Oct 312011

My grand nephew Caleb (who is six) has become fond of cheetahs. It’s a bit unclear why cheetahs in particular, but then again, why not cheetahs?
The other day he mentioned that many sports people were trying to be like cheetahs. That’s why they put those black marks under their eyes. Cheetahs, however, remain way cooler as they have black marks all over.

Seems like a sound hypothesis to me.

 Posted by at 3:20 pm
Oct 312011

The Lady in the Lake is the fourth Philip Marlowe novel by Raymond Chandler. It was published in 1943 and Chandler adds a few touches of how WWII is affecting the country into the story. There are sentries and a shortage of silk and tires. Luckily for Marlowe, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of booze or bodies.
The base plot is that a wealthy man (Derace Kingsley) hires Marlowe to find his wife, Crystal. The last place Crystal was known to be at was their cabin at Little Fawn Lake. Marlowe leaves his usual city haunts to uncover the mystery. Chandler shows he can do scenic descriptions:

Beyond the gate the road wound for a couple of hundred yards through trees and then suddenly below me was a small oval lake deep in trees and rocks and wild grass, like a drop of dew caught in a curled leaf.

But in addition to the scenery, Chandler uses this as a chance to highlight some aspects of police corruption in the contrast between city (most particularly his construct of Bay City) and town. For Bay City, Marlowe thinks:

It was a very nice city hall. Bay City was a very nice place. People lived there and thought so. If I lived there, I would probably think so. I would see the nice blue bay and the cliffs and the yacht harbor and the quiet streets of houses, old houses brooding under old trees and new houses with sharp green lawns and wire fences and staked saplings set into the parkway in front of them. I knew a girl who lived on Twenty-fifth Street. It was a nice street. She was a nice girl. She liked Bay City.
She wouldn’t think about the Mexican and Negro slums stretched out on the dismal flats south of the old interurban tracks. Nor of the waterfront dives along the flat shore south of the cliffs, the sweaty little dance halls on the pike, the marihuana joints, the narrow fox faces watching over the tops of newspapers in far too quiet hotel lobbies, nor the pickpockets and grifters and con men and drunk rollers and pimps and queens on the board walk.

I was struck by the title of the book. In addition to parts of the story being set around a lake, I’m sure that Chandler was well aware of the Arthurian Lady of the Lake. This would continue to connect Marlowe as our knight errant through the tired fields of the day.
Another very good read.

 Posted by at 11:19 am
Oct 242011

Singularity Sky by Charles Stross is his debut novel. On a backwater planet that is part of the New Republic (a totalitarian and relatively backward ludditist civilization) one day it begins raining telephones. When someone picks up a phone, it answers that it is “The Festival” and offers to exchange advanced technology for information–“Entertain us.” speaks the phone. Parts of this advanced tech includes cornucopia machines–nano-tech devices to make just about anything for which raw materials are available. All of this tech rapidly leads to a revolution and the rulers of the New Republic think this calls for a military response. Unfortunately for them, they really don’t understand the situation at all.
Singularity Sky is set roughly 400 years from now. Part of the background is that sometime in the relatively near future a technological singularity occurs. Stross works his way around the problem of nothing being left after this by having this be a partial singularity. Whatever part of tech that bootstraps itself rapidly gains vast power and promptly sends 90% of humanity off to various star systems through worm hole devices. It leaves behind the warning:

I am the Eschaton. I am not your God.
I am descended from you, and exist in your future.
Thou shalt not violate causality within my historic light cone. Or else.

Basically, it has put in enough rules that prevent its own causality destruction and so the arising of other complete singularities. This is a fairly clever device on Stross’ part.
When the New Republic decides to come very close to using causality violation (time travel) to deal with the perceived threat of the Festival, the Eschaton and agents becomes involved–adventure ensues.
I enjoyed this book quite a lot. It is brimming with ideas and pretty well written to boot.

 Posted by at 3:02 pm
Oct 202011

Whilst on vacation I discovered that the waterproof bag into which I had placed my iPhone wasn’t so much waterproof as a good bag for holding the phone immersed in water. This was on the seventh and so I pre-ordered the new iPhone 4s and AT&T sent me a delightful note that it would be delivered on the 14th.
I tried the various ways of drying the old phone, but it seems to no avail. In the meantime, the 14th came and went and the status of my pre-order changed to back-ordered. It seems that a pretty large percentage of people are in the same back order boat.
So, I’ve been phoneless for about 2 weeks now. I don’t use the phone as a phone all that much, so that part is just kind of annoying. I am missing the ability to check email or do a random web search at random times when I’m away from a computer more annoying.

