Friday, July 18, 2014

On The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) found here.

I was a big fan of Law & Order. This is the original version, mind you.  Not that Special Victims Unit stuff that still airs, which is something along the lines of 90% Olivia backstory, 9% other new detective backstory, 0.5% district attorney backstory and 0.5% actual detectives doing case solving / district attorneys doing prosecuting.  But gripes against SVU aside, I was fond of Law & Order.  All that law... and order. Something bad happened. The detectives figured that shtuff out and the district attorneys get those jerks jailed.  I loved the intricacies of case management, the complexity of the law. 

The Goblin Emperor is a murder mystery wrapped in politics with a dash of bildungsroman in the background.  Imagine, if you will, the small council in the Game of Thrones universe.  Now, imagine the entirety of the Game of Thrones story being told from within Point of View within that small council.  The Goblin Emperor is mostly the Order of the Law & Order.  The detective work is more ancillary to the workings of the court and the fallout of the murder and coronation of a goblin emperor (the empire he is emperoring is mostly elves). 

What really drew me to The Goblin Emperor were the blurbs - specifically:
"Challenging, intriguing, and unique. If court intrigue is your wine of choice, The Goblin Emperor is the headiest vintage I've come across in years." - Scott Lynch
"This is a beautifully told story, and has cost me much needed sleep these past few nights. (And I'm not just saying that because, as we all know, goblins are awesome!) The Goblin Emperor made me remember why I fell in love with the fantasy genre." - Jim C. Hines

And it wasn't so much what they said, as much as it was who said it. 

I've lost touch with my allegory.  Have a bit of a cold.  Thinking is hard.

I think Scott Lynch said it well. If court intrigue is your thing, then this would definitely be for you. The diction is beautiful, the characters relatable, and the story intriguing. Personally... I like Order...  I just like a little more Law with it.  I give it... Lincoln (without the vampire hunting).

Sunday, July 6, 2014

On Cibola Burn (Expanse #4) by James SA Corey - REVIEW

Synopisis (per Goodreads) found here.  

This is #4 of the Expanse novels by James SA Corey (my review for #3 here - blog didn't exist for me to review #'s 1 and 2).  You can read Cibola Burn without having read the predecessors, but I wouldn't recommend it (the series is good stuff - read it). 

Everyone has their own "the mall." Generally it's a localized event and when one person says to another "I'm going to the mall," the other person knows they mean Menlo Park, not Freehold or Woodbridge. We hung out there as kids, shop there as adults, use it as a distraction as parents.  It's comfortable.  Sure maybe the Disney store relocates, but all we need is a sign that says "moved to the upper level near Nordstroms" and we know what it means - no map necessary.  And maybe we stop for an Auntie Ann pretzel on the way.

Now, I am generally not a science fiction guy (for the most part - my Goodreads library shows generally 4:1 in favor of Fantasy). Sure, I'll read the odd Star Wars novel (more based on the author than anything else), and I'll watch the Star Wars and (new) Star Trek movies (was never a Trekkie - nor have I watched Firefly - I probably shouldn't admit to that). But, the Expanse novels have become "the mall" for me; my go-to sci-fi read.  Science Fiction I'm comfortable with. And though each of Corey's novels have some changes - some new characters and a new cross-genre - Holden and the crew of the Rocinante are comfortable now (must be how Trekkies started to get attached to Piccard or who have you - I'm not starting that better Captain debate).

I mentioned "new cross-genre" in terms of a relocation of store (or perhaps what would be more apropos would be connection to a new store. Something within a familiar landscape, but in itself is new and exciting). You see, within each of the Expanse novels, Corey sets the story against some non-traditional sci-fi genre archetypes. Leviathan Wakes touched on horror. Caliban's War was heavy into politics. Abaddon's Gate was more traditional science fiction. Cibola Burn - well, here's our science fiction Western.

