24 April 2013

Special effects get better as the Dragon hatches a cunning plot

Books | Neal Asher | The Technician

This is the second book by Neal Asher that I have read, and I am now a Fan. This book is somewhat spaced out in the series (I do hate missing intermediate books), and Dragon, the entity made up of four linked spheres each a kilometer across, has, somewhere in those missing books, managed to divide and fool. One of those spheres has crashlanded on the planet of action, and Dragon's creations, the dracomen, have set up home on the planet.

The Polity is likely to declare the planet previously occupied by a sentient species, so the humans there are understandably miffed and willing to create mayhem, separatism, and the like. Especially as they have only just come aboveground after being an Underground (as well as literally underground) opposed to the ruling theocracy. Which has been obliterated almost to a man. There is one man left of them, who has had his head eaten off (and spat back) by a giant creature known as The Technician. The Technician is an artist, who makes incomprehensible sculptures out of the bones of the gabbleducks, huge pyramidal animals that gabble nonsense that almost makes sense (but never does), and chase unwary humans. There is an amphidapt man (a frog man for us normal movie-watching humans) who hides from everyone, including, he hopes, the AIs in orbit, and whose life's mission is collecting every one of the Technician's sculptures, in order to make sense of them. When we are a few chapters in, we understand that if the Technician is really old, then humans have to clear out.

Or, wait, there is also an alien AI which has refused to communicate with humans or their AIs for decades upon decades. There are two human AIs, one of which is totally insane, and the other one probably is, for it has released the black (physically as well; perhaps Asher doesn't really care for metaphors) AI. Not really. The wicked part of it is sealed away (and leaks out somewhere in the second half of the book, ha ha).

Back up a bit. The reason Dragon crashed on the planet is that it sold its augments to the religious government, found them to be somewhat resistant, and in a tremendous set of double crosses, the theocracy used a Dragon supplied superweapon and Dragon destroyed them. Largely. The rest being taken care of by the Underground.

at this point, I suggest you read the book for yourself. It is hugely complicated, there are giant wars run by AIs and fantastical future weapons. The Technician fulfils its destiny, as does the remaining theocrat, assorted Polity agents (not Ian Cormac, but good enough), dracomen, gabbleducks, and whole series of satisfyingly alien aliens. Yesss! Aliens more wacky than Larry Niven could come up with, and that is saying something.

Yes, there are truly villainous villains, and unlike, say George RR Martin stories, they do get their just desserts, and lots of people live happily ever after.

Fanlike drooling prevents me from typing further for fear of damaging my keyboard.

Finders keepers, losers weepers

Books | Belinda Bauer | Finders Keepers

Someone is kidnapping kids and leaving behind yellow sticky notes that read “You don't love him” or “You don't love her”. Most of the kids are kidnapped when they are left unattended for trivial lengths of time. Like dropped off by their school bus or told to go to the car in the parking lot while the parents amble up. Certainly a nightmare scenario for any parent. And the town is full of anxious parents. The clues are few (the reader gets more of them than the detective).

On the other hand, there is Jason Holly, a policeman who has lost his family and seems to have become somewhat unhinged, and who is therefore off duty, and off the case. Except that he cannot, or will not, keep himself away. The guilty consciences of kids and adults cause more confusion. You know how it is: relatively minor stuff gets told lies about, which ends up complicating the main investigation.

All the spoiler I will give you is that there is a happy ending. Mostly.

This is a story in which the psychology of the detective is complicated enough, and the villain's is gruesome. Which means that your hair will stand on end. At least, mine did.

17 April 2013

Should we keep faith in David Baldacci?

Books | David Baldacci | Saving Faith

Lee Adams is hired by a mysterious client to find Faith Lockhart. Faith has disappeared because she is being protected by the FBI, whom she has approached to cut a deal. In return for information about high-level misdeeds, she wants her mentor, lobbyist Danny Buchanan, and herself to be home free. Now, somebody is after her, FBI agents get killed, and she is on the run, along with Lee Adams.

Is Danny really a lobbyist with a heart of gold, or something a lot darker?

