Friday, January 3, 2014

The End by G. Michael Hopf

Gordon is a family man and an ex-marine in an America that is becoming steadily more beleaguered by terrorism. Until the last blow – an EMP airburst shutting down virtually all electronics in the entire country. Already having learned harsh lessons about who deserves his protection, Gordon acts quickly to protect his family before the world falls apart

This book is a DNF.

I had high hopes for it – I love dystopian fiction, I do like me a good apocalypse and I’ve seen previous books and shows take on the idea of all electronics being knocked out and what that means for modern society and was interested to see what this book’s take on it would be.

They say curiosity kills the cat. Alas, it can also give a reviewer a headache, a nasty surprise and the decided urge to empty a brewery.

As with most DNFs, there are many reasons why I don’t like this book, but the first and main one is Gordon. The protagonist, may the road of his life be liberally scattered with legos for ever more.

Gordon is the ultimate Gary Stu. What he believes is true, no matter how dubious, what he does is wise, no matter how silly and his insight is always well received by right-thinking people, even if it’s foolish or even evil. When the power first goes out in San Diego, Gordon knows the whole US has been brought down. Why? Why, when even the military’s own expert says that the scale of the EMP vastly exceeds any models they have ever seen? There is no way he could possibly know that the EMP had not just hit the city – or even just the neighbourhood -  and that help was arriving quickly; but no, Gordon KNOWS. And on the strength of that… he ACTS (including dropping $2k on emergency supplies). And everyone falls in with him, following his instructions and accepting his decisions (like having his whole family turning their garden into a lavatory) with only the most minimal of protests.

Not only does he ACT, but he’s already made plans for this kind of eventuality – like cashing in their pension and keeping the money in his attic. Without telling his wife. Classy guy – and when she finds out there is, again, minimal conflict. I have to say, I think most spouses would have invested in a divorce lawyer or some pruning shears, but she has only mild consternation about her husband screwing their whole future for a paranoid survivalist fantasy without telling her. When he decides to pull a gun on a guy asking for help, again, the people with him make a token protest then get in line.

Gordon is also an arsehole. This is probably apparent above – Gordon makes decisions and everyone else has to get in line (not that they’d ever REALLY disagree with Gary Stu). But Gordon has also decided (after some evil liberal machinations had him kicked out of the military for the piffling crime of shooting an unarmed Iraqi – oh, I mean “Haji” – more on that later) that he’s dedicating his life to looking after his family. His philosophy is basically “screw everyone else” regardless of need. This includes, in the few hours after the pulse, a man who needs to get his heavily bleeding pregnant wife to the hospital. When he asks Gordon’s friend with a working truck to help, Gordon pulls a gun. He needs that truck to haul groceries, damn it, we have no time for your dying wife and child! Yeah… classy guy

2013: Year in Review

'Happy New Year 2014' photo (c) 2014, Rareclass - license:

What were you Top 3 series/books you read this year?

I read a lot of good books this year - it’s hard to chose 3, especially since I’m going to try and not be repetitive and repeat last year’s awesome books (those series continued and, yes, are still awesome).

This year I’m going to go with: Cassie Alexander’s excellent Edie Spence Series, Shelly Adina’s truly awesome Magnificent Devices Series and my newly discovered The One Rises Series by Anna Wolfe. All of them make me eager for the sequels and all of these authors should be ashamed for robbing me of sleep and adding to be caffeine addiction, staying up all night reading their work.

And I still want Prinnie Punk to be a thing

What book(s) pleasantly surprised you?

I looked at the title of Steven Roy’s Black Redneck vs Space Zombies and I cringed. I expected all kinds of hot mess. I cursed myself for agreeing to read a book without thinking it through when I’m half asleep and running on automatic and panicking about my email backlog. I loaded the snark, expected the worst and prepared to let loose all my scathing prowess…

I did not expect a deeply nuanced, surprisingly involved, incredibly well developed and characterised book that really handled some major issues with and scrutiny - and we had guns, zombies and giant jellyfish monsters. All that snark prepared and nothing to use it on!

What was your favourite Television series this year?
Every time I think I have an answer, another show vies for my attention, like that over-eager child at school you quietly wanted to strangle. I’m going to settle on Orphan Black because of the sheer awesomeness of Tatiana Maslany (even with the irritation of Felix); it’s rare when a show leaves me in awe of an actor, quite literally in awe to a degree that I would just throw all the awards at her.

