#CBR6 Review #25 – Lexicon

Lexicon

Target: Max Barry’s Lexicon

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Thriller

After Action Report:

As I have written before, I find book recommendations to be more annoying than useful (which raises some interesting questions about why I write book reviews).  There are so many variables involved in what makes any given book appealing to a given person that, without a history of literary compatibility, it is almost impossible guarantee that any two people will like the same book.  Still, every so often I’ll follow up on a recommendation or a particularly good review from a source that I like and it won’t disappoint me.  Lexicon not only did not disappoint, it wildly exceeded my expectations.

Lexicon takes place in a world where “Poets” have been the real power hidden in the shadow of history.  These individuals, possessed of extraordinary willpower and a set of linguistic tools, are able to command people by speaking a few key words that bypass our conscious minds and force us to obey.  The idea on its own is fascinating, drawing on shades of Neal Stephenson’s secret histories and J.K. Rowling’s ‘school for special people’ concept.

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#CBR6 Review #24 – New Watch

New WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s New Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #5)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko ostensibly drew his Watches series to a conclusion with Last Watch, but almost six years later he released a fifth book.  New Watch is a very different kind of novel than its predecessors.  It draws inspiration from other contemporary and urban fantasies, most notably the Harry Potter series.  There is a greater emphasis on the mechanics of the world’s magic system, answering some questions from previous novels, but shifting the tone of the series away from the cerebral contemplation of the battle between good and evil, towards a more action-oriented adventure.  Some of Lukyanenko’s trademark musings remain, but New Watch is clearly written for a slightly different, more global audience than the rest of the pentalogy.

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#CBR6 Review #23 – A.D.D.

A.D.D.Target: Douglas Rushkoff’s A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division. Art by Goran Sudžuka and José Marzán Jr.

Profile: Comics, Media Criticism, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

For those of you who don’t know, Denver is home to the largest single comic book store in the world.  I didn’t know this either until a few months ago when a friend of mine blew into town from Boston and we went.  The warehouse used to be a clearing house for cross-country comic shipping and at some point Mile High Comics claimed it, along with the considerable overstock and turned it into 45,000 square feet of comic book nerd wet dream.  While we were there, I found myself drooling over collector’s editions of Chew omnibus volumes and an essential guide to the Top Cow universe, but the only thing I walked out with was this quirky little Vertigo title.  At the register, the clerk on duty looked the hardcover volume over and gave me an audible “Huh,” which pretty much sums up my experience with the book.

Set in the near future, A.D.D. follows Lionel, a top tier gamer who is part of an unusual reality show/experiment.  Raised from birth to play games, test technology and generally be archetypal internet brats, these kids enjoy a life of luxury and media saturation, and in return act as mascots for their corporate owners.  For Lionel and his friends, it seems like paradise, but Lionel still has questions: what happens when they ‘graduate?’  And why can he ‘see’ things no one else can?

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#CBR6 Review #22 – Last Watch

Last Watch

Target: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Last Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #4)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Urban Fantasy

After Action Report:

So, I spent a really unreasonable amount of time waiting for and then looking for the Harper paperback release of Last Watch.  I waited so long that the fifth book in the series was published stateside and my copy actually started to gather dust on my shelf.  Eventually I contacted Harper Collins which prompted a very curt autoreply informing me that they didn’t have the publication rights.  Although the Random House imprint they directed me to doesn’t seem to have the U.S. rights either, so…

Last Watch is the conclusion of all the storylines explored by The Watches books so far.  Mysteries are solved, questions are answered, and actions are (somewhat) justified.  The stakes are higher than ever, with friends pitted against each other and alliances formed from the most unlikely combinations.  Through it all, Lukyanenko maintains his cerebral approach to storytelling, blending action, tension and philosophical exploration almost seamlessly and reminding us that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are rarely the simple constructs we assume them to be.

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#CBR6 Review #21: Count to a Trillion

Count to a TrillionTarget: John C. Wright’s Count to a Trillion. (Count to Eschaton Sequence #1)

Profile: Science Fiction, Space Opera

After Action Report:

Count to a Trillion is a strange sort of novel.  It seems primarily dedicated to avoiding any kind of resolution to any of the narratives it establishes and finding other literary ways to annoy me.  Poor characterization, egregious technobabble and obnoxious timeskips are just a few of the book’s many sins.  And yet, there is an interesting and ambitious concept at its core.  Ultimately, I think the novel falls short of its goals, but it takes us on what could be the start of an intriguing ride.

Count to a Trillion opens an unspecified amount of time in the future. The Earth has been ravaged by non-nuclear global war and racial strife. These events have left the Indosphere and Hispanosphere in control of much of the world.  Born in the relative backwater of the southern United States, Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up as a judicial gun-for-hire, but hides a unique secret: a phenomenal gift for higher mathematics.  Pressganged into an once-in-a-lifetime expedition to examine an alien artifact orbiting a tantalizing source of free energy, Menelaus subjects himself to an experimental procedure designed to artificially enhance his brain to a posthuman level.  The process drives him insane.

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#CBR6 Review #20: Dial H, Vol. 2

Dial H 2Target: China Miéville’s Dial H, Vol. 2: Exchange. Art by Alberto Ponticelli, David Lapham and Dan Green.  Collecting issues #7-15 and Justice League issue #23.3

Profile: Comics, Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy

After Action Report:

When last we left Dial H, Miéville was busy adding weird fiction and horror tropes to a little known corner of the DC Universe.  The events of the last volume have raised the stakes and opened the door to a multiverse of possibilities.  Unfortunately, while Dial H was an incredible critical success, its sales numbers left something to be desired and DC ended the run at issue 16.  True to form, Miéville seems to treat the cancelation as a challenge and crashes through two storylines to bring readers a climax worthy of this creative adventure, and a thoughtful coda that hints that we might not have seen the last of the Dialers.

