Friday, April 29, 2016

The Tinkerer's Daughter - Jamie Sedgwick

   2011; 290 pages.  Book 1 (out of three) of the Tinkerer’s Daughter series.   New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Steampunk Fantasy.  Overall Rating : 7½*/10.

    They call her Breeze.  Her mother’s dead and her father, a soldier, has just been called back into the army of Astatia.  What’s to be done about the child?

    Fortunately, the dad knows of a tinkerman that lives alone, high up in the hills.  It takes a bit of coaxing, but the tinker finally agrees to care for Breeze until the dad can return from the war.  Which is a good thing, because the father really had no other option, despite the presence of a town nearby.

    Because these are dangerous times, and there’s a different word the townsfolk would call Breeze if she had to stay among them.


What’s To Like...
    The Tinkerer’s Daughter is the eponymous first book in a trilogy set in the same world as a pair of books I read a couple months ago, reviewed here and here.  Those books seemed to assume the reader was already familiar with setting, and I wasn’t, and I later learned that The Tinkerer’s Daughter trilogy set the stage and built the world for these tales.

    The genre is post-apocalyptic steampunk, and that will always catch my eye.  The tinker is true to his moniker – always tinkering with something.  Breeze is bored by the books in his library – they’re too “sciency”, but she soon joins him as they first build/reinvent a working steam engine, and follow it up by making a self-propelled airplane.  The technical geek in me was thrilled.

    It takes a while for the action to start.  Jamie Sedgwick spends a lot of time detailing the setting, particularly how Breeze and the Tinker develop their father/daughter relationship.  It was refreshing to read of a foster parent who doesn’t molest or abuse his ward.  Along the way, we her about wargs and trolls, take a ride in a steamsleigh, and celebrate the Sowen Holiday, the “week of the dead”.

    The storytelling is good enough to where you’re not bored with the dearth of thrills and spills.  And once the action begins (around 41%), it doesn’t let up until the last page.  Also, beneath all the excitement, Jamie Sedgwick examines two serious themes – the wastefulness of war, and the utter evilness of racism  Or, to be more accurate, speciesism.

    I think The Tinkerer’s Daughter was written for a YA audience, but as an adult, I liked it too.  There is some bloodshed and other distasteful subjects, but war is ugly, and Sedgwick keeps the lurid details to a minimum.

    There really wasn’t much to do, other than reading from Tinker’s collection of old books and journals.  Unfortunately, these were almost all nonfiction sciency type stuff.  The books were filled with words I didn’t know, about things I didn’t understand.  Needless to say, none of it was very interesting.  (loc. 370.  As a scientist, I feel like I was just slightly insulted.)

    I panicked and began to hyperventilate.  Locked.  Alone.  I couldn’t understand a world like that.  I couldn’t reach out, couldn’t touch or sense anything.  Was this what it was like to be human?  Was this what it meant to have no bond with the world, other than one’s outward senses?  To touch, smell, and hear, but to never really feel anything?  It was awful.  Sickeningly awful.  (loc. 1860)

Kindle Details...
    The Tinkerer’s Daughter is free at Amazon right now.  The other two books in the series, Tinker’s War and Blood And Steam, sell for $0.99 and $2.99 respectively.  As noted in the previous reviews of Jamie Sedgwick’s books, this is his general pricing strategy, and I think it is a most effective one.

 It seems men can always find a reason to kill one another.  (loc. 341)
    I’m not sure why this book is called The Tinkerer’s Daughter, since the foster parent is called “Tinker” or “The Tinker” throughout the book.  Perhaps it’s because there already is a book at Amazon called The Tinker’s Daughter, and another one titled Mad Tinker’s Daughter.

    The ending was good, albeit somewhat straightforward, and easy to predict.  But it has a twist or two, and maybe YA readers will find it sufficiently satisfying.  The writing didn’t “suck me in”, but it kept my interest the whole way, and I will probably end up reading at least Book 2 in this trilogy, due to the author’s clever pricing scheme.

