague of Giants is the first book in a brand-new series.  Iron Druid was Celtic-flavored urban fantasy.  APoG is much more traditional epic fantasy, with magic and monsters– or at least some really scary wildlife– and, well, giants.  It’s also much… weightier, maybe? than his previous work, both in the literal sense (over 600 pages, twice the length of most of the Druid books) and in the sense that he’s telling a story about a world and not just a dude.  Some quick research hasn’t discovered how many books he has planned in the series (I just asked him on Twitter, too; we’ll see if he responds) but I’d be surprised if it weren’t at least four or five.  (EDIT: Found an interview, it’s a trilogy.)

At any rate, it’s a big story, with a dozen or so POV characters scattered around six countries and one large continent.  The most interesting thing about the book is the structure, actually; it does the rotating-POV thing that’s been so popular lately, but all of the first-person accounts are actually being narrated by a bard, who is speaking in front of a large crowd over the course of fourteen or fifteen days, and is using his bard magic to appear to be each of these people as they’re narrating their parts of the story.  I don’t think this is where Hearne is going, but there’s an interesting opening in here for the bard to be an unreliable narrator for some or many of these people.  Rotating POV is all over the place, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with rotating first-person POV, and rotating first-person POV narrated by a third-person POV character?

Yeah, that’s new.

You may be able to glean an idea of the plot from the title, with one big twist: there are two different giant-plagues, or at least giant invasions, going on.  Giants (the Hathrim) and humans normally get along, but one particular group gets driven from their home by a volcanic eruption and decides to basically invade one of the other countries, set up a new city, and basically squat until their presence is accepted.  Meanwhile, across the world, an entire different group of giants from a different continent are invading and killing the hell out of everyone, and finding out who they are, where they came from, and why they’re there is one of the big threads of the book that I won’t spoil.  Toss in the fact that every country in the book has their own form of magic (the titular “kennings”) except for one, and that that country finds its kenning through the course of the book, and you’ve got plenty of intrigue and political and military machination to go around.  I like the story quite a lot but I realized partway through that the structure robs the story of a bit of its drama– one of the disadvantages of the idea that the whole story is being narrated by a bard as oral history is that at some point the story had to be told to the bard, which means that if someone is the POV character it’s safe to assume they’re going to survive their chapter.

Just look out if they happen to meet one of the other POV characters in their chapter.  That’s a bad sign.  🙂

At any rate: if you’ve read any of Hearne’s books in the past and enjoyed them, you should definitely pick this up; if you aren’t familiar with him but are in the mood for some meaty epic fantasy you should definitely pick this up, and I even think it’s worth checking out purely for the craft involved because the structure is so intriguing.  This will end up in my top 10 for the year, I think.  Go check it out.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: POKEMON

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You may have heard of this show.

My son has, in the last few months, become entirely obsessed with… whatever the fuck these things are.  They come in types, apparently, Water and Fighting and Nonsense and Flatulent and Clown and probably a few others I’m unaware of.  And they live in little plastic balls, except for the little yellow one, who won’t go in the ball.  And they only come out of the ball when it’s time to fight each other, which they are willing to do at any time and for any reason.

Except, see, they don’t know how to fight.  They have no fucking idea how to fight even though fighting is literally the only thing they’re for, or at least it’s the only thing they’re for once they go in the ball.  The ones out of the balls seem to live perfectly normal wildlifey sort of lives.  So they need people to tell them how to fight.  All of their moves have names and they have “trainers” who tell them, step-by-step, how to fight each other. Picture somebody outside a boxing ring hollering at a boxer to “Use Jab!” and “Duck!” and “Use Roundhouse!” or “Use Spousal Abuse!” and you have the basic idea.

The main character is a homeless orphan named Ash.  His last name is Ketchum, because his job is to catch all of the Pokémon– to catch ’em— and this show is nothing if not fucking subtle.  He only has one set of clothes and his electric rat lives on his shoulder.  He literally wanders around in the woods with his friends and looks for other electro-rats and fire-bears and flatulence-sloths and such and he finds them and he makes them fight his electro-rat or whatever and then if he beats them he gets to stuff them into a ball and keep them.

I think.  It’s hard to pay attention to if you’re grown.

Then there’s these assholes:

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These are… the bad guys, I think?  They seem to really want the electro-rat.  So maybe they want to steal him, or something, or maybe they just want a different electro-rat to go with their weird horn-cat thing they have, I don’t know.  But here’s the thing: there are eleventy fifteen thousand different versions of Pokémon.  There’s Pokemon XY and Pokemon Black and Pokemon Silver and a bunch of movies named after individual Pokébeasts and all sorts of shit.  And I’m pretty sure these three are in every one?

And every time they show up on screen they introduce themselves with the same rhyme.  

