Saturday, June 30, 2012

Alice's Adventures in Steamland - Wol-vriey

    2012; 233 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Full Title : Alice's Adventures in Steamland: The Clockwork Goddess.  Genre : Bizarre Hybrid.  Overall Rating : 6*/10.

    Start by thoroughly mixing equal parts of Alice In Wonderland and Steampunk.  Next add some finely-diced Jack-The-Ripper.  Dump in a cup-and-a-half of sex scenes.  Bring to a simmer, and garnish with an Alternate Universe, where 1867 "Victorian America" is split into two queendoms - the North ("New York") ruled by the Red Queen, and the South ("Texas") ruled by her sister, Mech-Anna.

    Bake for 200+ pages, and Voila!, you have Alice's Adventures in Steamland.

What's To Like...
    AAiS is both original and ambitious.   This Alice is an ex-hooker and present paid assassin.  The March Hare(s), Cheshire Cat(s), Mad Hatter, and hookah-smoking Caterpillar are all altered in like manner.

    Steampunk gets a similar treatment.  There are huge mechanical spiders, bionic Indians, 40-meter-high mech rustlers, and a toothy reproductive organ.  Especially humorous are the steam-powered firearms.  It isn't easy shooting a rifle when you have to wait for the charcoal to heat the water into steam before the bullet can be discharged.

    The action is non-stop.  I found the sex scenes and foul-langauge to be somewhat excessive, but that's just me.  15-year-old hormonally-plagued boys may disagree.  These are all "straight" sex scenes.  I get the impression Wol-vriey is somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of gay sex.

    Alice is a strong, female lead character; as are the two queens.  The male main characters are weaker, but the rabbits are a hoot.

   Victorian America, 1867 
   The train billowed as it chugged into New York.
    Catching a glimpse of a Goodyear blimp advertising the new four-speed bicycle, Alice Sin heaved a sigh of relief.  She'd made it to the capital without any air strikes.  Back in Chicago, she'd heard endless horror stories of travelers being blown to bits by bombs dropped from Texan military airships.  (loc. 84; opening paragraphs of the book)

    "Leave him - he's mine!" the badger said, sliding back the rifle's bolt to chamber another round.  "How dare you kill our mistress, human?"
    Jackson let go his thigh, realizing he'd inadvertently disarmed himself.  He ducked down and frantically felt beneath the bed for the revolver.  His fingers settled upon something hard but slippery.  Relieved to have found the pistol butt, he pulled it out to discover that it was only one of Aunt Marie's kidneys.
    Kidney in hand, Jackson stood and faced the servants.
    It's over, he thought.   (loc. 3893)

Kindle Details...
    I downloaded this for free at Amazon, but it is now $2.99.  Wol-vriey has a scond book available for Kindle, The Bizarro Story of I, also $2.99.

"What use is it being a wealthy twenty-two year old corpse?"  (loc. 4781)
    The book reads like a stream-of-consciousness panorama from Wol-vriey's mind.  Every other page brings something new and exciting, but when you take a step back, you find that the story-telling is shallow and lacks continuity.

    For example, the Jack-The-Ripper subplot is underdeveloped and unnecessary.  Finding and capturing him is too conveniently spur-of-the-moment.  Ditto for Alice's trek to meet and kill Mech-Anna.  After traipsing around all over Texas and getting nowhere, Alice opens a door and, well-glory-be, guess who's there?

    Ultimately, Alice's Adventure In Steamland screams to converted into a graphic novel.  The writing weakness would be subsumed by the images emanating from Wol-vriey's wondrous imagination.  A good artist would be able to soften the language, gore, and sex scenes down to at least R-rated panels.  We don't expect depth or scrupulous continuity in comic books, just dazzling artwork and entertaining action.

    My eyes drool (deliberate mixed metaphor) in anticipation of what the imaginative Wol-vriey and a gifted artist coud do with this story.  6 Stars.  Add two stars if you're a teenage boy, or if this gets converted into a graphic novel.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Flint Lord - Richard Herley

    1981; 224 pages.  Genre : Action - Adventure.  Book #2 in The Pagans trilogy.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Brennis Gehan Fifth needs more land.  For farms.  To feed his flint mining operation.  Southern England in 3000 BC has plenty of acreage.  But it's being used by its original inhabitants, the Hunter-Gatherers.

