Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fluke - Christopher Moore

    2003; 311 pages.  New Author? : No.  Full Title : Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings.  Genre : Humor.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Nate Quinn and Clay Demodocus are marine biologists stationed in Hawaii.  Their scientific niche is studying the “songs” of the great whales.  It’s tedious work – go out on a boat, drop a microphone in the ocean, film the whale if possible, record the data, and take it home and look for patterns.  For years it has looked like nothing but randomness.  But lately, Nate’s been feeling like he’s getting close to seeing something.

    Of course, he wasn’t expecting the pattern to be the phrase “Bite Me!” on the tail fin of a whale.  (See book cover).

What’s To Like...
    It’s Christopher Moore, so there’s wit aplenty.  But Fluke also has a serious message woven into the storyline.  Moore doesn’t get preachy, but he does want the reader to understand we’re driving a species of animals to extinction that arguably may be equal to us in intelligence.

    Not to worry, though – the humor predominates.  From their assistant, Kona – a Rastafarian, surfer-dude, white-boy from New Jersey, to the “old broad” who claims she receives messages from the whales (by telephone sometimes), you’ll have your share of LOL moments.

    There are lots of plot twists.  Moore keeps you guessing as to where he’s going with the storyline.  You won’t be able to anticipate it, so just read along for the ride.  There is some romance, but it’s balanced out by a slew of whale sphincter one-liners, a bit of cussing and a decapitation.

    To me, the ending could’ve been stronger.  The tension builds through the middle of the book, only to lead to a less-than-exciting finish.  But I pick at nits.

    “I have vodka and a shower in my cabin,” she said.
    “I have a shower in my cabin, too,” Nate said.
    Libby just shook her head and trudged up the path to the lodge.  Over her shoulder she called, “In five minutes there’s going to be a naked woman in my shower.  You got one of those?”
    “Oh,” said Nate.  (pg. 51 )

    “Elizabeth!  You’re not listening to me.  This is not about the whales singing to you through the trees.  Nate is gone!”
    “Don’t you shout at me, Clay Demodocus.  I’m trying to comfort you.  And it wasn’t a song through the trees.  What do you think?  I’m just some crazy old woman?  The whale called on the phone.”  (pg. 125)

“Most killer whales are just four tons of doofus dressed up like a police car.”  (pg. 191)
    Christopher Moore includes a neat Afterword section, in which he details which parts of the story are fact and which are fiction.  It was intriguing to find out that, with all our computers and rational thought, we still don’t know why the great whales sing.  Which makes the author’s hypothesis as valid as any.  Maybe.

    This is not your typical 100%-zany Christopher Moore offering.  But it’s still a good read.  8½ Stars.  Add another half-star if you’re a whale-hugger.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The Bound Soul (Halcyon #3: A Quest for Revenge) - Joseph Robert Lewis

    2011; 248 pages.  Full Title : The Bound Soul (Halcyon #3: A Quest for Revenge).  The concluding book in the “Halcyon” trilogy.  New Author? : No.  Genres :  Action-Adventure; Alt History.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    The full title sums it up rather well.  Don Lorenzo’s soul is imprisoned in an aetherium sword, and Qhora is on a mission to recover the weapon, free the soul, and take her revenge on Aker, the dastardly perp.

    But Aker has fled Marrakesh, and is bound for Alexandria, Egypt.  To catch him, Qhora needs something fast.  Like an airship.  Like Taziri’s innovative Halcyon 3 airship.  But how to persuade Taziri to fly them across the African continent?  Ah, that’s what they invented money for.

What’s To Like...
    Stylistically, The Bound Soul is much like the first two books of the series – constant action, interesting characters, multiple POV’s, a decent storyline.  The Alternate World is unchanged (although Joseph Robert Lewis places you in a different part of it for each book) , you can read details of it here and here.

    There’s a nice blend of old friends and new people.  Tycho and Philo are neat characters to meet.  The aetherium (aka “seireiken”) swords are fascinating inventions.  They cut through anything – flesh, bone, metal, other seireiken – like it was paper; but they are no match for a speeding bullet.  Atoq and Wayra aren’t here, but Turi, a giant “harpy eagle” (see book cover) fills in nicely.

      Best of all is the Halcyon 3, which is more like an airplane than an airship, and can transform itself into looking like a locomotive engine.  Kewlness!

     Although part of a trilogy, you can read TBS as a standalone novel.  There’s no cussing, but the book opens with a sex scene; which makes me wonder who the target audience is.  And Don Lorenzo’s plight basically removes him from the storyline (until the very end), which frankly takes away the most interesting character of the bunch.