I’m pretty sure that this is actually supposed to be happening in the real world.  Not, like, in their heads or some shit like that.

Try and imagine knowing these people, and every time you see them they have to introduce themselves with this stupid fucking rhyme.  Each and every single time.

These may be the most annoying people in the history of television, and we live in a world with Super Why.

#REVIEW: SLEEPING BEAUTIES, by Stephen King & Owen King

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I am a big enough Stephen King fan that the majority of the time I know about his books way in advance and they get preordered.  I have read damn near everything he ever wrote, excepting only his book about the Kennedy assassination (which I refuse to read, because Wrong) and for no clear reason the third book in his Bill Hodges trilogy, which I’ll get to eventually.  So the fact that I hadn’t heard about Sleeping Beauties until finding it on a shelf in Target, of all places, was more than a bit unusual.

Here’s the inside jacket text:

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep: they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent. And while they sleep they go to another place, a better place, where harmony prevails and conflict is rare.

One woman, the mysterious “Eve Black,” is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Eve a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain? Abandoned, left to their increasingly primal urges, the men divide into warring factions, some wanting to kill Eve, some to save her. Others exploit the chaos to wreak their own vengeance on new enemies. All turn to violence in a suddenly all-male world.

Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is a wildly provocative, gloriously dramatic father-son collaboration that feels particularly urgent and relevant today.

I read that mess, laughed, and handed the book over to my wife, saying that she had to buy it.  Now, again, usually new King is an insta-buy.  And I can’t recall any other King books that were bought so explicitly for a hate-read as this one was.  But… I’m not wrong, right?  That description sounds absolutely terrible.  From the weird “future so near and real” (the book is not set in the future, at all) to the deeply odd “urgent and relevant” (how?) bit at the end, it’s a cavalcade of bad.  It makes the book sound awful.

Having read all 700 pages in the last… week?  or so, and having stayed up way late last night to finish it, I can confirm: it’s not nearly that bad.  It’s one of those books that’s better while you’re reading it and not so much the day afterward when you’re thinking about it, though.  And I’m pretty sure, despite what Stephen and Owen have said in interviews, that Owen wrote most of the book.  The plotting is pure Stephen King, but on a sentence-to-sentence, page-by-page basis, most of the prose doesn’t sound like him to me.  Part of me wants to feed the book into a computer and go all Documentary Hypothesis on it, to be honest; I think it’d be fun.

So, yeah, the book: that description’s not far off in a literal sense, it’s just way crappier.  All the women in the world suddenly start spinning cocoons around themselves when they fall asleep, because Reasons, and there’s this woman named Evie (not “Eve,” which would have been way less subtle) who doesn’t web up and seems to be psychic because Reasons, and they get really violent if you remove the webbing because Reasons, and eventually (spoiler!!) the women all come back because Reasons.

A careful reader will have discerned my issue with the book already.  Unlike, say, The Stand, which is my favorite King book, what happens to the world’s women in this story is presented as purely supernatural, with no scientific explanation of any kind at all.  And while most of King’s work does have at least supernatural underpinnings to it, even Under the Dome did a better job of providing reasons why the Bad Shit was happening and not a bunch of handwaving.  This book is composed of 100% dura-grade premium Handwavium, and nothing in the basic premise happens for a reason. Once the scenario is up and running, okay, characters tend to respond in reasonable and understandable ways.  But the setup itself?

Why do the women all fall asleep?  Why is Eve so tremendously violent when we first meet her?  Why the cocoons?  Why can’t I spell “cocoon” without putting a double-C in there?  Why do the women go to what they call the Other Place, and why aren’t there any women from outside Dooling there?  Are only the women from Dooling sent to the Other Place?  Why?  Why does Evie seem to be trying to get herself killed for part of the last third of the book?

(The Other Place, in general, is narratively unnecessary, and every page set there could have been cut without harming the book.)

I’m generally okay with a book not tying up every loose thread and leaving some questions unanswered, but holy shit, this book is nothing but unanswered questions.  My lack of reading comprehension can probably be blamed for a couple of them, but there’s basic worldbuilding shit here that’s left undone in favor of handwavium and it bugs.  And the ending is weak as hell.  Spoiler, but you know this already anyway: the women come back.  They literally just decide to not be sleepers anymore and then they aren’t.  Or maybe Dooling’s women decide for the whole world?  Why do they specifically get to decide?  Who knows!  But they all have to decide to come back for any of them to come back, which is not as much of an obstacle as it might seem.  Why do they all have to agree?  Reasons!

(Apropos of nothing, in case you’re wondering, the book doesn’t know trans women exist.)

I dunno.  I four-starred this on Goodreads originally, but I’ve dropped it to three while I’ve been writing this.  The book wasn’t bad while I was reading it, but the lack of any real resolution at the end dooms the entire enterprise.