Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

Filed under:Adventure,Fantasy,Steampunk — posted by Randolph on November 1, 2013 @ 4:31 am

Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia

This is a travel story, about a young girl who gets involved in a power struggle and finds her place in the world. The setting is very interesting, combining magic, steampunk, zombies and perhaps a little horror into an epic struggle between good and evil. The story is set in an alternate history near the dawn of WW II, Hitler is dead, the Japanese empire plays the role of evil. A secret organization of magic-enabled people in a country that fears them, play the good. Lead by the Chairman, they are striving for world domination. The Chairman has mastered many forms of magic and is believed to be immortal. The story even has a nice plot twist concerning the struggle. It very much reminded me of the X-men universe by Marvel. There a several parallels, most obvious is the public’s perception of people with powers.

Each chapter begins with a tidbit out of the world’s history, often resembling a newspaper account. These relate people we recognize and give clues to how this world deviated from our own. They are a very good addition to the story and provide some interesting backstory.

What doesn’t work is the characterizations. Larry doesn’t create convincing characters, many have characteristics that just aren’t appropriate for that character. One example is the riches man in the world, who seems a heartless sociopath, yet who cringes from a mild threat. Another is a battle-hardened soldier who pauses during a firefight to have a private conversation with his girlfriend. These types of issues almost ruined the book for me. The main character keeps growing in strength, yet this isn’t explained well. She just has new abilities when you see her in battle. They fit with the character, but seem to come too suddenly.

Another weakness is that Larry has a tendency to relate some action to the reader, then to explain how it could happen. It felt like a deus ex machina mechanism, he could have given hints of these capabilities earlier in the story.

For the most part, the book was saved by the author’s creative story and the action in the story. The plot kept moving, the action scenes are well-described, and the book is generally fun.

Fatal Revenant (The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant) by Stephen R. Donaldson

Filed under:Fantasy,Series,Thomas Covenant — posted by Randolph on September 11, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

Fatal Revenant by Stephen R. Donaldson

This is the second book in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, continuing the story of Linden Avery when she returns to the Land. In this story, Linden perseveres on her quest to find and free her son, who has been captured by Lord Foul. As the story unfolds, Linden undertakes a new quest to seek Thomas Covenant’s advice after he beckoned her through a vision. She is still unable to make decisions, wrought with frustration and anxiety, and she steadfastly believes that Thomas can provide some needed help.

The story is told in third person. However, we are very close to Linden Avery. We are in her thoughts and don’t experience any other character in the same way. Stephen Donaldson does a good job of keeping our sympathies with Linden, in spite of her inability to act. A significant amount of her time is spent worrying about her son, wondering what to do, or looking for Thomas.

Through the book Linden and her companions seem to accomplish very little, but the story still has good flow and deals with interesting issues. These include the politics of the world, a rift among the Haruchai, and time travel. We encounter some new characters and races, and explore some new regions in the Land.

The Haruchai are opened up to us more in this book, in the past I have felt that they were a one-dimensional version of a samura. In this book, we learn of their weaknesses and their history that lead to their current status of managing the Land. Stave, one of their number, was ostracized from the Haruchai in the last novel, now we learn a little more about what he has lost, and what he has gained. Our perception of what the Haruchai are from the first six novels is expanded and altered, and has become much richer.

We also learn a bit more about the Ranyhyn. These are a mystical race of horses who have incredible energy as well as some form of prescience. We wonder if they are sentient as well. The party includes several Ramen, a clan of people who have served the Ranyhyn for many ages and know them intimitely.

Stephen Donaldson’s world is rich in history and in its variety of denizens. This history comes out in much of the book through backstories that provide histories of the different people. Whenever we encounter someone new, they appear to need to relate a new story. These stories fill out the rich history of the Land. It feels as though Stephen has his world and wants to share as much of it as he can before ending the series. Sometimes, these stories feel that they are aimed more at the reader than the characters in the story. But they are interesting stories in their own right and do add value to the main story.

As is typical, all of his characters are deeply conflicted. As a group, they are secretive, most of her companions seem to keep information from the others. The party includes four Haruchai, this time. Three became somewhat reluctant companions at the bidding of the Ranyhyn. Other than Stave, we don’t understand the motivations of the Haruchai for traveling with Linden. Do they intend to stop her, or help?

Stephen’s writing style seems a bit odd at times. His writing is very descriptive, Stephen focusses almost exclusively on visual elements, but the other senses are rarely invoked. I don’t recall ever crossing a metaphor from him, and his rare use of simile is weak at best, such as comparing giants to Titans. They don’t offer any imagery, new ideas, or even help promote the story. Although his writing techniques are limited, his narratives can be compelling. As Stephen often reminded me, he possesses a very strong vocabulary and isn’t afraid to use it. The words he puts on the page are chosen carefully and convey precise meanings.

The dialog is usually straight forward, he does throw in phrases and words on occasion that give the dialog a formal and somewhat feel of the Middle Ages. The characters discussion are to the point, never to wander off point or to develop more complex characters. They aren’t necessarily short, at times they carry undertones of untold stories. Many of these come out during later encounters. Particularly with giants, who love epic tales. There is never a random conversation about other issues that typically concern the average person, everyone has a single purpose.