Defiance is vying in there for a second with its excellent cast of compelling characters, some truly excellent world building and a pretty nifty computer game - but then, with Defiance’s massive budget it kind of needed to pull out some awesome - and it did.

Honorary mention goes to Teen Wolf which remains surprisingly good. Honestly, I keep expecting it to crash and burn in a cheesey mass of awful and it never does.

What was the worst thing you read this year?

Let me compile a LIST! This may require a tree or two. Ok, let’s parse it down to one category of worst thing - blatant money grabs - authors of successful series then dragging a few more pennies out of a loyal fanbase by releasing tatty, empty non-books and relying on their names and that fan loyalty to make it sell. In some ways it’s almost false advertising, you release a series that’s basically pretty good and shows at least something approaching talent - then you take those expectations and throw out a complete load of crap. This isn’t just producing a bad book, any long running author is usually going to have one book that doesn’t quite shine - no, this is blatantly NOT GIVING A FUCK about the crap you release. This is releasing a book that’s just a copy of a previous book, or some cobbled together “extra” that should have been left on your website - or just in your notebooks.

After Dead by Charlaine Harris takes a prize as probably the most inexcusably blatant example I’ve ever come across. It’s not a story, it’s not a guide, it’s barely even a book. It’s an insult in paper form. Honestly it should have had a note at the bottom, “you’re all pissed at me because of Eric in the last book, so screw it, just gimme your money.”

What was the worst thing you watched this year?

This is a split to me. Da Vinci’s Demons angered and offended me more than anything else - the treatment of a historical gay man by this deeply homophobic show was inexcusable, I want to snark all over this but I’m honestly too angry to snark about this. American Horror Story also seems to be playing an almost childish game of gross-out with the viewers - it’s like a 5 year old who has learned all kind of naughty words and is going to repeat them to grandma to make her lose her false teeth. It’s not funny, it’s not clever and granny’s heard it all before, especially after a night on the gin.

It says something about these two that Misfits and its season o’rape jokes isn’t up there. Seriously, if I look at the worst shows and a show whose entire season was basically “rape rape rape, gay joke, rape, gay joke, rape, homophobia, rape joke” did not take the top spot? There’s an issue here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Harlequin (Anita Blake #15) By Laurell K Hamilton

The Harlequin, the deadly and secret Wild Hunt of the Council, the ultimate police force and nightmare of the vampire world, has arrived in St. Louis. Ostensibly there to examine Malcolm after his refusal to Blood Oath his followers, they are casting their eyes on Jean-Claude

And they are not playing by the rules

The biggest, scariest enforces of vampire kind! Created to strike fear in even the most powerful Masters of the City! Scary! Powerful! A force that should make even Anita quake in her boots.

Except… not.

Because they’re not there. The book is called The Harlequin, everyone refers to them as the scariest things ever ever ever but… they don’t actually do a whole lot. The main thing they do do is mess with people’s emotions causing minor overreactions which are dealt with the minute everyone realises they’re having an overreaction

Do you know how tense and dramatic a scene if where people talk for several pages about various angsty issues and then spend some more pages deciding whether or not their issues were legitimate or not is? If you guessed “not even slightly” then you’d be right. Epic shows downs involving everyone sitting in a circle and wringing their hands rate somewhere between “watching paint dry” and “going through Aunt Mildred’s holiday photos” in terms of excitement.

Of course, this is also an Anita Blake book. So when the enemy attacks by making the characters extra dramatic, extra whiney, extra angsty or extra moody – HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO TELL?! This is their ground state of being! If it weren’t for Anita occasionally saying “I’m way too afraid” or “he’s acting too angry” I’d completely miss it. And did, repeatedly. It’s impossible to portray these characters as more emotionally uncontrolled than they already are.

Requiem is being pouty and moody… and this is news? Byron being catty and poking at people – yeah, that’s kind of his only defining character trait (because it’s a stereotype). Richard being surly, uncooperative and angry? Oh, must be Tuesday.

In fact, Richard losing his ever loving mind because of the Harlequin messing with him is the major “attack” of the Harlequin. But Richard perpetually loses his ever loving mind! He attacked Jean-Claude? Yeah, not the first time. He wants Anita all to himself? This is hardly news. He hates being a werewolf? Yup, we knew that as well. Exactly what did the Harlequin do to Richard that was discernibly different from how he has behaved from the last several books?