    They sat down together on the old tarp on the floor and shared the rest of the water.  The girl spent every moment staring all around her at the walls, the seats, and the controls.  She even leaned down to run her fingers over the rivets in the floor.
    “You like machines?  Want to be an engineer one day?” Taziri said.  “Well, keep up your mathematics and you too could have an exciting career in flying strange people to dangerous countries in the middle of the night.”  (loc. 1504)

    “I want to know about the burning swords.  I want to know about the assassinations.”
    “You want a great deal,” Khai said calmly.  His eyes closed a small fraction.  “In the east, they would call that the path to suffering.”
    “In the east, they worship cows.  You’ll pardon me for thinking their ideas are stupid.”  (loc. 1653)

Kindle Details...
    The Bound Soul sells for $3.99 at Amazon. Book #1 in the series, The Burning Sky sells for $0.99 and Book #2 , The Broken Sword is going for $4.99.  It seems like the prices change quite a bit on each of these, and if you're patient, you might even occasionally find them for free.

“That’s what happens when you bring magic swords to a gun fight!”  (loc. 3640)
    Although The Bound Soul finishes this trilogy, Joseph Robert Lewis has already published two other series set in the same Alt-World; the Chimera duology and the Europa trilogy.  ANAICT, these take place slightly after the Halcyon books.  I don’t think he’s written a prequel recounting how Don Lorenzo and Qhora met over in the New World.

    Overall, these books are quick, fun reads.  They don’t have the depth of, say, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  OTOH, after 600 pages here, you’ve been treated to three exciting adventures and a completed series.  600 pages wouldn’t even get you through one of the 14 WoT books.

    8 Stars, both for The Bound Soul in particular and the Halcyon series as a whole.  Think of them as being “Epic Lite” (I love oxymorons), and enjoy them for the escapist Alt-History they are.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Memory of Light - Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan

    2013; 909 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Epic Fantasy.  Book #14 of the Wheel of Time series.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    This is it!  Tarmon Gai’don (“Armageddon”) is at hand, and every nation (except the Seanchan) awaits its outcome with dread and hope.  Hordes of innumerable trollocs and myrddraal pour out of the Blight to do the Dark One’s bidding.  They are unstoppable; all the Forces of Light can hope for is to slow them down.  But all eyes are on Shayol Ghul, where Rand al’Thor, The Dragon Reborn, must do battle with the Dark One, in a fight that the prophecies say he cannot survive.

   And if the Horn of Valere is not blown at the right time, and if the seals imprisoning the Dark One are not broken at the right time, Rand stands no chance at all.  So each of the remaining Forsaken strives mightily to gain the horn and/or seals, in order to curry favor in their evil lord’s eyes.  Long odds for Rand, indeed.

What’s To Like...
    All your favorite heroes have gathered – including Moiraine, Thom, Logain, and my personal favorite, Loial.  Even the Tinkers make an appearance.  A Memory of Light is essentially one giant, 900-page battle.  This might seem excessive, but relative to the series as a whole, it is appropriately sized.

    Once again, Brandon Sanderson does a fine job of writing in the style of the late Robert Jordan.  You may get tired reading of 1,001 ways to kill a trolloc, but Jordan would’ve written it that way too.  Think of how many times a skirt was smoothed, or Nynaeve yanked on her braid.  The only difference I can see – Sanderson infuses the tale with some of his wit, which is IMHO a plus.  OTOH, if you are a Robert Jordan loyalist, be of good cheer.  He wrote the last 17 pages of AMoL (the Epilogue) before he died, it is most excellently done, and it’ll put a lump in your throat.

    There are lots of plot twists along the way, not all the good guys survive, and there are some loose ends after the dust settles.  Elayne’s still pregnant, and a couple of the Forsaken, although vanquished, remain alive.  The groundwork is laid for a new series of WoT tales – set at the dawn of the new age, and with the next generation of heroes.  I readily see Robert Jordan’s estate doing the “Robert Ludlum” thing.

