Blog Archives

#CBR6 Review #13 – The Incrementalists

The IncrementalistsTarget: Steven Brust and Skyler White’s The Incrementalists

Profile: Speculative Fiction

After Action Report:

As a concept, The Incrementalists is a pretty impressive pitch.  A secret society of quasi-immortal do-gooders dedicated to the slow improvement of mankind suddenly threatened by one of their own sounds like a great, high concept blockbuster.  But The Incrementalists can’t seem to decide if it’s supposed to be more like ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ or ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ and flounders unpleasantly somewhere between the two.  There are a lot of good ideas here, but the novel feels undirected at best and a confused mess at worst.

The book opens after the death of Celeste, a senior member of the Incrementalists.  Phil, her lover and fellow senior Incrementalist, is tasked with finding her replacement and initiating her.  This process involves transferring the memories of Celeste, and all of the other people who Celeste has been, into a new person.  This new person is Renee, called Ren.  But something goes wrong in the process and now ‘Celeste’ is missing and Ren is losing her mind.  It falls to Phil and Ren to get to the root of the problem before it unravels the Incrementalists for good.

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#CBR6 Review #12 – Un Lun Dun

Un Lun DunTarget: China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun

Profile: Young Adult, Fantasy, Weird Fantasy

After Action Report:

‘China Miéville’ and ‘children’s book’ are not, at first glance, two things that would appear to mesh.  Miéville, who I have described in previous reviews as being macabre, dense and sometimes overwhelmingly complicated (in an enjoyable way), is hardly the first person I’d pick to write a book for older kids and young adults.  Nevertheless, Un Lun Dun is a triumphant piece of fiction.  It taps into the fundamental truths of adventure stories, uses them where appropriate and turns them on their head when necessary.  Miéville’s singular ability to deconstruct genre and trope help create an earnest adventure for those of us who were never singled out for greatness.

Un Lun Dun follows two London girls, Zanna and Deeba who stumble onto a pathway into UnLondon, an abcity behind and beyond London proper.  Suddenly dropped into a world of magic, animate garbage, carnivorous giraffes and a never ending parade of strange sights, the girls are desperate to find their way back home.  But Zanna is the subject of an ancient prophesy.  Called ‘The Shwazzy,’ she is destined to save UnLondon from the malicious cloud of toxins known as the Smog.

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#CBR6 Review #11 – Super Graphic

Super GraphicTarget: Tim Leong’s Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe

Profile: Comics!, Non-fiction?

After Action Report:

Super Graphic is an aggregation of information.  A sequence of colorful graphs, diagrams and charts that serve up a dizzying variety of information about comic books, the worlds they contain and the industry that produces them.  It isn’t so much a book to be read cover to cover as it is an adventure, every page turn revealing something new and delightful.  That is, if you’re a comic book nerd.  Which is not to say that Super Graphic can’t be appreciated by a lay person.  The data is Marvelously (tee hee) accessible and easy to digest, assisted by the tight focus of every page and the slightly-more-than-occasional joke that helps alleviate the march of trivia.

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#CBR6 Review #10 – Twilight Watch

Twilight WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Twilight Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #3)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Sergei Lukyanenko’s Watches books have utterly captivated me.  The moody atmosphere and strong characterization drive an uncompromising examination of good and evil.  Oh, and the story isn’t bad either.  Where Day Watch acted as the natural extension of Night Watch, exploring some of the same material from the perspective of Darkness, Twilight Watch almost starts from scratch with a new, overriding storyline that runs through all three sections of the book.  While the vignettes that compose all of the Watches books have never felt truly disconnected, there is a more immediate sense of continuity at work in Twilight Watch that lends urgency to the unfolding events.

Twilight Watch rejoins Night Watchman Anton years after the events in Prague at the end of Day Watch.  He’s settled down with Svetlana and had a daughter, Nadya, who is already starting to show her strong potential as an Other.  Anton is recalled early from one of his rare vacations at the behest of Gesar to investigate a troubling letter.  The anonymous author claims that someone has offered a human the opportunity to become an Other, and not just a low level vampire or werewolf, but a full-fledged magician.  Both the Night and Day Watches believe this to be impossible, but are concerned that someone has revealed the existence of the supernatural to a human.  Anton goes undercover to identify the human in question and attempt to catch the unknown Other in the act, but as always, things are more complicated than they appear. What starts to unfold is a shadowy power play that reaches back all the way to the Russian Revolution.  The stakes are high for both Watches and the Inquisition, as they clash over the awakening of a powerful witch, the terrible secret of magical power and the ultimate fate of the Others.

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#CBR6 Review #9 – Words of Radiance

Words of RadianceTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive #2)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

After Action Report:

After a seemingly interminable four years of waiting for Brandon Sanderson to wash his hands of the Wheel of Time, it is finally time to return to the series that got me hooked on Sanderson in the first place, The Stormlight Archive.  The Way of Kings was a great novel that suffered most from being little more than a prologue to the rest of the series.  But now the real story can begin.

Words of Radiance returns us to the world of Roshar, picking up almost exactly where The Way of Kings left off.  The four main protagonists have been carried over, though Shallan has a much larger role in this book, and Szeth has fewer chapters.  The events of Way of Kings have brought all the major players to the Shattered Plains where the Alethi campaign against the Parshendi is drawing to a close.  At the same time, signs and portents of a great calamity begin to appear around Dalinar and Kaladin.  Time is running out, the Alethi are on the brink of a civil war and the Assassin in White has returned to kill the last great leader in the east.

