09 June 2019

Bastards do not beguile

Detective/Thriller | The Hollow Man | Oliver Harris


The mystery is well done, the detectiving is fine. The writing is pacy and atmospheric, the editing is taut. That should easily get a book 3 stars.

The reason it does not, is the ‘bastard of a hero’ as the blurb too charitably puts it. I found the detective (Nick Belsey) to be an appalling human, greedy, addicted, manipulative, conniving, misusing his position for personal gain, dishonest in every possible way (and yet he manages to con the investigative journalist into falling in love with him, despite lying to her at almost every step).

Deal breaker. It’s only curiosity about the mystery that saw me through the whole book. Next time, I’ll watch a train wreck instead.

So, the rating is the average of 1 star (I hated it, that’s Nick Belsey), and 3 stars (I liked it, that’s the mystery). It’s a shoddy compromise, leaving me feeling vaguely unclean. Like the book itself. More accurately:
   2 stars and a pile of poop.

Insufficient genius

Fantasy | Coldmaker | Daniel A. Cohen


Cold as something tangible that falls from the sky and is the measure of wealth is a new concept. However, the treatment is not sufficient to make this the kind of wow experience that Brandon Sanderson (one of the author's role models, as per the afterword) did in the Mistborn series.

There are unresolved points (is the Utopia dreamed of by the slaves real or imaginary); the kind slaver is two dimensional; the hero is a genius inventor who can invent and prototype system-changing innovations in, literally, days; the heroine is mysteriously independent, bold, able to get unconditional support for no reason that the reader can see while the hero has to prove himself...

Yet, there are plus points. The basis for the excessive cruelty of the slaver class is realistic (religion can cause people to put aside empathy and be cruel by godly demand). You do care for the hero and the heroine. There are sympathetic characters. Some of the villains are somewhat understandable. The 'science' of the Cold seems to have some (if flimsy) basis. At a few points in the book, you can feel the heat that pervades the World Cried (that's what it's called).

I'm ambivalent whether I want to read the next book in the series or not. I fear the plot is being dragged to generate more volume. It may not stand up to the strain.

2 stars = it was ok

No superheroes, only supervillains. What's an ordinary human to do?

Fantasy | Steelheart | Brandon Sanderson


Brandon Sanderson has got a wild imagination, which is lucky for us readers.

It seems to me he decided to write an epic fantasy book (get it? get it?) and succeeded. You didn't get it? Hmm... So, in this world, suddenly some people develop super powers, and these people are called Epics (get it now?). And absolute power corrupts absolutely, so these turn into some of the most capricious and cruel dictators ever. No superhero turns up. Only supervillains. What's an ordinary human to do then?

Fortunately, no matter how powerful, the Epics have weaknesses. The rebellious Reckoners find these out, and start killing some of the most murderous, if not the most powerful Epics. 

David has seen one of the most powerful, Steelheart, the absolute ruler/owner of Newcago kill his father. He grows up, and decides to join the Reckoners. Because he has seen Steelheart bleed, and intends to decipher his weakness and destroy him for the killing of his father and the destruction of his world.

This is not sci fi. There is no attempt at making ordinary sense of the Epics' powers. They just are. But it's not without its internal rules. No good fantasy can be without those. The fun is in finding out what the rules are. Sanderson does an excellent job of developing the premises into a pacy, fun tale.

4 stars = I really liked it.

Advertising will make consumerist zombies out of us all. Halp! Yawn.

Science Fiction | The Space Merchants | Frederik Pohl and C Kornbluth


This is one of the books based on the 50's worry that advertising would make consumerist zombies of us all that hasn't dated very well.

Capitalism has run amok. Great corporations own the world and the people are slaves. They think they are not, because they get paid, but the Companies supply all their needs, at increasingly exhorbitant rates, so they’re always in debt. Sounds a bit like the USA today, doesn’t it?

Except that it’s all so over the top that it’s dated. And not well.

2 stars = It’s ok

Urban fantasy of the type 'super strength people hidden amongst us'

Fantasy | Ghosts of Winter | H.B. Lyne


These days, I tend to struggle through urban fantasy of the type "magical people with super strength, hidden among us". 


There's a lot of: Then they all went to sleep. Then they woke up and ate breakfast, which X had bought on the way to the hideout/Y had cooked Z things. Then they all went to do their daily jobs. After some time, I'm muttering: enough already.

Of all the characters, the new one, James, was the most 'real' to me; not the protagonist, Stalker. The Alpha of the pack didn't do much, neither did the fairy godthing. Stalker keeps feeling she's losing her humanity, the rest don't seem to care. I never quite got why the pack was doing what it was doing. Maybe because I came into the series with Book 2. But...

2 stars = It's okay...

Flying wizards and wishy-washy inverted sexism

Fantasy | The Philosopher’s Flight | Tom Miller


American college story set in the 19th century. Young adult. Interesting and pacy read. Quaint language (like calling wizards philosophers), but smooth and does not jar.

Robert Weekes is a boy who wants to be a flying wizard ("hovering philosopher") and work in the search and rescue corps. Except that only girls are philosophers...

It's gentle. The underdogs win. There is only one bully, who is pretty pathetic, not a real enemy. Fans of Harry Potter would probably like this one.

I didn't quite see this as a good book on sexism using the male as target. The lack of agency and #everydaysexism just isn't there. There's nothing in the story that makes you boiling mad at any stage. It's all very plasma and not whole blood.

I'm reminded of a quote, which I'm paraphrasing: If you get to learn about sexism by being told about it rather than experiencing it, that's privilege. This book may be about inverted sexism, but it's very privileged. Sexism isn't experienced in this book, it's something third-hand. Partly, it's because though all the 'strong philosophers' are female, the rest of society is just the same, so the sexism that Weekes experiences is a watered down revenge of those with a little power, not really sexism the way billions experience it daily.

I really liked the concepts, but this drags away at least one star.

3 stars = I liked it.