Like the other Expanse novels, Cibola Burn is at a break-neck pace, and I maintain that this series is the most movie-ready series out there (though it has been picked up by SyFy to be a television series - perhaps we'll get a blockbuster movie or so out of it anyway).

I'm realizing there is very little "review" in this review. If you're a fan of big-budget action/adventure movies - read these books (even if sci-fi isn't necessarily your thing).

I give it...  Han shot first.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

On Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch #1) by Ann Leckie - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (I know I said I wasn't posting these anymore, but I need to here):

On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest.

Breq is both more than she seems and less than she was.  Years ago, she was the Justice of Toren -- a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of corpse soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy.

An act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with only one fragile human body.  And only one purpose -- to revenge herself on Anaander Mianaai, many-bodied, nearly immortal Lord of the Radch.  

Who really enjoyed getting their hair cut?  I don't mean back when you're small enough to ride the haircut Batmobile.  When you outgrow that, but your you're still young enough that parents decide you need a haircut.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  There's games that need playing and tv that needs watching and food that needs eating.  No, no one wants to get their hair cut.  However, my barber (and likely many barbers) did have something kids like.  CANDY.  Namely, DumDum Pops.  Everyone must have had these at some point in their lives.  Small, sweet, delicious lollipops.  And the bag comes with a variety of flavors.

One of these flavors...  The Mystery Flavor.

You must have seen this before, no?  They come with the purple question mark wrapper (pictured to the left).  The candy itself is white so as to not give away what the mystery flavor could possibly be (by the way, the "mystery flavor" is really just a combination of two flavors that is created when the manufacture cycle of one flavor being made ends and a new flavor cycle begins - per Mental Floss).  The Mystery Flavor was tasty, but did you take it?  Did it matter to you that you couldn't put your finger on what it could be? Did you just stick with what you knew?

The protagonist of Ancillary Justice (both the Justice of Toren and Breq) is/was a massive starship.  As Breq, the ship's AI is confined in one final body, however, "years ago" (and it means YEARS ago) when it was a starship it had thousands of bodies.  What does this have to do with DumDums?  Breq (let's just stick with Breq for now) has some SERIOUS gender identification issues.  To the point where more-or-less every character is referred to in the feminine.  Sometimes it is countered when another character corrects Breq, and sometimes Breq does and sometimes Breq doesn't continue referring to the character as "she." So, as you try to picture the characters, every character is a mystery flavor.  Is it a female?  Is it a male?  Does it matter?  If you enjoyed the Mystery Flavor, maybe it works for you.  I, personally, like having a solid mental image of the characters in the story, and the constant back and forth of gender is a little confusing/aggravating for me.  I tend to pick Butterscotch.

However, Ancillary Justice has won the following awards (per Wikipedia...  yes, that's a real source):
Kitschies Golden Tentacle (best debut novel of 2013)
Arthur C. Clarke Award (best science fiction novel of the year)
British Science Fiction Association Award (best novel of the year)
Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Award (best novel of the year)
It was also nominated for the following:
Write-In for Best Book of 2013 for the Goodreads Choice Awards
Shortlisted for the Phillip K. Dick Award (distinguished original science fiction)
Tiptree Award Honor List (science fiction / fantasy that expands / explores understanding of gender)
Finalist of Compton Crook Award (best science fiction/fantasy/horror)
Nominee for Hugo Award (best novel)
(Love this from Jim C. Hines' review of the book: "I'm pretty sure it was also a Nebula finalist, tied for an Oscar, and won this year's Super Bowl.")

How do you ignore that?  I put aside my gripe, pictured (mostly) everyone as female (probably not the right response), and decided to embrace the mystery.

And what did I discover?  I have the wrong lollipop.  This isn't a DumDum at all.  It's a Tootsie Pop.  A book that takes... the world may never know how many licks...  to get to the juicy, delicious tootsie roll center.  It's a slow burn from the beginning between the development of both Bresq and Justice of Toren, setting the stage for the inevitable betrayal, introduction of Seivarden, and getting the characters the equipment and to the location they need for the final showdown.  I was ready to rate this a Goodreads 3 stars - an I liked it, but it wasn't anything great - and then the last 50+ pages showed me the tootsie roll center (I gave it a Goodreads 4 stars).  I had licked my way to the payoff, and it was good.  The reveal/climax was clever and well-paced.  The perfect little treat hidden within the depths of the slower sugary coating.