Or even in this book. Anita, using her woo-woo, slams the messing Harlequin across the room and they stop meddling with their emotions. And later they head to a huge show down – I’m talking a massive dramatic show-down with Jean-Claude, Anita & co on a stage opposite the big bad Harlequin also on the stage, watched by a huge audience. Faced by this Richard decides to… lose his ever loving mind.

I kid you not, for pages he sits there and wails about the Ardeur and how he can’t be part of it and waaaah his issues. The big bad vampires are RIGHT THERE watching him. Anita, Richard and Jean-Claude have a big argument while the bad guys, I don’t know, check their watches and tap their feet and wait to be noticed again, I guess. And this isn’t the first time Richard has lost his ever loving mind while the bad guys are in mid-attack – it happened when Musette visited in Cerulean Sins as well.

Richard attacking Jean-Claude isn’t proof of the evil-bad-nasty Harlequin. It’s par the course with his characters.

Misfits, Season 5, Episode 2

Another day on community service with the gang and Rudy is saying things. Nothing ever good comes from Rudy saying things. Jess tries to cut through the torrent of his sexist drivel but it’s only the appearance of Rudy’s dad (Geoff) that sends him scurrying into hiding (alas, not into silence). He’s hiding because he has told his parents a huge pack of highly implausible lies about what he’s doing. However his dad isn’t paying attention because he’s very busy making out with a woman who is definitely not Rudy’s mother.

Rudy 2 wants to tell their mother, but Rudy won’t have it and decides, instead, to go find the woman his father was with and hurl abuse at her.  To do this he ambushes Jess and makes her take him to see “his father’s harlot”. She takes him there and he promptly chickens out when he sees his father is also there – Jess thinks this is ideal because now he can talk to his dad without his mum knowing. He babbles more until Jess sensibly and maturely pushes him. Except he’s Rudy and he promptly falls apart in a mass of incomprehensible babble in the face of the woman who closes the door in his face – a sensible reaction to Rudy when he’s at his best, let alone when he’s in full babble.

But when the door closes they hear Geoff yelling at the woman – then the sound of breaking glass and her crying out in pain. They sneak round the back and watch through the blinds to see him holding her by the hair and threatening her while she sobs.

In the car, Rudy’s serious for once, his perception of his father is shattered

At the bar, Abbey is continuing to have her identity crisis, having no memory of who she is (Finn and Alex aren’t the most helpful of people)  when in the bathroom she smells something that she finds odd compelling – she tracks it down to a garment left on by the sinks and starts huffing on it. As you do.

Rudy 2 is continuing to go to his support group, but he snaps at Rudy when he asks where he’s going, since Rudy never normally cares about his life. He complains about this to his fellow group members along with how wrong it is for them to hide who they are, their powers (and, in Rudy 2’s case, the fact he exists) when they’ve done no wrong. As he leaves the group, one of the other members approaches him and asks him for help; it’s the man who’s “power” makes him think he’s in a computer game. He’s worried about losing himself again

At the community centre Jess tries to talk to Rudy, who is still very shaken. He decides to go to his parents’ house and punch his dad in the face. He goes – and nearly hits his mum. This quickly derails him, further put off balance by his parents asking him about the ridiculous fictional life he’s created. There follows Rudy babble, dodging around his lies and trying to passive aggressively get his message across to his dad all with a great big diversion into gay jokes as his parents assume his secret is that he’s gay.

Unable to confront his dad, Jess takes Rudy on another plan – to go to the woman’s house and help her get away from Geoff. But when they arrive they find his dad there, burning her clothes and attempting to clean up a large blood stain on the floor.

Time for another plan from Jess while Rudy freaks out – Rudy invites his dad out to the pub while she searches the house to see what happened and if, as they suspect, Geoff murdered her)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, readers! Let's hope 2014 is a good year with lots of awesome books!

And if it doesn't have lots awesome books, may it at least have copious amounts of booze!

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jane Yellowrock World Companion by Faith Hunter

I’m a big fan of Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series so when the companion came into my hands I was excited to delve into it.

Companions can be excellent additions to a series, especially a long book series, bringing together all the information of the series in one place, being a handy one stop guide to questions, elaborating on all those little elements of the series that just cannot be included in the main books but are still hinted about – they can be excellent additions. Any author writing a series as long as this is inevitably going to have scenes and ideas and world building that they just can’t fit into the main series. Oh, they could – but inevitably it would be irrelevant to the plot or involve some massively ridiculous info-dumping that would look convoluted and would drag down the pacing of the story

This is the ideal place to fit in all those notes, rambles, world building development etc that couldn’t fit into the main story.