    7½ Stars.  A solid effort, but then again I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Jamie Sedgwick book.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born - Harry Harrison

   1985; 219 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; Humor & Satire.  Book #1 (or Book #6) in the 12-book Stainless Steel Rat series.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    James Bolivar “Slippery Jim” diGriz.  A name feared throughout the galaxy.  Well, maybe not by everyone.  But at least by every bank, jewelry store, and owner of any other merchandise that’s worth stealing.

    But how and where did this thief extraordinaire get his start?  Surely he didn't spring from the womb skilled in the art of purloining.  Someone almost certainly mentored him in the art of light-fingered lifting.

    And there’s got to be a story behind his moniker.  The Stainless Steel Rat.

What’s To Like...
    The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born is set in the 25th century, on a planet called Bit O’Heaven that, legend has it, was originally colonized by settlers from some faraway planet called “Dirt”.  Young Jim diGriz is a thief with ambition, and wants to be further tutored on his craft from the best there is, so he deliberately allows himself to be caught robbing a bank in order to go to prison and find a guru (where else would you find one?).  Needless to say, things do not go as planned.

    The story is written in the first-person POV (Jim’s), and in a jaded, witty, and anti-hero style.  The chapters are short, and each one ends with a teaser.  I liked that.  There aren’t a lot of characters to follow, although keeping track of the capos got a bit confusing at times.  The story is written in “English” (tonnes, etc.), not “American”, and I always enjoy that.

    There are only two worlds to visit, Bit O’Heaven and Spiovente; but I suspect there will be a bunch more before this series is over.  The world-building is very good, especially Bit O’Heaven, where we spend the first 125 pages or so.  Harrison seems to relish in creating a plethora of details to heighten the scene-setting.  If the Police Floaters seem a bit been-there-seen-that, the fearsome porcuswine are not, and the culinary experience at your local McSwiney’s is a delight not to be missed.  Then there are the Boy Sprouts and the Black Monks.

    All of this makes for an easy, although not necessarily quick read, with the emphasis on lighthearted entertainment, not epic space opera.  We’ll learn to be “Citizens of the Outside” alongside Jim, which means we answer to a higher calling, and never refer to ourselves as “criminals” or “crooks”.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Doss (v.) : to sleep in rough or inexpensive accommodations.  A Britishism.
Others : Skrink (v.); Fillip (n.)

    “Get knotted yourself, toe-cheese.  My monicker is Jim.  What’s yours?”
    I wasn’t sure of the slang.  I had picked it up from old videos, but I surely had the tone of voice right because I had succeeded in capturing his attention this time.  He looked up slowly and there was the glare of cold hatred in his eyes.
    “Nobody – and I mean nobody – talks to Willy the Blade that way.  I’m going to cut you, kid, cut you bad.  I’m going to cut my initial into your face.  A ‘V’ for Willy.”
    “A ‘W’,” I said.  “Willy is spelled with a ‘W’.”   (pg. 13)

    “How long do we stay slaves?” I asked.
    “Until I learn more about how things operate here.  You have spent your entire life on a single planet, so both consciously and unconsciously you accept the society you know as the only one.  Far from it.  Culture is an invention of mankind, just like the computer or the fork.  There is a difference though.  While we are willing to change computers or eating implements, the inhabitants of a culture will brook no change at all.  They believe that theirs is the only and unique way to live – and anything else is aberration.”
    “Sounds stupid.”  (pg. 144)

 If you should ever be tempted to unlock a door with a key in your teeth while wearing handcuffs I have only a single word of advice.  Don’t.  (pg. 89)
       The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born is actually the sixth book in Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series, but the first in the saga’s timeline. Harry Harrison perhaps sets a record for randomizing a series’ timeline.  According to Wikipedia, the chronological order of the 12 stories is : 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 12, 3, 9, 10,11.

    Therefore this book has the same problem that Star Wars Episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith) has – namely, matching the ending up with the beginning of a previously-released effort.

    Here, this difficulty manifests itself in a somewhat flat and unsatisfying ending.  The storyline doesn’t really get wrapped up, it just pauses for a moment as the bad guys get away, and The Stainless Steel Rat gets transported elsewhere.