Enough with the lollipop metaphors...

From what I've read, this is the first in a trilogy of books.  As such, it will likely have the most world-building of the series that needs to be done.  And this is a big, dense, well-developed world(s) (we are in space after all).  There is a conclusion here, but it leaves just enough outstanding that you have to wonder what will happen next.  And I'm ready to see what sweet candy Ann Leckie gives us next.

I give it...  Howard Beale.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Prince of Fools (The Red Queen's War #1) by Mark Lawrence - REVIEW

For the synopsis (per Goodreads) go here (decided I'm not typing those out anymore). 

Everything made perfect sense when we were children.  Your sister wanted to take your toy (or maybe she was just standing where you didn't want her to), so you gave her a little shove, and when she went crying to mom you did what any four year old knows is the only option.  You run.  You hide.  (I know my tenses are messed up, but that sounds better than "you ran, you hid" and I'm not making money off this stuff so grammar be damned). Mom would NEVER notice the bulging curtains with feet sticking out, or the fact that the throw blanket on the couch was now on the floor in a giant, giggling pile.  It just made sense.  As trouble was coming, you forgot about the honor that is admitting your faults and accepting your punishment, and you got out of its way.

Some of us never outgrow this.  Case in point, Jalan Kendeth, our next Point of View through the Broken Empire.  Those of you that have read Lawrence's other works - The Broken Empire trilogy following the murderous rampage of Jorg Ancrath (reviews here, here and here), will find something new here in a familiar setting (along with some cameos by some familiar characters).  Those of you who haven't read The Broken Empire trilogy...  what have you been doing with yourselves besides missing out on good reads?  Incase you are wondering, yes, you can read Prince of Fools without having read The Broken Empire, but having read those books adds to the experience.  And though this is written EVERYWHERE anyone talks of this book - Jalan is not Jorg.  Though this book has some dark undercurrents, it is much more lighthearted (not entirely sure that's the right word, but you get the idea) than the gut-wrenching journey Jorg led us through.

Prince of Fools follows Prince Jalan of the Red March as he and an unlikely companion, the viking Snorri ver Snagason (fantasy needed a good dose of viking...  thanks, Mark), deal with magics they don't fully understand in a quest for escape/revenge (depending on your point of view).  It is a tale of a budding friendship, a tale of a revenge, and a tale of growing up (or not).  It is both dark and humorous, both sentimental and hard-hearted, both new and familiar.

I'm not feeling incredibly verbose today, so I'll end with "read it" (4/5 on Goodreads) and give it: Kiss-My-Anthia

Sunday, June 1, 2014

On The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive 1 & 2) by Brandon Sanderson - REVIEWS

Synopsis (per Goodreads) (synopsis is for Book 1):
Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soiless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

I love cheeseburgers. Going out back and barbecuing some meat to a nice medium well, throw on some cheese, maybe grilled onions, some ketchup. Pop it all on a warmed bun. Delicious.  I'm rather fond of making these myself, but will also run over to the local White Rose System (local burgerish dinerish sorta place) and grab a lunch special over there (with cheese) (and they put the onions in the burger).  I just love a good cheeseburger.  

Now, there are cheeseburgers, and there are CHEESEBURGERS.  Good example of the latter...  Bobby's Burger Palace.  You can get a cheeseburger there, and some typical variations of the cheeseburger (cheddar? Sure. Barbecue sauce? Why not?), but to borrow some culinary terminology from a competitor celebrity chef, the burgers are kicked up a notch with some fancy shmancy combinations (Brunch Burger with a fried egg, smoked bacon and American cheese? And crunchify it with potato chips? Yes, please!).  They also run a Burger of the Month (this month is a Napa Valley Burger with goat cheese, Meyer lemon honey mustard and watercress).  These are burgers taken to a whole new level, and my are they delicious.