Issue #7 picks up a few weeks after Nelson’s fight with the villain Ex Nihlio and her pet Abyss.  In light of the new threat of the Shadow on the Line, Nelson and his new partner Roxie, set off to uncover more secrets of the dials.  But their leisurely globetrotting quickly turns scary as they catch the eye of a Canadian super-agent who knows more about what they are than they do.

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#CBR6 Review #19: A Drifting Life

A Drifting LifeTarget: Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life.  Translated by Taro Nettleton.  English design and lettering by Adrian Tomine.

Profile: Autobiography, Manga, Graphic Novel

After Action Report:

A Drifting Life is a wonderfully thick tome of a graphic novel.  Equal parts autobiography, national history and understated drama; the book chronicles the story of one of the founding fathers of Japanese Manga.  The style pioneered by Yoshihiro Tatsumi was one of the first attempts to turn cartoons into a medium for serious works.  Appropriately, his story is a serious one, touching on the themes of artistic integrity and the struggles of living in postwar Japan.  It is an exquisite novel, and only feels unfocused because that’s how life sometimes is.

While A Drifting Life is an autobiography, Tatsumi authored the book as if it were about someone else.  His fictional stand in, Hiroshi Katsumi, is the central protagonist, and a brief editor’s note remarks that a number of other names have been changed.  The book picks up at the end of World War II with the surrender of Emperor Hirohito.  Hiroshi is ten and has already developed a love of Manga and drawing.  Along with his brother, Oki, Hiroshi starts on the path of a Manga-ka, submitting amateur comic strips to various publishing houses.  To his surprise, he is published.

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#CBR6 Review #18: Ship Breaker

Ship BreakerTarget: Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker (Ship Breaker #1)

Profile: Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

After Action Report:

There is a gritty reality to Paolo Bacigalupi’s work.  A grim straightforwardness that crushes the optimism older SF styles.  On its own, this same honesty produces brilliantly brutal speculative fiction, like Windup Girl.  But there is a necessary optimism to Young Adult literature that is at odds with Bacigalupi’s tone.  Ship Breaker lives in artificial space between two styles, carving out its own literary niche, but at the same time feeling discordant and incomplete.  And yet, it is a technically excellent novel that I really did enjoy.

Like many of Bacigalupi’s stories, Ship Breaker deals with a post-industrial crisis world.  Climate changes has melted the ice caps and destroyed much of costal civilization.  Technology and wealth have concentrated even further and the average person lives at the whim of a few mega-corporations that dominate the world.  Nailer and his crew are child laborers who scrape a living from salvaging the wrecks of cargo ships from the old era.  When the ship of a wealthy heiress crashes into their lives, Nailer jumps at the opportunity to escape his dead-end situation, only to get caught up in an international power struggle.

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#CBR6 Review #17: Antiagon Fire

Antiagon FireTarget: L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s Antiagon Fire (Imager Portfolio #7)

Profile: Fantasy, Political Fiction, Military

After Action Report:

Two things struck me as I was preparing for this review:  First, I somehow managed to skip Imager’s Battalion during my utter failure of a Cannonball Read 5.  I read the book, but I never got a review up.  Second, I think I ran out of useful things to say about the series back at book five.  The things that I liked are still good, and the elements that are weaker don’t seem to be improving.  If anything, the series’ increasing focus on military action reduces the immediacy of Quaeryt’s story and undermines the relationship readers have been building over the course of the last three books.  While the increased presence of Quaeryt’s wife, Vaelora, is a welcome and well executed addition, more and more Quaeryt feels like a background character in his own story.

To fill in some blanks, Imager’s Battalion took Quaeryt from the world of politics into the military, placing him in command of the first squad of Imagers ever used in true military service.  Charged with the invasion of the hostile nation of Bovaria, Quaeryt and the army he accompanies face down an escalating series of challenges while balancing the need to subjugate with the desire to be fair to the citizens they encounter.  Antiagon Fire follows much in the same vein, as a newly promoted Quaeryt is sent as an envoy to the people of Khel in an attempt to prevent further war.  Along the way, he is attacked by forces from the 3rd remaining nation, Antiago, prompting another conflict.

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#CBR6 Review #16: The Waking Engine

The Waking EngineTarget: David Edison’s The Waking Engine

Profile: Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

There is point during the creative process when too many ideas can be as bad as too few.  I’m personally a very poor judge of where that limit is, but The Waking Engine is firmly on the wrong side of it.  Some of the book’s core concepts are interesting and fresh, but they are buried under layers of borrowed imagery, and symbolism stolen from across the width and breadth of fantasy and science fiction.  The only thing I took away was a deeper appreciation for the authors who make genre mashups look easy.

The Waking Engine is the story of Cooper, a young man who is flung across a multiverse and wakes up in home of true death, the City Unspoken.  Like a twisted version of Hindu reincarnation, people who die in this setting wake up moments later as themselves on a different world.  Eventually, this process leads everyone to the City, where their weary souls might finally find eternal rest.  Only, no one’s dying.  The City Unspoken is failing and Cooper may have to be the one to put everything right again.

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