    There are quite a few of the latter, but they're spread out among a number of tribes.  It is time to annihilate them and take their land.  Brennis will need lots of mercaneries, imported from the mainland.  They will cost lots of money and lots of food.  But in the long run, it will be worth it.  And after all, he is The Flint Lord.

What's To Like...
    Tagart is back from the first book, The Stone Arrow (reviewed here).  He has first-hand experience as to how dangerous Lord Brennis is, but before he can convince others of that he needs to get assimilated into his new tribe (his old clan is no more), and resolve some serious woman issues.

    The action starts immediately and doesn't let up.  But here it is more complex than in The Stone Arrow, and more believable.  Brennis Gehan is a worthy adversary - cunning, ruthless, determined, and resourceful.  The Hunter-Gatherers' counter-plan to his invasion goes badly awry, and that's unusual but pleasant change-of-pace.

    The rest of the characters are somewhat thinner.  Rald and Ika seem to exist only to set the standard for civilized depravity.  Klay has the misfortune to be Tagart's rival.  And don't trust any of the women.

    The ending is well thought-out, and has a kewl twist.  It resolves the main issues and leaves some loose ends for a sequel.  But ANAICT, Book 3, The Earth Goddess, starts a generation later, which would seem to leave those loose ends (e.g., Rald and Ika) dangling.  We shall see.

Kewlest New Word...
Eyot : a small island in the middle of a river (a Britishism)

    "Who is the man?"
    "Just a slave."
    "Why is he being beaten?"
    "The overseers say he tried to escape."
    "And did he?"
    "He will not work.  In the mines he causes only trouble.  It is salutary to the others to provide an escapee now and then."  (loc. 35)

    There were over a hundred villages, stretching seventy miles along the coast and up to twenty miles inland.  Some were prosperous, with palisaded compounds, wood and stone houses, granaries; most were squalid collections of huts whose inhabitants lived in constant fear of starvation.  Over the centuries these people had come to the island country to escape oppression in the homelands: it was important to ensure that things did not get so bad that any were tempted to return.  It was important, too, to allow them a measure of hope, for this was a most effective stimulant to hard work.  (loc. 1195)

Kindle Details...
    Amazon sells The Flint Lord for $2.99; same price for The Earth Goddess.  The first book, The Stone Arrow, is a freebie, which is how I got hooked into reading this series.  I consider this a most effective marketing ploy.

"Who is there with strength to carry the mace?"  (loc. 642)
    Story-wise, The Stone Arrow is good; but The Flint Lord is better.  Historical Fiction-wise, the opposite is true.  There are a signficant number of anachronisms in this book - maps, charts, longbows (!), catapults (!!), paper cones (think megaphones), dog sleds, etc.  At least there were no candles.

    I suspect Richard Herley consciously sacrified historical accuracy for the sake of stoty-telling.  I doubt there were a lot of variations in 3000 BC when it came to weaponry, furnishings, tools, etc.

    So enjoy The Flint Lord as a fine action-adventure story, replete with brutality, bloodshed, and a bit of kinky sex.  All the forces involved have difficulties to face, and you will be challenged to guess their outcomes.  8 Stars; a bit less if you're a Historical Fiction purist.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Defend and Betray - Anne Perry

    1992; 428 pages.  Book #3 (out of 17) in the "William Monk" series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Crime Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    Oh my!  Someone has pushed General Thaddeus Carlyon over the banister at the top of the stairs and right down onto a suit of armor (see bookcover).  And with that halberd sticking up in the air.  Fortunately, all that did was daze him.  Until the murderer came downstairs, picked up the halberd, and buried it in his chest.

    Who would do such a dastardly deed?  His wife, that's who. She's confessed to the killing, and said she did it because he was having an affair.

    It's all cut and dried.  Why would anyone think otherwise?  That's what Investigator William Monk wants to find out.

What's To Like...
    There are three "stars" here : Investigator Monk, the barrister Oliver Rathbone, and nurse Hester Latterly.  They all share equal billing, and yet they all have their limitations.  Monk is shrewd, but he's impatient and surly when questioning people - not a good way to get them to talk.  Rathbone seems brilliant - until you meet his father.   And Hester is probably the sharpest of the three, but this is 1857 Victorian England, and women are expected to not be sharp.

    Defend and Betray has a "cozy" start - the murder and confession have already taken place as the book opens.  That's means there's little if any action, and a lot of telling-not-showing as first Rathbone, then Monk, and in some cases also Hester, question each suspect.  You may be tempted to put the book down about halfway through.

    That would be a mistake.  The story builds to the stunning climax, Mrs. Carlyon's trial, and confessed murderess or no, Anne Perry chronicles that whole proceeding with a powerful pen.  It may or may not be realistic (I have no idea what would or would not be allowed in a Victorian courtroom), but the ending will move you.

Kewlest New Word...
Discommoded : inconvenienced; put to trouble.

    He was normally somewhat nervous of women, having spent most of his life in the company of men and having been taught that the gentle sex was different in every respect, requiring treatment incomprehensible to any but the most sensitive of men.  He was delighted to find Hester intelligent, not given to fainting or taking offense where it was not intended, not seeking compliments at every turn, never giggling, and best of all, quite interested in military tactics, a blessing he could hardly believe.  (pg. 11)

    "I am a servant, Mr. Lovat-Smith," she replied with dignity.  "We have a peculiar position - not quite people, not quite furniture.  We are often party to extraordinary scenes because we are ignored in the house, as if we had not eyes or brains.  People do not mind us knowing things, seeing things they would be mortified to have their friends see." (pg. 398)

"Death is often absurd.  People are absurd.  I am!"  (pg. 27)
    D&B is not really a whodunit; it's more of a whydunit.  And on a deeper level, Anne Perry asks an unsettling question - are there times when embarrassing family secrets should be kept secret?  If someone is willing to sacrifice her life to protect innocent victims from public humiliation, is it better to stand back, remain silent, and let her take the fall?

    The last third of the book more than compensates for the rather pedestrian pace of the first part. You will find Defend and Betray to be a riveting read.  But only if you finish it.  8 Stars.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Wind From Miilark - M. Edward McNally

    2011; 313 pages.  Book #3 in the Norothian Cycle series.  Genre : Epic Fantasy.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    House Deskata is no more; John Deskata has arrived too late to lay claim to its throne.  Not that it would have made much difference, since he was banished from Miilark long ago.  He only came back for his Law Sister, Rhianne.  And to swear an Ukumir - a blood vengeance - against House Lokendah, a rival that profited greatly from the seizing of the Deskata assets.

What's To Like...
  The Wind From Miilark introduces several new characters (Rhianne, Yu Pao, Gonderick) and some new species (gnolls, kobolds, a full elf, and 199 Miclantpal).  For a change, there is only one storyline, and its timeline, at least the start of it, parallels that of Book #2.  Basically we find out what John Deskata is up to while the rest of the gang defends Chengdea.

    M. Edward McNally "broadens" the world still more, by bringing a number of new nations into the saga.  And I finally have some idea of where the Miilarkian Isles are located - way the heck west of the Norothian Channel, methinks. 

    For fans of the "old gang", Tilda, Zeb, and Phin show up about halfway through the book, and Brother Heggenauer makes a cameo appearance at the end.  There is enough action sown throughout to keep your attention, which helps when sailing on the boundless main with John and Rhianne.  The ending has a great twist which, in retrospect, I should've seen coming.

Kewlest New Word...
Geas (singular) : an obligation or prohibition magically imposed on someone (Irish folklore).

    Yu Pao's face clouded.  "What I was actually looking for was something along the lines of a history, but Mr. Beecha'osi's account was far more...narrative."
    "That is typical of a Miilarkian travelogue.  They can provide a wealth of information about a land or culture, though it is generally secondary to the telling of a story."
    "A story of boundless financial and sexual conquest," Yu Pao said with a neutral inflection that nearly made Rhianne chuckle.
    "I am afraid that too is typical of the genre.  Miilarkians rarely travel without a goal in mind."  (loc. 914)

    "And you think that this 'return' of Vod'Adia is the sign of something larger on the way.  Would that be a large good thing, or a large bad thing?"
    "Have you ever heard of a prophecy that foretold something good?" Tilda asked him.  "It's always plague and pestilence and toads raining from the sky.  There is never a prophecy about the coming of a gentle breeze, or a perfect pair of boots."
    "Pair of boots?" Phin asked.
    "Apparently it is a female thing, I don't understand it either," Zeb told him.  (loc.3167)

Kindle Details...
    I bought The Wind From Miilark for $4.99 at Amazon, the same price as Book 2, Death of a Kingdom.  The first book, The Sable City, is only $2.99, and you really ought to read these in order.

"I had lunch today with the man who is going to kill me,"  (loc. 1995)
     For me, TWFM was darker than the first two books, primarily because John's future is quite grim.  House Lokendah is a powerful, energetic, and resourceful enemy.  Cross their path and die.

    Nonetheless, there is still ample wit and humor.  Zeb can always be counted on to lighten the mood, and Phinneas seems to attract absurdity.  The reason for his being expelled (literally) from the Great Library is hilarious.  I enjoyed meeting the librarian, even if he isn't an orangutan.

    The Wind From Millark has the same structure as the earlier books - steadily-building tension, adventure throughout, and a quest that you might still be trying to discern even when halfway through the book.  Not to worry; it's fun to tag along with our plucky heroes, and once again, the main plotline resolves itself nicely.

    Best of all, the final section hints at bigger, better, and badder things to come. Fantasy is nice.  Epic Fantasy is a delight.  8½ Stars.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Defiant Agents - Andre Norton

1962; 222 pages.  Book #3 of the Time Traders series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : 50's Science Fiction.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    There is something important - something powerful - on the distant planet Topaz, the records of the ancient star-travelers say so.  We need to find it and take possesion of it fast, before the Russians do.  But conditions on Topaz are harsh and geeky scientists and technicians have poor survival skills.  So let's Apachify them before shipping them out.

    Alas, the Russkies got there first, and their crew has been Mongolized.  Spirit of Cochise, meet Spirit of Genghis Khan!

What's To Like...
    The "Apachifying" process is a unique twist, which Andre Norton calls "the Redax".  Basically, it's the imprinting of 1800's Apache knowledge and instincts into  modern-day brains.  You end up a little bit schizophrenic, but you can live off the land and are one heckuva fighter.  Two coyotes are also given the Redax treatment, making them beastmaster kewl.

    It seems Norton did a lot of research in prepping for this book - the Apache gods, phrases, and culture are convincing.  There's space-travel instead of time-travel,  and we get lots of action, an alien planet to explore, some nasty otherworldly fauna, and a good ending.  The characters aren't deep (this is 50's Sci-Fi, after all), but the two opposing sides are complex, with neither one being all-good or all-bad.

Kewlest New Word...
    Kumiss : a drink common among the Mongols, made from fermented mare's milk.

    (T)he male coyote went into action.  Days ago he had managed to work loose the lower end of the mesh which fronted his cage, but his mind had told him that a sortie inside the ship was valueless.  The odd rapport he'd had with the human brains, unknown to them, had operated to keep him to the old role of cunning deception, which in the past had saved countless of his species from sudden and violent death.  Now with teeth and paws he went diligently to work, urged on by the whines of his mate, that tantalizing smell of an outside world tickling their nostrils - a wild world, lacking the taint of man-places.  (loc. 249)

    They thrust her out into the circle of waiting men and she planted her feet firmly apart, glaring at them all indiscriminately until she sighted Travis.  Then her anger became hotter and more deadly.
    "Pig!  Rooter in the dirt!  Diseased camel -" she shouted at him in English and then reverted to her own tongue, her voice riding up and down the scale.  Her hands were tied behind her back, but there were no bonds on her tongue.
    "This is one who can speak thunders, and shoot lightnings from her mouth," Buck commented in Apache.  "Put her well away from the wood, lest she set it aflame."  (loc. 1934)

Kindle Details...
    You can pay anything from $0.00 to $3.99 for the Kindle version of The Defiant Agents.  Needless to say, I opted for the freebie.  It looks like a number of Andre Norton books are now public domain, although only a few have been Kindle-ized so far.

Was the enemy always on the other side of the world?  Or could he wear the same uniform, even share the same goals?  (loc. 102)
    The Defiant Agents was published in 1962, which is important for two reasons.  First, it means the target audience was young, teen-age boys.  As such, there's no sex, no cussing, a straighforward plotline, and only a hint of romance.  Second, this was at the height of the Cold War.  Russia was The Enemy, and prudent people built fall-out shelters in their backyards.

    Given that mind-set, Andre Norton sneaks some powerful-yet-subtle messages into her story.  First, we may be the good guys, but we're not much different from the bad guys.  Second, our leaders can fool us, just like the Russian leaders fool their people.  Third, you really can't trust anybody with the possession of WMD's.

    7½ Stars.  Because it will entertain young minds while also giving them lots to think about.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tourist Season - Carl Hiaasen

1986; 378 pages.  Genre : Florida Crime Noir.  New Author? : No.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Florida is overcrowded.  Too many tourists and convention-goers come every year, to say nothing of the slew of geezers who have retired here permanently for the year-round sunshine.  Thanks to the Chamber of Commerce, swamps are being drained and artificial islands created, all to lure more visitors.

    Someone ought to persuade all the interlopers to stay away or move back north.  The alternative is to simply start killing them off.  Come to think of it, the latter might just bring about the former.

What's To Like...
    Tourist Season was published in 1986, 15 years before 9/11, when terrorists could still be portrayed as something other than utterly evil fanatics.  Here, the group is called Las Noches de Diciembre (The Nights of December) and they are inept, committed, funny, and ruthless.

    The protagonist is Brian Keyes, a PI who used to be a journalist.  He's got strings to pull at both the newspapers and the Miami PD, and he somehow makes women want to go to bed with him.  Besides trying to stop LNdD, he has to bodyguard Kara Lynn Shivers, this year's Orange Bowl Queen.   Kara's a much stronger character than your stereotypical bikini-beauty-bimbo.

    What's really kewl about Tourist Season is the equal treatment Carl Hiaasen gives to both the terrorists and the good guys.  Yes, LNdD are a bunch of psychopathic losers, but at least they have a noble cause.  Kinda.  You might even find yourself pulling for Pavlov, the trained crocodile.  (Do not call him an alligator!).

Kewlest New Word...
Insouciance : having or showing freedom from worries or trouble.

    It was two years ago that Jenna had dumped him for Wiley - Wiley, of all people!  Why couldn't it have been an artist, or a concert musician, or some anorexic-looking poet from the Grove?  Anyone but Skip Wiley - and right in the bitter worst of the Callie Davenport business.  What a couple: Jenna, who adored Godunov and Bergman; and Wiley, who once launched a write-in campaign to get Marilyn Chambers an Oscar.  (pg. 61)

    The kennel club bomb actually was a small land mine, a rudimentary imitation claymore, which Jesus Bernal had buried on the second turn of the track.  The greyhound that triggered the mine was a speedy dam named Blistered Sister who went off at 20-to-1.  Literally.  One second there were eight lank dogs churning along the rail, and the next they were airborne, inside-out.  It was a mess.  The blast took out a sixty-foot stretch of racetrack and disrupted betting for hours.  Blistered Sister, whose brindle carcass landed closest to the finish wire, was ruled the winner...   (pgs. 177-78)

"Strangled to death is redundant, doesn't he know that?" (pg. 106)
    Tourist Season made me laugh. and that's always a plus.  It was Carl Hiaasen's debut novel, and not surprisingly, it seems a bit uneven.  Some of the deaths are given in gory detail, others are curiously sanitized.  The struggle between the good guys and the bad guys is spotlighted throughout the length of the book, yet the ending itself dangles.

    On a deeper level, though, Tourist Season is Carl Hiaasen's commentary on the state of the State of Florida - the urbanization, the eco-wrecking, and the loss of heritage.  In that regard, the book succeeds nicely.  7½ Stars, and Floridans can add another stars for topicality.