The Stormlight Archive books are the "kicked up" burgers of the fantasy world.  In the beginning, with The Way of Kings, it does take some time to read through several points of view through several time periods.  But not far in it all just clicks.  Brandon Sanderson has built a remarkable world where everything is new and different - the environment, the wildlife, the interaction between humans and nature, between humans and non-humans.  The books touch on societal hierarchy, slavery, war.  They are emotional, humorous, and mystical.  I honestly, don't even want to type much on it, because I want you to stop reading this post and go out and buy these books.  Goodreads 5/5. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On Honor Among Thieves by James S.A. Corey - REVIEW

Synopsis (per Goodreads):
When the Empire threatens the galaxy's new hope, will Han, Luke, and Leia become its last chance?

When the mission is to extract a high-level rebel spy from the very heart of the Empire, Leia Organa knows the best man for the job is Han Solo - something the Princess and the smuggler can finally agree on.  After all, for a guy who broke into an Imperial cell block and helped destroy the Death Star, the assignment sounds simple enough.

But when Han locates the brash rebel agent, Scarlet Hark, she's determined to stay behind enemy lines.  A pirate plans to steal a cache of stolen secrets that the Empire would destroy entire worlds to protect - including the planet where Leia is currently meeting with rebel sympathizers.  Scarlet wants to track down the thief and steal the bounty herself, and Han has no choice but to go along if he's to keep everyone involved from getting themselves killed.  From teeming city streets to a lethal jungle to a trap-filled alien temple, Han, Chewbacca, Leia, and their daring new comrade confront one ambush, double-cross, and firestorm after another as they try to keep crucial intel out of Imperial hands.  

But even with the crack support of Luke Skywalker's X-Wing squadron, the Alliance heroes may be hopelessly outgunned in their final battle for the highest stakes: the power to liberate the galaxy from the tyranny or ensure the Empire's reign of darkness forever.  

November 23, 2004.  The date that World of Warcraft was unleashed upon the public.  I purchased my copy that day and immediately created my Nightelf something-or-other (it doesn't really matter, that toon didn't last too long).  The game was new and exciting; a well-polished, well-populated Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  Then Blizzcon 2005, Blizzard announces the first expansion - The Burning Crusade.  Excitement and fear flood as the expansion looks to add a ton of new content, new races, blah blah blah.

Expansion.  There's something about expansion that's on one hand, thrilling, exciting, oh-my-god-when-is-this-going-to-be-released-already-I-need-it-now-ing.  But on the other hand can fill a person with dread, anxiety, nerve-wracking-oh-my-god-what-if-they-f-up-my-game-ing.  Maybe the expansion takes what was great about the game and betters it.  Or maybe the expansion adds pandas.

I was never one to delve into the Expanded Universe (EU).  Sure, I picked up the Timothy Zahn series' that take place after Return of the Jedi (I had read enough reviews and gotten recommendations to get me past the fear of expansion ruining my game).  But, when EU novels take place, say, between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back...  What can the stakes be?  The best part about reading, say, GRRM is that no one is safe.  But if I'm reading a novel staged between two existing bodies of work, what's really the threat for Han, Chewie, and the rest?  Aside from the knowledge that your main cast is safe from death by stormtrooper, when a weapon appears that can destroy the Empire and/or will allow the Empire to crush the rebellion, well, that can't happen, right?  A) the Empire and Rebellion both exist in Empire Strikes Back, and B) said weapon is never mentioned again in the series.  So, EUs were never for me.

However; a Star Wars book by an author I've already read and thoroughly enjoyed? (I'm just sticking with calling James SA Corey an author, it's way too annoying to keep attempting to refer to him as them - James SA Corey is actually two authors if you didn't know - and they write The Expanse series of sci-fi novels (review here)).  Well, that intrigued me enough to jump back into the Star Wars EU.