    Still, it’s no worse than the ending of any Star Wars movie that doesn’t conclude a trilogy, including the latest release.  So if George Lucas can get away with this, I guess we’ll allow Harry Harrison to do the same.

    8 Stars.  In retrospect, it might have be wiser for me to start reading this series in the order that Harrison wrote them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Lord Vishnu's Love Handles - Will Clarke

   2005; 290 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Humorous Fiction; Religious Satire.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Travis Anderson thinks he’s becoming psychic.  On one hand, this is kinda cool, since he’s tearing up the online game called Psychic Cow.  On the other, this is way uncool, since he’s getting these vibes that his wife is having an affair with his business partner.  And she’s pregnant.

    Also,  there’s this girl with pink hair who’s inside his head and sends him all sorts of messages and disturbing visions.  Who is she and why’d she pick him to communicate with?  Is she a real person somewhere, projecting herself into Travis’s consciousness?

    Well, one thing’s for sure.  The big blue dude who pops into view occasionally outside of Travis’s head isn’t real.  No one else sees him.

    And unlike Ms. Pink-Hair, the blue guy doesn’t give Travis any messages.  He just smiles.  And flashes his love handles.

What’s To Like...
    With a title like Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles, you know it’s going to be an off-the-wall tale and the book delivers in this regard.  It’s refreshing to see Hindu deities used, instead of the standard Roman and Greeks gods.  Travis is kind of a reluctant Chosen One, and training and equipping him for the role requires patience and meditation.

    The chapters are short and their titles oftentimes witty.  The tale is told in the first-person (Travis’s) POV.  There aren’t a lot of characters to keep track of, so you can concentrate on determining which ones are the good guys are, and who are the baddies.  You don’t need to be an expert on Hindu gods and religious beliefs to enjoy this book.

    There is a ton of cussing, and frankly, I didn’t find it necessary.  There’s also a lot of drug usage  (mostly Percodan) and booze.  Beneath all the silliness, Will Clarke provides some keen insight on addiction to meds and alcoholism.  I also liked the hypothesis that ugliness in the key to invisibility.

    The title is only tangentially related to the story, and this definitely is not a spy novel.  Instead, we get to watch Travis evolve from an annoying and neurotic antihero into something somewhat better.  This is a standalone novel.

Kewlest New Word…
Histrionic (adj.) : overly theatrical or melodramatic in character or style.

    “Okey-dokey, Mr. Anderson.”  She pulls out this huge file folder from her bag.  “Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.”
    Debra McFadden speaks in rhymes.  Debra McFadden was spawned by Satan.  (loc. 485)

    “Do you know who Rupert Sheldrake is?” he asks.
    “No.”  I sneer at him.  “And unless he’s got a bag full of Percodan, I don’t want to know him.”
    “He’s a cellular biologist from Cambridge,” Solomon lisps.  “Basically, he’s proven the principle of morphic resonance.”
    “And I should give a f*ck about this because…?”
    “Because, Travis, what just happened here is textbook morphic resonance.  You became a disturbance in the field.  And if we can figure out how you did this, well, then we could make you a very rich man.”
    “A rich man?”  My ears perk up.  “Keep talking.”  (loc. 1540)

Kindle Details...
    Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles sells for $14.99 right now at Amazon, which seems quite steep, but it’s comparable to the price of his only other e-book, The Worthy: A Ghost’s Story, which goes for $13.99.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t speak fortune cookie.”  (loc. 1294)
    I found Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles an interesting read, but I never was drawn into the storyline.  The cussing was distracting and the attempts at humor seemed more snarky than funny.  After the plot built steadily towards a showdown at Disney World, the ending felt straightforwardly flat.  I like my endings to have some twists.

    Still, everyone’s sense of humor is different, and another reader may well find LVLH hilarious.  And although it didn’t really entertain me, neither did it make me yawn.