That’s a companion at its best

At its worst, a companion will merely rehash and repeat most of what has been said in the main series, occasionally interspaced with extras that have been on the author’s website. There will be nothing new, original, useful or interesting in it and it will feel like a bit of a money grab.

Unfortunately this companion falls heavily into the second category. A large swathe of the book is taken up by a brief recap of all the other books. As a reviewer this could be useful to me if I ever want to refer back to something in an earlier book, but really is pretty pointless. If you’ve read the series, you don’t need the recaps. This takes up a pretty huge part of the book.

Add on to this there’s a section which is basically a lot of quotes copied and pasted from the books as well.

We have some brief world building notes – but they’re just lists: like Jane’s list of weapons, a list of characters in the series (no extra information on them, just a list) or a brief history of Clan Pellissier – which could have been interesting if it were more than a list.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Before I start this review, I am going to fess up and say that I have never read, nor had any interest in reading Tolkein.  Pages of elvish, even combined with an epic adventure is not something that floats my boat- that said, having watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I eagerly looked forward to this movie.

The Desolation of Smaug continues the quest of the Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves to reclaim the dwarf homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.  As you might well imagine this quest is not a simple matter of moving from point A to point B.  There is the matter of spiders who seek to make them a meal, Elves who are not happy to have their kingdom invaded and orcs who are on a mission to stop the band of travelers at all cost.

The Desolation of Smaug is visually beautiful at times to watch and though it is clearly fantasy, everything about it feels so real.  It easy to immerse oneself in the story and this is a good thing as the movie is two hours and forty minutes long (note: go to the bathroom before the movie starts).  It was impossible not to feel the stale death of the forest and want to will the dwarves out of there safely.  The barrel river scene in particular is great fun to watch and I found myself wishing it were part of an amusement ride. 

Legalos makes his great return in this film and being a fan of Orlando Bloom in this role I was quite happy. I found it interesting that in The Desolation of Smaug he was much changed, which makes sense because this is a prequel.  Legalos was downright uptight and arrogant.  Peter Jackson also chose to make Legalos larger thus allowing him to truly take over the screen during his epic fight scenes. 

The largest addition to the cast came in the form of Tauriel.  I found her to be bright, capable and loving.  It was sweet to watch the budding romance between Tauriel and Kili.  The romance gave us a nice little break in the action and helped to at least separate Kili from the large pack of dwarves.  This was necessary as their sheer number at times makes the story  difficult to follow. I can only hope that in the third movie we will see more individualization of the dwarves as well as a continuation of the budding romance.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest by A. Lee Martinez

This epic road quest takes place in an alternate world where humans, orcs, and other manner of mystical creatures are just accepted as normal.  Helen the rare minotaur girl and Troy meet at work.  They are brought together when their boss tries to sacrifice Helen to a long lost banished God.  Things go from bad to worse when the God sets them on a magical quest where Helen and Troy will battle dragons and orcs even as they try to decipher the mystical clues that the Fates give  them to gather magical weapons which will set the lost God loose on earth.  Will our heroes succeed with so much aligned against them?

This is the second book I have read which was written by Martinez and so I expected Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest to be quirky but what I didn't expect was for it to be laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling at the conflicted Orcs who caused damage in restaurants because that is their nature and then worrying about emptying bank accounts to pay for the damage.  Then there was the fate who ran the truck stop, and of course Orc Gods worried about learning to play bridge and shuffleboard.  The situations were absolutely absurd but it was impossible not to laugh.

The female protagonist did, unfortunately, come with the usual super special descriptor - being a rare female minotaur and the first to manifest as such in her family for generations.  Her story was largely about self acceptance because she dealt with body issues throughout the book.  Normally these kinds of issues ascribed to women irritate me because it plays on the trope of women always needing to doubt their physical attractiveness; however, if I had horns, a tail, fur and smelled horrible when I got wet, I would be a tad insecure about dating as well.  Helen was remarkably strong and though she lacked confidence in herself, she was unafraid to meet any challenge and even ended up saving Troy.

The male protagonist Troy was also a little trope laden. He is the Asian kid who is the perfect son, always gets good grades and is of course well liked.  I did however like how he discussed being turned off by a girl when she sought to fetishisize him which is something people of colour face on a regular basis.  Troy didn't want to be anyone token.  He is capable and strong if somewhat annoying with his perfection - something Helen takes care to point out repeatedly.