 Posted by at 10:39 am
Oct 192011

House of Chains by Steven Erikson is the fourth book in The Malazan Book of the Fallen and the fifth book in the Malazan re-read at Tor.com. If you are new to Malazan, the Tor re-read is an excellent way to get involved and to get answers to puzzling things. One very nice aspect of the re-read is that Steven Erikson pops in every now and then–especially at the end of books to answer questions.
In House of Chains we start with the character of Karsa Orlong. When we first meet Karsa he seems quite the typical barbarian–all ready to maim, kill and pillage. He isn’t particularly a likeable person at first, but most people find that he grows on you and he definitely has character growth as the book progresses. This part of the story starts prior to the events in Gardens of the Moon.
After Karsa’s introductory storyline we move back to the events on the Seven Cities continent. The story here picks up fairly soon after the events in Deadhouse Gates. We see Tavore Paran as she arrives in Seven Cities as the new Imperial Adjunct leading an army made up mostly of new recruits. This army is intended to put down the rebellion that we saw in Deadhouse Gates. We travel back across the continent as the army gradually finds its own identity apart from the legend of Coltaine.
And, we see her sister Felisin, as Sha’ik reborn–the head of the rebellion. Erikson has stated that Greek tragedy is one of the sources for The Malazan Book of the Fallen and you can certainly see a set-up for that here with the two sisters leading opposing forces.
I’m not going to give out spoilers here, but along the way we re-meet many characters from previous books like Fiddler, Kalam, Cutter, Apsalar, Gessler, Stormy, Heboric, Iskaral Pust and Morgara. Fiddler in particular plays quite a large role in the shaping of the new army.
We also get deeper insight into the way in which the Deck of Dragons and Gods are influencing and being influenced by the events of the world. New beginning, continuations with depth and endings of some things all await in this volume.

 Posted by at 10:45 am
Oct 142011

The High Window is the third novel by Raymond Chandler and seems to be a bit overlooked compared to some of his others like The Big Sleep.
In the beginning of The Big Sleep we find Marlow contemplating a stained glass window of a knight in dark armor rescuing a damsel in distress. In The High Window we get an even deeper sense of Marlow as the somewhat dusty knight. About two-thirds through the novel we get the remark from a doctor:
“Phil Marlowe,” he said. “The shop-soiled Galahad. …”
In the opening of The High Window Marlowe is once again calling upon the residence of a wealthy family. The overbearing family matron (a lover of Port) asks Marlowe to find a gold coin that has been stolen from her deceased husband’s collection. She suspects her estranged daughter-in-law of having stolen the coin. Marlowe gets a bad feeling from the nervous female secretary to the family (Merle) and has a run in with the son. The plot quickly loops and twists about as Marlowe explores the case according to his own compass.
Marlowe’s compass requires him to protect his client from the police but to also make sure that the client gets exactly what they paid for–whether the client really wants that or not.
With this book it became clear to me that Chandler is really using the frame of the detective genre to explore topics that would have been really difficult (if not forbidden) to talk about in the mainstream press of the time (this one was published in 1942.) In this book, Chandler explores mental illness, sexual abuse and police corruption. Quite daring for the time.
While exploring these topics, Chandler continues to put out beautiful prose. Here is the description as Marlow enters a nightclub:

The bar entrance was to the left. It was dusky and quiet and a bartender moved mothlike against the faint glitter of piled glassware. A tall handsome blond in a dress that looked like seawater sifted over with gold dust came out of the ladies room, touching up her lips and turned toward the arch, humming.
The sound of rhumba music came through the archway and she nodded her gold head in time to it, smiling. A short fat man with a red face and glittering eyes waited for her with a white wrap over his arm. He dug his thick fingers into her bare arm and leered up at her.
A check girl in peach-bloom Chinese pajamas came over to take my hat and disapprove of my clothes. She had eyes like strange sins.

How perfect is that?
I’ve got to say that I’m really enjoying my little trip through Chandler. Feel free to join.