James SA Corey writes popcorn novels.  Novels that can EASILY be translated into big budget action movies.  Everything is fast paced and action packed and all those other cliché movie phrases; awesome.  Honor Among Thieves is no different, and on top of that, its focus is everyone's favorite cynical smuggler, Han (did you really need me to write "Han" there?).  Corey NAILS the relationship between Han and Chewie, and the dialogue is perfect.  On top of that, he gives Han more depth than we get from him on screen.  We get some reflection on himself, on the rebellion.  And while it's nothing that is in character for him from what we see during the movies, it still makes sense for him.  It flows.  It fits.  It's a perfect expansion.

I give it...  Auri (a character from Patrick Rothfuss' Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles) books - who, per Pat, was not in his first draft of the novel, but, per me, the novels wouldn't be the same without her - perfect expansion).  That was a convoluted sentence.  Hopefully it made sense.

Monday, March 17, 2014

On a Spin-off Blogathon

Oh blogathons, you give me a reason to write when I'm stalled out on entertainment to discuss.  Sati over at Cinematic Corner has created the latest blogathon I am writing to join in - this one titled a Spin-off Blogathon.  Here are the (abbreviated) rules (you can follow the link over to Cinematic Corner for the official rules):  

1) Choose a character you love and would like to see as a leading character in a movie.  
2) Don't choose leading characters or supporting characters with lots of screen time.  
3) You can use TV characters.
4) Include the logo and link back to Sati's post.  

My choice:

I don't think I ever typed a review up for this movie.  I had a hard time putting into words my feelings on it.  And even now I'd struggle with it (though later I'll tell you it's primarily disappointment I felt).  Thankfully this post is irrelevant to my feelings on the film itself.  So, my choice for the blogathon is a character that isn't even given a name in the movie.  IMDB credits him as "Foreman." It's amusing because the character was placed on a poster to promote the movie.  Though he had only mere moments of screen time, through the power of a blogathon I can give him a movie.  So, without further ado, I give you Foreman.

Rick Genest, the actor portraying our Foreman, was tragically underutilized in 47 Ronin.  47 Ronin had its issues - mainly it was super slow and super long (and part of my feeling that way is due to the crazy promotion of this movie as an action flick...  it wasn't).  As such, to go into Foreman's story, we need a spin-off (because good additions or no, we really don't want to add more running time to 47 Ronin).  And what makes a Rick Genest character an interesting character?  Well, look at him.  The tattoos are real.  The man is covered, head to toe, in anatomical tattoos (picture below is an advertisement he did for some sort of cover-up product).  

My story for him, within the world of 47 Ronin, would be an origin story and would entail the gaining of the tattoos (which of coarse isn't simply sitting in a tattooing chair for lord knows how many hours).  He starts off as a young man, and through tragedy is forced to become a hardened criminal seeking revenge (I'm a sucker for a good revenge flick).  Only through an ancient curse (because they're always ancient) it turns out that any death he is responsible for gets painfully represented on his skin - forcing him to carry around his sins for all to see.  His revenge is sweet, but leaves his body permanently "disfigured" (I know, that's not the right word.  The man did this to himself as an expression, an art form, and is not a disfigurement.  But this is a movie we're talking about).  We end with where he begins in 47 Ronin.  

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.  

I went into 47 Ronin expecting an action flick, expecting Genest to hunt down Keanu and company after his escape from the docks.  We got little action and Genest's role must be sitting on the editing room floor somewhere.  At least now he has some backstory in my head and on this page (vague as I typed it).  

Since I never did review 47 Ronin, I think you get a sense of the let-down I felt based on what I've said so far.  It wasn't awful - once you move beyond the hope of action and accept you are watching a drawn-out (not nearly as effective) love story a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which was excellent).  If you haven't seen it, chances are there are better things you could be watching.  If you feel you NEED to see it, just expect a slow burn of a movie and maybe you'll be less disappointed.