    7 Stars.  In closing, this book brought back fond memories of a time back in my college days when several of us, bored out of our skulls and undoubtedly high on pot, decided to visit the local Hare Krishna temple.  Highlights included free food (“Here., have some of this very good pashad!”), chanting and dancing on one foot, and a disciple that kept falling asleep while in the lotus position during the Bhagavad Gita study.  Think bobbing head sinking slowly into one’s lap, followed by annoyed guru rapping him sharply on the knee.  Fun times.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Flask of the Drunken Master - Susan Spann

   2015; 286 pages.  Book #3 (and most recent) in the Shinobi Mysteries series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Murder-Mystery; Historical Fiction.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    To be honest, it’s just a tad bit surreal.  On one hand, there’s a bald-headed monk in a stained brown robe yelling things like “Arrest me!  I’m the guilty one!” and “I’m the murderer, you fool!” at the police.  On the other, the police seem to have decided they already have their perpetrator, and are leading away a man with a lowered head and sagging shoulders.  Is it a sign of guilt?  Or of embarrassment?

    For Hiro, the scene is even more bizarre, for he knows both men.  The monk is Suke, who is one of 16th-century Kyoto’s leading town drunks.  A vagrant, but hardly the sort of man to murder someone.

    And the man being led away by the police is Ginjiro, a local brewer.  To whom Hiro owes a personal debt.  So when Ginjiro’s family asks Hiro to investigate the murder, he really has no choice but to get involved.

What’s To Like...
    There’s no scene-setting here, the action starts immediately (well,  page 4, technically), and our sleuthing team of an undercover ninja bodyguard (Hiro) and a Jesuit priest bringing Christianity to the Japanese (Father Mateo) both quickly become actively investigators.

    There’s a handy Cast of Characters at the beginning of the tale, and an equally useful Glossary of Japanese terms in the back.  The setting is 1560’s  Kyoto –  when ninjas and samurai were in their heyday.  The chapters are short, so there’s always a good place to stop for the night.  There is some subtle, wry humor running through the book, except when Suke talks, when subtlety flies out the window.

    Father Mateo and Hiro are the recurring stars.  Several other characters from The Sword of the Samurai are back (Ana, Gato, and Ozuru), but there are new ones as well.  I really liked the drunken monk, Suke, and there’s some noticeable dramatic tension between Hiro and Yoshiko that makes me think they’ll end up crossing each other’s paths a lot more as the series progresses.

    Once again, Susan Spann has done a very nice job of blending Historical Fiction with Murder Mystery.  This time, we get to explore medieval Kyoto a lot more, and for me that was a plus.  There is a continuing larger storyline – warring samurai lords locked in a bitter power struggle for control of Japan – but it pretty much stays in the background here, unlike in the previous book.

    “You don’t know where your husband is?” Father Mateo asked.
    “No,” Hama said.  “He went to a teahouse with friends and didn’t return.”
    “A teahouse?” Hiro asked.  “Does he sleep there often?”
     Hama’s frown deepened.  “My husband doesn’t frequent the kind of teahouse that lets patrons stay the night.”
    As far as you know, Hiro thought.  (pg. 102)

    ”You, of all people, could not commit this murder.”
    “I – of all people – could not kill?”  Yoshiko’s fury grew.  “You don’t believe I could take a person’s life?”
    Hiro hated when women asked a question that had no decent answer.  But, usually, these no-win questions involved a clothing choice or beauty, not a murderous intent.  He considered his answer carefully but quickly.
    He knew from experience, masculine pauses only made the situation worse.  (pg. 148)

 At times, a sense of justice proved an inconvenient traveling companion.  (pg. 231)
    I found the ending – the solving of the murder – to be only so-so.  Hiro deduces who the baddie is, not so much by direct evidence, but more from eliminating all the other suspects.  His “proof” is unconvincing – even the judge points that out – and only when the perpetrator stupidly blurts out a confession is Hiro proven right.

    It all felt like an episode of the 60's TV series, Perry Mason, if you’re old enough to remember that show.  Which is not necessarily bad, because Perry’s courtroom theatrics and ploys were always entertaining.  But no one ever claimed the show was even remotely realistic.  I felt like I could’ve gotten the baddie off, provided I could get them to keep their mouth shut.

    8 Stars.  Same as for Blade of the Samurai9 stars for the Historical Fiction, 7 stars for the Murder-Mystery.  Which is okay in my book, since I’m reading this series primarily for the way-kewl historical setting.