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Oct 132011

The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a book with multiple layers. On one level it is the story of Quentin Coldwater. Quentin is a talented teenager who is on his way to take an entrance interview to Princeton. Quentin isn’t particularly happy with his life but it’s all in a fairly standard teenage angst sort of thing. “Why doesn’t the girl like me? , Why isn’t anything interesting happening?” When Quentin arrives at the interview location with his friend James, he finds the interviewer dead on the floor. He is handed an interview package with his name on it by one of the responding paramedics–James declines to take his package. On the way home, Quentin opens the package and finds a notebook that is titled “The Magicians” and seems to be book 6 of his favorite fantasy series–Fillory and Further. The Filory books are similar to the Narnia books and will play quite a large role in the rest of the book.
When Quentin opens the notebook a scrap of paper is caught on the wind. He pursues it into an overgrown garden and walks from fall in Brooklyn into summer, someplace else. The someplace else turns out to be the grounds of a college for magic. Quentin’s attendance at the school form the first level of the book. While Harry Potter may immediately spring to mind, the book is very different from the Potter series. The students are adults for one thing and engage in all of the activities college students do engage in. Also, the years pass fairly quickly here–instead of an intense one year per book as in the Potter series, the school years are compressed into the first half of the book. After that we get to see Quentin and some friends deal with living in the world and then on into an adventure and its aftermath. I’m not going to go into details of these as that would involve quite a few spoilers. What we do get to see is that even while seeming to get the things that he wants (magic and adventure) Quentin keeps being unhappy. Quentin makes mistakes. He isn’t perfect and neither are his friends. We also get to see Grossman building a very nice world, how magic might operate in that world and how one might go about teaching it. One student remarks that magic is hard, it’s not just making up some fake Latin phrases.
The second layer of the book really revolves around Quentin’s love of the Fillory stories and becomes a sort of meta-fictional conversation between Grossman and the reader. It is woven into the story quite well, but it speaks to what it means to be a reader of fantasy and what it would mean for someone who likes to escape into a fantasy world to actually find themselves in such a place and to discover it isn’t such an escape after all. Grossman does this quite well.
I enjoyed The Magicians quite a lot. It is a somewhat dark novel, but the darkness is leavened with humour. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel — “The Magician King.”

 Posted by at 12:01 pm
Oct 122011

River Marked by Patricia Briggs is the 6th book in the Mercedes Thompson series. Mercedes is a shapeshifter (she can turn into a coyote, see ghosts and do a few other things.) Her shapeshifting is tied up in her heritage–both from the American Indian side of her ancestry and more immediate aspects of her ancestry.
Mercedes (or Mercy) was raised by a werewolf pack after her father was killed in a car wreck and her mother couldn’t deal with a shapeshifting child at that point.
In addition to the werewolves and shapeshifters, an extremely interesting part of the background stories of these books is that the Fae exist and have exposed themselves to the general public. For this, think of all of the various old-world gnomes and trolls and magical beings made real with some twists. One of these twists is that in the US most Fae have been moved (for their own good) to reservations. And, there are vampires who aren’t public and aren’t sparkly.
As with the Kate Daniels series I’m not wild about the romantic portion of the plot. Again, the “girl goes to the Alpha male” part of the plot seems a bit too standard. But, I’m willing to overlook that here also as the world building and character details are very interesting.
In this volume Mercy goes on a trip to the Columbia River with Adam (a werewolf Alpha) and discovers an old evil reawakening. She also learns quite a bit about her own family and origins.
This was a good addition to the series. If you have liked the series so far, then you will like this one.

 Posted by at 4:04 pm
Oct 122011

Magic Bleeds by Ilona Andrews is the fourth book in the Kate Daniels series. As I mentioned in my review of Magic Strikes, I am quite enjoying the world building and background of this series. The action scenes continue to be very well done. I’m still not particularly pleased with the romance angle of the story. It just seems a bit on the trite side for the girl to always fall for the biggest most lordly of the shapechanger hero types.
That having been said, the main story concerns the arrival in Atlanta of a mysterious figure who seems to be killing some of the cities tough guys (no tough girls being killed.) The villain then goes on to infect the corpse with a magically virulent disease variant. Kate’s job is to track down the plague carrier while dealing with political and life problems.

 Posted by at 1:54 pm