Word Porn: Swordspoint

For this Word Porn post (quotes/passages from writing that I loooooooove), I chose Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. I recently finished listening to the audiobook dramatization (A+). Word Porn passages will always be from very early on in the books so as to spoil nothing.

Let the fairy tale begin on a winter’s morning, then, with one drop of blood new-fallen on the ivory snow: a drop as bright as a clear-cut ruby, red as the single spot of claret on the lace cuff. And it therefore follows that evil lurks behind each broken window, scheming malice and enchantment; while behind the latched shutters the good are sleeping their just sleeps at this early hour in Riverside. Soon they will arise to go about their business; and one, maybe, will be as lovely as the day, armed, as are the good, for a predestined triumph….

*

But there is no one behind the broken windows; only eddies of snow drift across bare floorboards. The owners of the coats of arms have long since abandoned all claims to the houses they crest, and moved up to the Hill, where they can look down on all the city. No king rules them any more, for good or ill. From the Hill, Riverside is a tiny splotch between two riverbanks, an unsavory quarter in a prosperous city. The people who live there now like to think of themselves as evil, but they’re really no worse than anyone else. And already this morning more than one drop of blood has been shed.

The blood lies on the snow of a formal winter garden, now trampled and muddy. A man lies dead, the snow filling in the hollows of his eyes, while another man is twisted up, grunting, sweating frog-ponds on the frozen earth, waiting for someone to come and help him. The hero of this little tableau has just vaulted the garden wall and is running like mad into the darkness while the darkness lasts.

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Review: DARK LIFE by Kat Falls

PS: I love the cover; it is a gorgeous creature.
PS: I love the cover; it is a gorgeous creature.

Any book that starts out with a luminescent shark attack is worth reading, I always say.

Dark Life is a Middle Grade novel set in a future Earth where most of the planet has been covered by ocean. Benthic Territory is an experimental colony where underwater pioneers cultivate the land, farm, and raise subsea “livestock.” Teenage Ty is the first person to be born subsea, and is looking forward to the day he is old enough to claim his own land and settle it. Meanwhile, the Topsiders, such as a girl named Gemma, call the pioneers “Dark Life” and rumors abound of “Dark Gifts:” special powers that the youngest generation of subsea pioneers have developed from so much time underwater. Gemma is looking for her prospector brother while Ty and his family are trying to fend off the Seablite Gang (underwater criminals (obviously)).

I really enjoyed this book, so prepare yourself for some gushing!

First of all, the world-building is really great, extremely imaginative, and yet set firmly in reality. Everything underwater is described with so much wonder and beauty and terror, whether it’s “real life” deep sea creatures or the kind of architecture the pioneers have developed for their houses (spherical bendy things). The only item that smacks of narrative convenience is “Liquigen,” a substance that can be swallowed and coats the lungs (or something) so they can breathe underwater. But otherwise the farming methods (bubbles as fences (no seriously it makes sense)), architecture, travel methods, etc, are all thoroughly thought out. Gemma’s stories of how Topsiders live was like a legitimate believable dystopia world, rather than the trendy How Horrible Can We Make The Future: Let’s Kill More Babies dystopias.

Speaking of great and clever, the characters are, too. Ty is very capable and resourceful underwater, but we also see that contrasted with his cautious discomfort when out of water. He’s just one of those characters you want to root for, only with bioluminiscent skin and epic underwater skills. He’s written like an actual teenager (always refreshing), but one that has had to work his whole life, so he’s dependable and hard-working. Gemma is fun, too: reckless and cocky, but smart and kind. Both of the teenagers are very lonely, as Gemma doesn’t really have a family and Ty doesn’t have any friends because he LIVES UNDERWATER. The supporting characters are all fabulous, too, especially Ty’s younger sister Zoe, but the book is on the short end of things and the focus is mostly on Gemma and Ty.

The mystery plot was very well paced and focused. It did a good job of convincing me that I knew what was going on, and then being all, “Just kidding, you don’t!” and then DOING IT AGAIN. The writing is extremely cinematic; the action is written in a visual, suspenseful way that makes it feel like it’s in real time. I’m not going to blather on about the plot because there’s too many things I can’t talk about without being spoilery.

Just do yourself a favor and read this book. It’s a really fun, fast, imaginative read.

Review: HAMMERED by Elizabeth Bear

185638Hammered is set in the near future of an alternate Earth, where the U.S. is very weak and Canada and China are the competing powers. The Canadian government is working on a super-secret project (of course) and are trying to recruit their best and brightest.