In other points, the book has a good glossary at the end that provides good references to the world and its massive data that you can’t track in your head. Some of the chapters seemed a bit long, they could have been cut down a bit without losing value.
In summary, the book is good, but a bit long. Anyone who has enjoyed the series should read it, but the books must be read in order. I am looking forward to reading the last two books. But when that time does come, I will be glad to be done.

Sweet Myth-tery of Life by Robert Asprin

Filed under:Fantasy,Humor — posted by Randolph on December 12, 2012 @ 8:11 am

Sweet Myth-tery of Life by Robert Asprin

This is the 10th book in the Myth series by Robert Asprin. The book gets off to a slow start, using old jokes and predictable situations. About 1/3 of the way through, Asprin’s style comes through and the book picks up with humorous situations and a few surprises.

The plot is pretty weak, Queen Hemlock has asked Skeeve to marry her. If he doesn’t, she is going to abdicate and leave him in charge. His other responsibility is saving the kingdom from ruin due to a taxes shortfall. He stumbles through in his usual incompetent way in a fun book. He muddles through a couple of minor adventures but always comes out ahead.

The book does leave a number of unanswered questions, even to the point of setting up for a sequel. I didn’t feel this is appropriate for a humor book, and I hope this doens’t continue in a very long series.

Still, the book is a fast read and worth the time. But do read them in order.

Tales from the Perilous Realm by J. R. R. Tolkien

Filed under:Fantasy — posted by Randolph on November 2, 2012 @ 8:29 pm

Tales from the Perilous Realm by J. R. R. Tolkien

This is a collection of short stories, and performed in a radio play format. The play format really helps the story along, I enjoy having the various voices and occasional environmental sounds. There are four stories:
* Farmer Giles of Ham
* Smith of Wootton Major
* Leaf by Niggle
* The Adventures of Tom Bombadil

All the stories are fantasy, but only the Tom Bombadil story has any noticeable relationship to Middle Earth as we recognize it. A

Farmer Giles of Ham is an interesting twist on the dragon hunter story. Farmer Giles is a reluctant dragon hunter, having shot (but not even injured) a giant while using a blunderbus, he is pulled into the role of dragon hunter due to some twists on rumors of his giant encounter, and not being able to admit his own fears. He and his talking dog face danger and adventure in this story that is amusing and enjoyable.

Smith of Wootton Major tells the story of a young boy who eats a silver star that was enchanted by fairies. This story seemed long and a bit pointless to me.

Leaf by Niggle is a story of an artist in a world that doesn’t value art. It has its own twist, but isn’t entirely unique nor very involving.

The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is the highlight of the collection. I think it was expanded from the Lord of the Rings, or perhaps I don’t remember the original stories very well. The actor reading the part of Tom Bombadil did a very good job, his voice has energy and a lightness that really portrayed the character as I imagined him. This story alone is worth getting the collection.

Overall, I would suggest people skip the middle stories. The first one is worth hearing, but the Adventures of Tom Bombadil is worth acquiring the collection. I rate the collection well because of this story. Go listen to it!

Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes

Filed under:Fantasy — posted by Randolph on July 20, 2012 @ 9:03 am

Portlandtown: A Tale of the Oregon Wyldes

This is a book about voodoo, a hanged man, a magic gun, and zombies. On the cover, the author is compared favorably to Stephen King, and to top it off, the story takes place in Oregon, in Astoria and Portland. It sounds like it could be fun.

The back cover was probably the best part.

The characters are all fairly shallow and single-minded. They don’t have any hang-ups or flaws. Then the minor characters seem to be in place to help move the plot along, at times providing much more information and help than seems reasonable for their characters.

Not quite half-way through the book, the author decided to provide some background information on the characters. The stories were very terse, provided new skills, didn’t fit the characters, and weren’t substantiated. For instance, the marshall’s son-in-law who owns a bookstore and runs a special investigation service started out as a horse thief. The marshall turns out to be a Nez Perce indian with special abilities not mentioned previously.

When the zombies did arrive, the author didn’t build suspense or intrigue. He didn’t even have the token character there to be overwhelmed or scared off. They just appeared.

The author did have some good ideas, he just doesn’t have the skill to tell the story. This is one of very few books that I won’t finish.

What If? 2: Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been by Various, Edited by Robert Cowley

Filed under:Fantasy,History — posted by Randolph on June 8, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I was a bit disappointed in this collection, but it was mostly a personal taste. Some of the writers’ styles were not to my liking. But several of the stories seemed to fall short of their promise, focusing more on the history around their chosen event and just suggestions of alternate sequences of events. The history of the potato was very interesting and the author raised some real question about what could have happened if any of a number of events had varied, but he did not write any real alternate stories. I felt this story didn’t deliver what the book promised.

Some of the stories worked very well, exploring Churchill’s politics and his influence on WWII.

Overall, I suspect the scope of speculative fiction doesn’t work well with the short story format.