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#CBR6 Review #8 – Day Watch

Day WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Day Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield (The Watches pentalogy #2)

Profile: Modern Fantasy, Suspense, Horror

After Action Report:

Day Watch is a strong successor to the gritty, twilight world that Sergei Lukyanenko introduced us to in Night Watch.  After exploring the moral dilemmas facing a ‘good’ person trying to maintain a status quo that is anything but good, Lukyanenko shifts his focus to take a look at the bad guys.  That being said, Day Watch isn’t as strong overall as its prequel, partly because the Dark Others aren’t faced with the same quandaries as the Light.  Lukyanenko’s strengths lie in those internal debates and without them the stories have less weight.

Like Night Watch, Day Watch is composed of three separate but interconnected stories.  The first deals with a recurring character from the first book, Alisa Donnikova, a mid-level witch with the Day Watch.  Alisa is sent to a summer camp to recover her powers after a strenuous conflict with the Night Watch.  There, without her powers, she starts to fall in love with a human, putting strain on her identity as a callous Dark Other.  The second story shifts to an unknown Dark Magician named Vitaly Rogoza.  He has no memory of his past, but is rapidly awakening to tremendous dark power and a purpose he doesn’t understand.  The final story takes us back to Anton, the Night Watchman from the first book, and his counterpart in the Day Watch, a wizard named Edgar, as they travel to Prague to face a tribunal of the Inquisition.

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#CBR6 Review #7 – EX-Heroes

Ex-HeroesTarget: Peter Clines’ EX-Heroes (EX-Heroes #1)

Profile: Superhero Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Zombie Apocalypse

After Action Report:

EX-Heroes falls very clearly in my reading category of ‘book candy.’  It’s light, entertaining, but lacking many qualities of actual literary goodness.  Well, actually the concept is executed rather well and Clines manages to tell a pretty compelling story within his somewhat limited framework, so maybe the novel isn’t all that lacking.  But at the end of the day, there’s very little here that hasn’t been explored before.  Points for novelty notwithstanding.

The book bills itself as “The Avengers meets The Walking Dead,” and that’s pretty much the premise.  A sequence of international events prompt the rise of a small number of ‘superheroes,’ who only have a few years to establish themselves before the zombie apocalypse kicks off.  The book is told in two parallel arcs, one following a conclave of heroes who have carved out a sanctuary in the ruins of Paramount Studios in the post-zombie world.  The other arc jumps between perspectives of various heroes as they tell portions of their origin stories or their first contact with the book’s zombies, called ‘Exes.’

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#CBR6 Review #6 – Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo

Apparitions Ghosts of Old EdoTarget: Miyabe Miyuki’s Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo.  Translated by Daniel Huddleston

Profile: Horror, Ghost Stories

After Action Report:

Japanese horror ranges pretty heavily from mild ghost stories to some incredibly creepy and dehumanizing body horror.  Apparitions fortunately falls into the former citatory, chronicling a series of stories that walk a fine line between scary and sentimental.  These tales capitalize on the cornerstone of Japanese spirituality: that every object and creature is imbued with a sprit.  At their core, these stories are more cautionary tales, advising the listener to act with honor and respect or risk the wrath of the Kami.

Apparitions consists of nine stories, all of which take place what would be ‘middle-class’ households in Edo-period Japan.  The stories are as much historical as they are fantasy or horror, and these historical elements set the tone for the whole collection.  The book is steeped in nostalgia, and a longing for simpler times when people were held accountable, not only for their actions, but for their attitude and personal honor.  It’s through this sepia colored lens that these ayakashi, or spirits, emerge into view.

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#CBR6 Review #5 – Night Watch

Night WatchTarget: Sergei Lukyanenko’s Night Watch.  Translated by Andrew Bromfield

Profile: Urban Fantasy, Suspense, Horror, The Watches Pentalogy

After Action Report:

(Read in stereotypical movie preview voiceover) In a world where epic battles between good and evil are a dime a dozen on the Teen Fantasy shelves, one Russian author struggles to bring a sense of subtly and realism to stories about vampires, werewolves and wizards.  (End voiceover)  And that’s to his credit.  Lukyanenko’s vision of a supernatural world where nothing is as it seems sounds trite on paper, but it is actually a well-conceived exploration of the tropes that make up our understanding of good and evil.

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#CBR6 Review #4 – The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fariyland and Led the Revels There

The Girl Who Fell Beneath FariylandTarget: Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Profile: Children’s Literature, Fantasy, Fairyland

After Action Report:

Catherynne M. Valente is a sleeper nod for the title of my favorite author.  She combines the vocabulary of China Meiville with the storytelling sensibilities of Neil Gaiman and Philip Pulman’s eye for children’s adventure.  And in my previous review of her Fairyland series, I compared her favorably to L. Frank Baum, C. S. Lewis and Lewis Carol.  But what I think most impresses me about her work is the credit she gives her young readers. The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland is a much darker work than its prequel and deals with the consequences of actions and taking responsibility.  Somehow, Valente is able to approach these topics with seriousness in an absurd world, and more impressively, never comes off as preachy.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There picks up a year after September’s departure from Fairyland in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland.  We gloss quickly over some of the mundane events of her life in Nebraska during World War II before flying off to Fairyland again.  This time the trip is colored more by the events of the real world.  Magic is being rationed and the wonder of the place is starting to evaporate.  September discovers that she is indirectly responsible for the problems, as it is her own shadow who is siphoning off both the shadows and magic of Fairyland to fuel the glorious revels of Fairyland Below.  Feeling responsible for this turn of events, September sets off to put things to rights, even though she doesn’t really know how.

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