    “Do you really think he’ll reward you?” Perrin spat.  “How can you not realize that once you’ve done what he wishes of you, he’ll just discard you, as he has so many?”
     Slayer laughed.  “Did he discard the Forsaken, when they failed and were imprisoned with him in the Bore?  He could have slaughtered them all and kept their souls in eternal torment.  Did he?”
    Perrin didn’t reply.
    “The Dark One does not discard useful tools,” Slayer said.  “Fail him, and he may exact punishment, but he never discards.  (pg. 565 )

    “Tuon wants me to sit in judgment.  Any time a soldier is seeking the Empress’s mercy for a crime, I’m the one who is supposed to bloody hear his case!”
    “You,” Egwene said, “passing judgment?”
   “I know,” Mat said.  “Too much bloody work, if you ask me.  I’ve been dodging guardsmen all day, trying to steal a little time for myself.”
    “A little honest work wouldn’t kill you, Mat.”
    “Now, you know that’s not true.  Soldiering is honest work, and it gets men killed all the bloody time.”  (pg. 611)

“When the deck starts to look like it’s stacked against the Dark One, of course he will just add a few new cards to the game.”  (pg. 559)
    Let’s face it, we all know that Light will defeat Darkness in WoT, if only because some quotes from Loial’s book are given.  Loial would be dead and his book never written if the Light lost.  So how does Brandon Sanderson go about keeping us in suspense and turning the pages?

    Well, by making the bad guys every bit as ingenious, relentless, powerful, and full of surprises as the good guys.  Evil doesn’t just have one card up its sleeve, it’s got a whole deck.  Just as soon as the good guys recover from one deadly ploy, the Forsaken spin another one.  This is a superbly written piece of epic fantasy.

    A Memory of Light is not a standalone.  If you’ve read the first 13 books in the series, you are Dragonsworn and you know you will read #14.  If you are new to series, you have some serious reading (13 books, 11,000 pages, 3,700,000 words) to do before tackling this one.  But it is worth it.  9½ Stars.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Key Out Of Time - Andre Norton

    1963; 178 pages.  New Author? : No.  Genre : 50’s Sci Fi.  Book #4 of the Time Traders  series.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    Hawaika – according to a cosmic tape, it should be a lush, tropical, thriving planet.  Instead, the Time Traders found it almost entirely ocean-covered, with only a few spits of lifeless land jutting above the sea.  What happened?

    Fortunately, the Time Traders have a device they call a peep-probe, which can see how a selected place looked like in the past.  And 10,000 years ago Hawaika looked like what was seen on the tape.  A mere 500 years later, the planet was barren.  Could Hawaika’s fate be changed if the time travelers hop back to before “the big event”?  More importantly, should they interfere with history?   

What’s To Like...
    This is classic Science Fiction.  The target audience is teenage boys, who were only ones reading it in the early 60’s.  So Key Out Of Time has no cussing, no sex, and above all, no romance.  There is some killing and bloodshed, but the gore is kept to a minimum.

     The storyline is vintage Andre (Alice) Norton.  She loved to use time-travel themes, which is how I got hooked on her books as a boy.  But there are some remarkably forward-looking themes here too.  For instance, one of the protagonists is a girl, another is a croipple, and two others are dolphins.  Norton makes it a point to show they all are just as important on the mission as the white males.  Indeed, our main hero, Ross, sometimes feels like the backward one.

    Norton also takes a couple subtle pokes at the “Better dead than Red” mindset of the 1960’s.  Heady stuff for something published at the height of the Cold War.

    The story moves at a crisp pace.  We don’t really move around a lot in the alien world (that’s also vintage Norton), but she does throw a bunch of fascinating people, animals, gadgets, and magic at us to keep us entertained.  And Norton postulates the Prime Directive here, years before Star Trek employed it.  Maybe this is where Gene Roddenberry got the idea for it.

Kewlest New Word...
    Immure (verb)  : To enclose or confine someone against their will.

    “Suppose” – Ross rolled over on his stomach, pillowed his head on his arms – “we could uncover some of that knowledge –“
    The twitch was back at Ashe’s lips. “That’s the risk we have to run now.”
    “Would you give a child one of those hand weapons we found in the derelict?”
    “Naturally not!” Ross snapped and then saw the point.  “You mean – we aren’t to be trusted?”
    The answer was plain to read in Ashe’s expression.  (loc. 139 )

    Rule One: Conserve native life to the fullest extent.  Humanoid form may not be the only evidence of intelligence.
    There were the dolphins to prove that point right on Terra.  But did Rule One mean that you had to let a monster nibble at you because it might just be a high type of alien intelligence?  Let Karara spout Rule One while backed into a crevice under water with that horn stabbing at her mid-section!  (loc. 270)

Kindle Details...
    Key Out Of Time is a free download at Amazon, as are the first three books in this series.  The copyrights on a bunch of Andre Norton’s early works have expired, meaning anyone can publish them.  A lot of these are also available as free downloads.  You can tell them quickly at Amazon; none of them have a “real” book cover.  I’m guessing the artwork is still copyrighted.