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin

Filed under:Fantasy,Fiction — posted by Randolph on March 25, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book One by George R.R. Martin

Although I found the book enjoyable, I also found it difficult to follow. There are too many characters. A list would have helped immensely. Most of the characters aren’t developed, but it takes a bit to see which are which.

The setting is fantasy, but has few fantastic elements to it until the end. Several times the story suggests the onset of a long (several years long) winter looming, presumably this unfold in a future volume. Their seasons do not seem to be regular intervals. There are also a lot of allusions to dragons.

The story is rather violent. Although far from gratuitous, it seems to convey a feeling for the period. It is gruesome at times.

The story focuses on power grab for the throne of Winterfell, the story has strong allusions to the War of the Roses. There are two houses vying for power and contrasting each other in a very simple good vs. evil story. First is the Stark family, lead by Eddard. He is the epitome of honor. This house if countered by the Lannisters who use trickery to attain their ends when it forwards their goals.

The book is told from a number of viewpoints. To make this a little easier, the focal character of each section is identified as a title. The rapid shit from viewpoint to viewpoint and the cast of characters makes it a challenge to follow at times.

Overall, the story is good. I enjoyed the intrigue, the plots and counter-plots. I think some of the characters could have behaved more intelligently, but it didn’t detract too much from the story.

Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

Filed under:Fantasy,Series,Thomas Covenant — posted by Randolph on February 6, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

Runes of the Earth by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Runes of the Earth is Stephen Donaldson’s continuation of the Thomas Covenant saga, a six-book series completed in the early 80s. After twenty years, he has returned to the series. Over a thousand years have passed in the Land, and ten have passed on Earth for Linden Avery, who will now continue Thomas’s quest to protect the Land.

With so much time between the books readers are apt to forget details, but Stephen Donaldson does a good job of refresh the reader’s memory through the narrative. Stories are recounted within the context of the current situation, and they serve to remind the reader of important details. There is also a glossary at the end that I found quite useful after well more than 20 years of having read the previous books.

The Land is under threat from Lord Foul again, and the efforts of its inhabitants are inadequate to do anything. Linden, bearing Thomas’s white gold, returns to the land and must understand the threat and address it. It is further complicated since her son, Jeremiah, was kidnapped on Earth, and born to the Land. For the first half of the book, Linden seems to wander and just allow things to happen to her; she is indecisive and seems confused.
Her doubts and inabilities reminded me very much of Thomas Covenant.

Jeremiah was taken by Roger Covenant, Thomas’s brother, to the Land. Roger, is somehow serving Lord Foul across the worlds and wants the white gold, he makes a play for it on Earth, then takes Jeremiah and the conflict to the Land.

Once in the Land, Linden realizes that she is willing to sacrifice the Land for the safety and rescue of her son, this knowledge complicates her abilities in the land as they foster distrust among its citizens. So, like many of Stephen Donaldson’s characters, she is deeply conflicted and full of doubts.

Her companions include Stave, a Haruchai, Liand, a local stonedowner, Anele, a man from the past, and a few Ramen. These characters are interesting and complex in a way that Stephen is fond of, and each have their own coflicts. His world is rich, it feels very normal, and still has unusual properties such as the healthsense that make it special.

Undead and Unreturnable by MaryJanice Davidson

Filed under:Fantasy — posted by Randolph on February 25, 2010 @ 3:48 pm

Undead and Unreturnable by MaryJanice DavidsonI stumbled across this book in a library, it looked interesting and seemed rated well. I remain unimpressed.

The story is about a vampire queen named Betsy, her sister is the daughter of the devil, and Betsy can see ghosts . There are several assorted characters, each with peculiar and interesting quirks. The characters are interesting and the book seems like it should be a winner.

There is no plot. There is no character development. The characters wander from event to event and things happen. Several events happen that could lead to an actual plot, but most of them don’t develop. It wasn’t clear what the intended plot was until late in the book, and feel anticlamatic in that it concludes too quickly and with little character development. After the climax, the book still has to wander. It was only at this point that I realized it was even part of a series. Maybe character development from earlier books would help, but I have my doubts.

The writing itself is simplistic. The dialog reads like a teenager’s tantrum half the time. Betsy died at the age of 30, but seems to act like a teenager most of the time.

Most of this can be forgiven in a humorous book. The book did have its moments with clever idioms used as a double-entendre with vampire meanings. It is mostly situational humor which doesn’t quite play out.

Asterix and the Magic Carpet by Albert Uderzo

Filed under:Fantasy,Humor,Series — posted by Randolph on January 6, 2010 @ 3:45 pm

Asterix and the Magic Carpet by Albert UderzoAsterix and the Magic Carpet, by Goscinny and Uderzo

[skipping preliminaries as most people know the characters]
In this adventure, the great Fakir Watziznehm has come to Gaul seeking Cacofonix. India is in a serious drought. Hoodunnit wants control of the kingdom, and has arranged for Orinjade to be executed if it doesn’t rain within 1001 hours. So Asterix and Obelix escort Cacofonix to India…


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace