Dave's Free Press: Journal

violence, pornography, and rude words for the web generation

 

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Sun, 26 May 2013

Already Dead, by Charlie Huston

I bought this book because some other author recommended it on their blog. That's a great way to find good things to read, and you should do it too. Most authors, at least in so-called genre fiction, have one these days, and I recommend that you track down those of your favourite half dozen and read them occasionally. You'll learn a lot about reading and writing, about how the publishing industry and book trade work, but most importantly, you'll learn about more authors to read. In this case, I wouldn't have bought the book without a recommendation, because a cursory glance at the description on Amazon makes it look like a vampire book. And even worse, it's a mis-spelt "vampyre" book.

The "vampyres" of this tale aren't, thankfully, some magic walking corpses, but are people with a disease - one caused by the also annoyingly mis-spelled "Vyrus" - which makes them crave blood and be unusually sensitive to sunlight. The hero of the tale, one Joe Pitt, is one of them, and manages to live alone instead of in one of the vampire "clans" that make up the criminal underworld of his city, by doing odd jobs for the clans and working as an enforcer and private investigator. So really it isn't a vampire tale at all, it's a noir crime thriller.

It has all the clichés that you'd expect in that genre - the loner hero, violence, fast-talking, double-crosses, femmes fatales and so on - but rises above being cliché by extremely sharp writing, great humour, and a wide variety of characters (there are few mere cardboard cutouts) with distinctive voices. There are a couple of somewhat irritating questions left unanswered at the end, for which I deduct a star, but perhaps they are answered in a sequel, of which there are four. Overall, I recommend this book.

Posted at 20:50 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | horror
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Mon, 13 May 2013

Rule 34, by Charles Stross

This is a sequel to Stross's earlier Halting State, although you don't need to be familiar with the earlier work to make sense of this one.

It's a page-turner alright, filled with believable characters having an awful time for our entertainment, and the text sizzles with humour. You'll have to be a geek to understand all the little jokes, but that's not a pre-requisite for enjoying the book, you'll just get more out of it if you're from the right background.

Unconditionally recommended for all but the most puritan of agèd aunts, as it gets a bit nasty at times.

Posted at 19:50 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | sci-fi
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Thu, 8 Nov 2012

Wired Kingdom, by Rick Chesler

I'd never heard of Mr. Chesler until some random stranger started "following" me on Twitter. I have no idea how he heard of me, I suppose that he reads the blogs of other independently published authors, one of them mentioned my book review. I often talk about how much I love reading some of the cheap self-published sci-fi that the Kindle Revolution has sparked, and so I guess that explains things. Anyway, I wondered who this random stranger was, followed a few links, read a description, and moments later, I had a book to read.

And a jolly interesting book it was too. Now, let's get the bad bit out of the way first. The technology is a joke. To take just two examples: first, small portable satellite communications systems require a lot more power than would be available in the system described and have nothing like the required bandwidth; and second, water is opaque to GPS.

But, despite some people saying that it's sci-fi, it ain't, and so I won't criticise the author for his bad science and engineering. It's really a crime thriller. It has all the right ingredients - a seemingly unsolvable crime, then shocking evidence that emerges, a race between the bad guys and the good to get hold of it, action, hidden motives, and of course some great deception so that both the good guys and the reader go down utterly the wrong route in trying to figure out whodunnit. I'd give it five stars out of five, but for one thing.

The rabid animal-rights terrorist just doesn't fit quite right into the plot. Some of his actions are significant, it's true, but I think he could be fairly easily swapped out for a more believable character. His attempts to harpoon a whale[1] - to be the first sail-powered whaler in decades, as he points out - as a mere publicity stunt to draw attention to the plight of whales is not in the slightest bit believable. Sure, we all know that animal rights extremists are mad, but they ain't that mad. In reality they know that they can get away with murdering people to draw attention to their cause, but the moment that they start strangling bunnies with their bare hands they know they'll lose both any future converts and their current members.

So I deduct one star, and recommend this book.

[1] Grrr. There are many species of whale. The current whale species are as diverse as all the species of cows, sheep and deer are from each other. You wouldn't order some sheep meat in a restaurant and be satisfied with cow, and it's just as silly to talk about "saving the whale". And the particular species that stars in this book isn't hunted today. At all. Not by anyone. It isn't even sensible to talk about "saving the whales", plural, because many species don't need saving and could be sustainably exploited. It makes about as much sense as "saving the ruminants", only some of which are endangered.

Posted at 22:10 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | thriller
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Thu, 23 Aug 2012

Halting State, by Charles Stross

Stross has written several times in his blog of the difficulties in writing near-future science fiction. By the time a book has meandered on its way through being written, edited, and published - a process that can take two or three years - it can be out of date as the real world catches up with the world and the gadgets that the author imagined, or wanders off in a direction that makes the author's imagined world inconceivable. In fact, that happened to Halting State's sequel, so badly that he had to throw it away and start again. And then nearly had to do it again.

In the four years since Halting State was published, the real world has indeed caught up in some respects. In particular there is now a thriving market in virtual goods from video games, and there really have been crimes committed - real world crimes - in video games. But it doesn't matter to the reader that this science fictional story isn't quite as science fictional as the author intended. Science fiction doesn't have to be about our future to be entertaining (Jules Verne is still a good read) or about wondrous technologies (Earth Abides has none), it's about modern (post-Enlightenment) people doing or creating plausible things and may explore the ramifications of technology and science (as does A Canticle for Leibowitz). Authors worry about their technologies and the characters' situations being novel because they don't want to appear - at the time of publication - to be incapable of coming up with new ideas, but readers should care mostly about whether the book is entertaining. And this one is. Stross rarely fails to deliver.

I only really have one nit to pick. The political arrangements of Scotland, England, the UK, and the EU are obviously a bit different in the book than they are in our world, with Scotland having rather more independence, but also being somewhat tied to English apron-strings - and both are rather more subservient to an apparently federal Europe. The lack of clarity here was a bit irritating, and more irritatingly it could have been done away with entirely. Every single bit of that, even Scotland's greater independence, isn't particularly important to the story and the politics's role in the story could easily have been taken by purely domestic bodies.

But that's a very minor concern. The book is great fun, and you should read it.

Posted at 21:06 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | sci-fi
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Sat, 21 Jan 2012

Black Out, by John Lawton

This story starts off appearing to be a fairly hum-drum detective story, set in London shortly before the Normandy landings. As an example of its genre I thought it was pretty decent, but only pretty decent. But it soon got better, adding twists and turns as we learn that Our Hero isn't just up against a murderer. He's up against the Abwehr - no, an anti-Communist group in the OSS - no, a rogue OSS agent! These twists add spice. Unfortunately, the conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy gets a bit confusing, both for the reader and, I fear, for the author, and it falters terribly before a rather unsatisfying wrapping up of loose ends.

As is unfortunately all too common for Kindle editions, there is some poor type-setting, as for the occasional accented character - in, for example, words like "voilà" - the wrong character encoding has been used. In this case, it comes out as "voil√✝".

Overall, despite its ending (which, it seems, is universally the hardest thing for authors to write, perhaps because real world stories don't have an end), I enjoyed this book and recommend it.

Posted at 13:45 by David Cantrell
keywords: books | crime | ww2
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