Jenny Casey is supposedly retired from active military service, and is doing her best to live a quiet life in a small town with her gangster friends. However, she’s an extremely valuable piece of military hardware, as much of her body has been replaced with prosthetics, mechanical parts, and computer hardware. Jenny’s best friend, Gabe Castaign, and a scientist convicted of treason, are entangled in the project as well, which has something to do with a rogue artificial intelligence nick-named Richard Fenyman.

The world-building is top-notch, as usual for Bear (I am a fan but seriously. World-building). The world is pretty bleak, and I really question whether it’s not just going to all end in tears, but the denseness of the writing is really rewarding if you pay attention. The science and tech were all really interesting, believable, and necessary to the story (which, you know, is always nice when that happen in scifi (I mean, what?)). Another characteristic of Bear that shows up in this novel is the use of red herrings. Several characters and ominous hints are dropped, that might pay off later in the story but are probably just trying to lead our heroes astray. It’s used effectively here and I like it, but can be a lot to keep track of.

Speaking of which, Hammered begins slowly and continues so. You read that right, my primary complaint is ONCE AGAIN THE PACING. I realize this is the first in the trilogy, and this is also the main reason I am beginning to loathe trilogies. The first book is all emotional build-up and the slow unveiling of the conflict and various revelations. There is a lot going on in this story, between all of the back-story for the AI projects and for Jenny (told via flashbacks), Richard’s shenanigans, the murder mystery in Hartford, Jenny’s health, the SEKKRET PROJECT, and Leah’s adventures in cyberspace. But for all that, it still crawls along for most of the first half. The fastest moving section of the story was the quest to find out who murdered a cop in Hartford and whether it’s connected to a bunch of tainted drugs on the street. It was interesting how this black and white, “hunt for evil” sort of plot contrasted with how Jenny has to deal with the grayer areas by herself (with mixed results for everyone, really). I wasn’t convinced, however, that the Hartford sub-plot was essential to the overall story.

Trilogies, man. They’ll kill me. I just want to kick them in the face and tell them to be a standalone novel.

The characters in Hammered are very complex. Bear likes breaking her characters down to their most basic parts and seeing what they choose to do after that, and she definitely does that with Jenny here, as well as the gangster Razorface (He has metal teeth. It’s great.), and Elspeth, the brilliant AI scientist. I really love them, as well as Gabe and Gabe’s daughter Leah, who is a believable thirteen-year-old, which made me very happy: few things make me angrier in a book than badly-written children or teenagers.

Jenny herself, our intrepid heroine, is kind of a downer, but she has so many reasons to be a downer that you can’t really blame her. Except that you can because she’s determined to be a downer always, and you want to hug and slap her sometimes, which is probably how Gabe feels. She’s like one of those brooding heroes from gothic romances; they obsess over their troubles which are pretty extreme but you want them to just focus on happy things.

PS: I love Richard and I want more sassy-AI always.

I’m going to finish reading this trilogy, but maybe not immediately; it requires a lot of emotional stamina.

Review: Sandman Volume 1: PRELUDES AND NOCTURNES by Neil Gaiman

sandman vol 1ISBN: 9781401225759

What You Get: The first eight issues of Neil Gaiman’s award-winning series (OR SO I HEAR), an introduction by executive editor Karen Berger, and an afterword by Neil Gaiman. Art by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III.

The Story: This series falls solidly into the horror genre, so it has blood, gore, violence, and scary and disturbing characters/scenes/plots.  The diner chapter, specifically, made me go ARGH DO NOT WANT the entire time. I still enjoyed this book but couldn’t whole-heartedly love it; for those who read and like horror, obviously, this would probably not be a problem.

Each issue has a mostly self-contained story, with the first seven issues comprising a “quest” format story arc. In the first issue, we’re introduced to an appropriately creepy cult that tries to capture Death for their own purposes, but being incompetent creepy cultists, they capture Dream instead. Eventually, of course, Dream escapes and sets himself to righting his wrongs and getting back all of his stuff. The eighth issue in the volume introduces us to a character important to Dream and is obviously a lull in between two arcs.

When he’s in the human world, he’s a scary-looking dude with awesome clothes, but in dreams and the dream-world he is extremely powerful. A large part of the fun (so to speak) in this story is watching Dream use his powers in different ways, using dreams to scare, punish, trap, or teach people. He’s a scary kind of dude, I think I mentioned. He visits Hell in one issue, which turned out to be one of my favorites, partly because of the fantastical (and terrifying, yes) depiction of Hell, and partly because of the conflict which pits Dream against a demon in a contest (to get his afore-mentioned stuff back).