“Ross, where are we?”  “Better say – when are we?” he replied.”  (loc. 529)
    FWIW, the fundamental question – what happened to civilization on Hawaika – is never answered.  Maybe that’s dealt with in the three sequels to KooT, but they were written 30 years afterward.  Maybe we’re supposed to ponder whether the Time Traders’ visit to Hawaika changed its history.  It’s hard to say.

    Science Fiction has come a long way since its Golden Age of the 1950’s/60’s.  Storylines are more complex, the books and series are longer, alien planets are much more detailed, and the physics of galactic travel is now an art in itself.  Sci Fi is no longer just for adolescent boys.

    Still, I enjoy reading classic Sci Fi on occasion, and Andre Norton is often what I reach for first.  7½ Stars.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Out Of Time - Monique Martin

    2010; 296 pages.  Full Title : Out of Time : A Time Travel Mystery.  Book 1 of “Out of Time” series.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Romance, Time Travel.  Overall Rating : 5*/10.

    Due to a temporal mishap, Professor Simon Cross and graduate assistant Elizabeth West find themselves transported back to 1929 New York City, just before the stock market crash.  They won’t be able to return to the present for at least six weeks, maybe not at all.  So they better figure out how to make some money and blend in with the crowd.

    In their spare time, they might also want to get to know each other better, since Elizabeth is secretly enamored by the Professor, and Simon is secretly enamored by his grad assistant.  And watch out for vampires.

What’s To Like...
    Let’s clear up any genre confusion – Out of Time is first and foremost a Romance.  Time-Travel is of secondary importance, and Vampirism a distant third.  Despite the title and the Amazon blurb, there is no “Mystery” here.

    The 1929 New York setting has a nice feel to it.  It is obvious that Monique Martin spent some time researching the era, and Simon and Elizabeth are fond of seeing the sights while they wait out the 6 weeks.  That's kewl.

    There is only one chrono-hop, but ANAICT each book in the series will transport our two heroes to a different time, maybe also to a different place.  The mechanics of the time-travel are nicely done, structured in such a way that you can’t just go hopping around willy-nilly.  The story moves at a good pace, without any major slow spots.  The ending ties things up neatly.

    There are weaknesses.  Although the Elizabeth and Simon characters are well-developed, and also the bartender Charlie Blue; all the others are pretty 2-dimensional.  The Vampire is a total waste of time (was it a ploy to nab some of the Twilight readers?), he could have just as easily been cast as a stereotypical 1920’s gangster.

    The romance is overdone.  It seems like every third sentence is used to remind the reader that the two protagonists have the hots for each other, but are too shy or socially-repressed to speak up.  The first kiss is at 38%, it’s not too long after that that they jump into the sack.  This isn’t really a spoiler; you know from the first page that this is gonna happen sooner or later.

Kewlest New Word…
    Sophistry (noun) : the use of fallacious arguments, especially with the intent of deceiving.

    Charlie patiently taught her what each drink was and, thankfully, she was a quick study.  A Yack Yack was a glass of bourbon flavored with iodine and burnt sugar.  A Panther was whiskey with a touch of fusel oil.  When the bartender asked you to pick your poison, he wasn’t kidding.  (loc. 1621)

    “Where did you learn to fight like that, or am I better off in ignorance?”
    “Daddy.  Thought it was a good idea for me to learn a little self defense.  What about you?”
    “Boarding school.  My first year I learned how to take a punch.  My second, how to give one.”
    “And your third?”
    “That it’s better to avoid them altogether.”  (loc. 4777)

Kindle Details...
    You can download Out Of Time for free at Amazon.  Monique Martin has published three more books in the series; they all sell for $3.99.

“First rule of time travel, my boy.  Always bring your own tea.”  (loc. 5494)
    The premise for Out Of Time is good; and the blending of genres is ambitious.  The problem is the storytelling itself.  You can spot the vampire immediately, and if you’re going to drop such creatures into a novel, there ought to be some mystery about them.  Make some of the characters “gray”; here they are all unchangeably good or evil.

    Most of all, throw some twists into the tale.  With one minor exception at the end, everything here is boringly straightforward.  Make the vampire someone you don’t suspect; give the priest some function beyond offering fatherly advice; “turn” one of the secondary characters with a bite to the neck; throw a 1920’s love interest at one of our heroes; give some plot justification for landing just before the stock market crash.

    It’s hard to give an objective rating for Out Of Time, since Love Stories are not my cup of tea.  Who knows, maybe the Harlequin books my wife reads are also Romance-heavy and Story-light.  5 Stars (out of 10).  Add two more stars if you are looking for a Time Traveler’s Wife type of book, and one star if you actually think Twilight is a good series.