It is worth noting that Martinez did make the mistake of conflating real people of colour with his mystical creations. 

"Just because my ancestors were barbaric hordes that doesn't mean I'm a natural-born killer. I think it's a bit racist that you assume that"

Having on protagonist be a man of colour does not erase the harm of this.  These kinds of conflations detract from the racism that people of colour are forced to live with on a daily basis.

Martinez did chose to include a gay character - James the orc.  Unfortunately, James is a trope laden mess. James drinks imported fruity beers, is the only Orc with fuchsia on his bike, loves musical theater, has Funny Girl as his favorite movie, and has a habit of punching people if they cannot differentiate between lavender and lilac.  James, of course, leads a closeted life with his roommate Gary until he is finally confronted about his sexuality by his fellow Orcs. If anything James is a token and extremely empty.  It's not enough to have inclusion, portrayals of marginalized characters shouldn't be cardboard cut out tropes.

Despite it's faults, I enjoyed every moment of Helen and Troy's Epic Road Quest.  It's an easy read and a great way to waste away the afternoon.  The story won't change your world view, or challenge you to think but it will entertain you.  The writing is extremely vivid and it is so easy to picture all of the characters we are introduced to as well as all of the fantastical locales that the story is set in.  It's impossible not to root for both Helen and Troy and the Wild Hunt which places the reader in a bit of a conundrum because they are on opposite sides.  When you can love the good guys and the bad the guys that is a sign of a really good book.

Editors Note: A copy of this book was received from Netgalley

Atlantis, Season 1, Episode 13: Touched by the Gods: Part Two

Ariadne is due to be executed for the terrible crime of having less sense than cabbage (and for harbouring an assassin. She is actually guilty of both crimes). The execution method is the Brazen bull – to be put inside a bronze statue of a bull and then have a fire lit under it. Sounds very wasteful – and messy. Who has to clean that bull afterwards? I reckon you’re going to need more than a bottle of fairy liquid, especially if it’s not Teflon lined.

Jason, showing that he an Ariadne are matched in their lacking-the-sense-of-cabbage decides he’ll turn himself in and then Ariadne will be spared… because that’s totally how it works and he won’t just be executed as well. Pythagoras, thankfully, has slightly more mental acumen than a brassica and points this out, further adding that with Ariadne dead, Pasiphae’s road to the throne is clear. That’s ok, then Jason can die alongside her – even the cabbage-brained Hercules questions why being slow-cooked together is better than being roasted alone. Fight to stop it, yes, risk their lives, yes – but not being roasted to death in some ridiculous act of self-sacrifice. Why Hercules, that was a damn fine speech (they devolve into fun banter about Hercules admitting he likes Jason).

In the prison the priest of Poseidon tries to comfort Ariadne while she laments that she’s been a fool (yes) and given the queen all she wants (also yes) and the people will suffer under Pasiphae (probably, but given your record to date I can’t say your reign would be a happy, fun one) and it’s all her fault (true).

Pasiphae is also praying in the temple and the Oracle confronts her – Ariadne is the princess of Atlantis, a goddess on Earth, Pasiphae is getting above herself and the gods will be Displeased. The Oracle further threatens her with VAGUE PRONOUNCEMENTS (I still think this woman is a fraud, someone who could see the future would be a little more specific). However the warnings about someone being “touched by the gods” like Pasiphae herself panics her

But Pasiphae hasn’t thought of everything – and Ramos goes to Jason & co to help them. He serves the king who probably wouldn’t want his daughter to be slow roasted (at least not without proper seasoning). Jason goes to his other ally, the Oracle who is impressed at his drive and direction. He thanks her for all the help she’s given (like… like… um… like… actually I got nothing). Perhaps realising this she gives him some vague information about a place with a vague comment about “among the dead” which she declines to explain. How helpful.

Ariadne is lead to her pyre. A crowd has gathered – and Hercules staggers drunkenly among them, breaking to the front – as the guards throw him back he drops his amphora and it spills liquid onto the wood. As Ariadne is dragged weeping and struggling to the bull, Jason fires a burning arrow at the liquid Hercules spilled (he’s acquired archery skills from… somewhere) which flares into flame. Everyone jumps back, gasping. The crowd panics and scatters

Seriously guys, the bonfire is on fire. I think your shock is dubious.

As the crowd runs screaming in every direction at the sheer horror of a burning bonfire actually being on fire, Ramos takes custody of Ariadne and hands her off to Jason, killing two guards who try to intervene.