The supporting characters are definitely a mixed bag. The ones I liked and hope come back are Dream’s clothing (obviously the best supporting character), Death, and John Constantine. John Constantine is the closest we get to a decent human sidekick who helps Dream out. The incorporation of Cain and Abel was very interesting, presenting them as archetypes of a sort who live their story over and over again, but that was disturbing and they were disturbing. There were various others who show up only to die horribly, of course.

I didn’t know ahead of time that this story takes place in DC’s universe, but then Arkham Asylum was there (because we needed more creepiness!) and some cameos from Justice League International characters (which made me really happy).

sandman-volume-1-preludes-and-nocturnes_372

The Art: The different artists managed to make the overall style in this volume stay coherent, which I apprecaited. I liked Sam Keith’s style for Dream best. Dream’s clothing is my favorite thing about the art, as you might have surmised. I loved the three witches (or fates or whatever name they’re going by) and how they look like all the stereotypes of those archetypes combined. The art is creepy and the bad guys are really gross and there’s lots of goopiness everywhere always. I enjoyed seeing Martian Manhunter and Mr. Miracle in a book so completely different from anything else they’re in—the art made them seem like really different characters, even though their behavior was consistent. “A Hope In Hell” had the most fantastic backgrounds. I really loved the issue covers by Dave McKean. They’re not your usual “put random scenes on the comic so people will pick it up!” covers, but instead vague creepy portentous things.

My Rating: four out of five stars

Word Porn: All Quiet on the Western Front

[Word Porn posts are simply quotes or passages from a book I am currently reading in which the prose style makes me very, very happy. Sharing is caring!]

 

For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress-to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a more humane wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases and in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they taught it to us broke in pieces.

While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one’s country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards-they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing left of their world left. We were all at once terrible alone; and alone we must see it through.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque, translated from German by A. W. Wheen

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Review: THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM by Christopher Healy

12969560The basic premise of The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom answers the question: “What would happen if the Princes Charming from four different fairy tales (Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty) all had major issues and teamed up to win fame and glory?” The answer is “HILARITY AND EPICOSITY AND A LOT OF TRYING AND FAILING.” The princesses are all in the story too, but all the princes and princesses are VERY different from what we know. For example, Briar Rose is a spoiled, mean brat, while Cinderella’s prince is terrified of leaving his castle. The conflict involves the witch from Rapunzel’s fairy tale, but honestly I don’t want to give too much away, because this is a story that evolves organically and you learn everything in the order you’re supposed to know it. AND IT’S FABULOUS.

The characters, who they are, how they act, how they grow, and most especially how they interact with each other, was my absolute favorite bit about this novel. The four princes all have different flaws and strengths, and (of course) it takes them a while to work together. Ella (Cinderella) is fierce but kind of clueless because she’s been under house arrest for so long. The dwarves (they’re experts at everything), the trolls, the dragon, the giant, the witch, the bandits…EVERYONE IS SO GREAT. Also Lila, one of the prince’s younger sister who is probably the most clear-headed character. Prince Duncan was probably my favorite. He is possibly crazy, possibly brilliant, and a ton of fun.

I don’t know if I’ve made it clear yet, but this novel is hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing out loud (granted, it’s pretty easy to make me laugh (BUT STILL)). The story has a lot of twists and turns, and feels a lot like a journey where you really don’t know what is going to happen next because there’s a sort of calculated randomness going on that is impossible to predict but seems inevitable once it happens. Good times.

This novel uses an omniscient narrator. In general, I dislike omniscient narrators, especially in a children’s book because they have a tendency to talk down to the reader. I only occasionally minded it here. It was always clear whose head we were in, and there were many different ways it was used for humor. Also, with so many characters, including five (or six) main characters, I felt like the narration was as decent a choice as any. I also loved the chapter titles, which were always “Prince Charming [Does Something].” They were often funny and gave a hint as to the action in the chapter, without really giving it away because there are four Princes Charming to choose from.

I gave The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom five out five stars for being an absolutely jolly read.

[this review originally posted at my old blogspot.]
The sequel, The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, will be out on April 30th 2013. Can we talk about the cover? Both covers, in fact? Because they are FABULOUS. There are many illustrations inside by the same artist as the cover, and they’re hilarious and cute and fit the story perfectly.

I'm going to read this book so hard.
I’m going to read this book so hard.