Unlike many books by Baldacci, this one describes emotions rather than letting us feel them directly, which to my mind is a drawback. Or perhaps it isn't fair to hold only Baldacci to higher standards, eh? No, by gum, it is perfectly fair.

Slower than some of his other books, some good twists and turns, but the climactic scenes are not handled that well. They're a bit like from a formulaic Hollywood movie (you know the hero can win against a zillion villains), although there is certainly one Noooooo! moment.

There are better books by David Baldacci, but this one's not bad either.

13 April 2013

Catching up with my reading

I've still got to tell you about Saving Faith by David Baldacci and Dark Visions (an anthology), yet I've read whole scads of books in the meantime. So I'll just list them here quickly, and you can expect to read about these in due course.

Finders Keepers by Belinda Bauer
Exposed by Alex Kava
Illegal Action by Stella Rimington
The Technician by Neal Asher
If I Should Die by Allison Brennan
Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott
Heroes of Olympus - The Demigod Diaries by Rick Riordan et fil
Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci
Dreamland by Jim DeFelice and Dale Brown
iBoy by Kevin Brooks
If I Should Die by Judith Kelman (no, I'm not repeating myself, same name, different authors!)
Variant by Robinson Wells
Plugged by Eoin Colfer
Battle Born by Dale Brown
Think of a Number by John Verdon
Case of Lies by Perri O'Shaughnessy
Stolen Magic by MJ Putney
Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Fragment by Warren Fahy
The Donor by Frank M Robinson

Jeffery Devious writes another thriller

Thriller | Jeffery Deaver | XO

Jeffery Deaver is one of the most devious writers around. His books have more turns and twists than a jalebi (Westerners think the pretzel is twisted; Indians laugh at their naivete). This one is true to the tradition.

Kayleigh Towne, a brilliant and beautiful singer, is being stalked. Fortunately, she is close friends with Kathryn Dance, my favourite fictional kinesics expert. Dance helps Kayleigh to escape the stalker. Or is the stalker the real villain? People get killed. The truth is finally got at some half a page or so before the end. A true jalebi of a story, typical Jeffery Devious. Read, read.

Perri, the mason of legal thrillers.

Legal thriller | Perri O'Shaughnessy | Unfit to Practice

Nina Reilly, the legal eagle who is almost too good to be true, is working on her relationship with Paul, her investigator, when, one tired night, she leaves her client files in her car (actually, her truck; Americans call those monster machines cars for some reason that the rest of humanity cannot fathom). Sure enough, in the morning, her car has been stolen, with the files. The car finds its way back, thanks to police who really don't like a defense lawyer, and don't believe they were there to start with, particularly as our lawyer refuses to release any information on what the files looked like or contained.

Except now her clients are getting into messes. Lethal ones. And suddenly, there is a pack of cases against her to get her disbarred as she is unfit to practice. But wait, there is a lawyer who specialises in defending such as her, and Paul introduces her ... to her ex-husband. Convolutions in the relationship, and shenanigans in the hearings.

You do know she'll come off smelling of roses, but you wonder at the same time, who is it who is out to ruin her (and if any clients need to be blooded at the altar of her ruin, so be it). Neat.

Somehow, I do like the Perri (Pamela + Mary, sisters) O'Shaughnessy books I've read (there's another one in the queue for writing about), but it's almost always picked up as a second choice. Something safe and not likely to overly horrify or to shake my thinking. Lazy Sunday reads. Really lazy.

Othello, Othello, wherefore art thou, Othello?

Detective | Peter Robinson | All the Colours of Darkness

Inspector Banks (now, of course, promoted), is recalled from his holiday when some kids find a man hanging from a tree, quite dead. He is a set and costume designer in a local theatre, and as the theatre is about to get a large windfall and he is about to be propelled into name, fame and money, why on earth should he kill himself? I'm not going to do any spoilers, so all I'll say is, if the real police can unearth such hidden motives and find the right proofs, the world will be a safer place. Or at least a more just one. One of the best books in this series, imho.

My Brother's Finder

Thriller | Joseph Finder | Vanished

Joseph Finder has written a book about someone who has Vanished. That's irony.

The book is fun, though, and I predict Nick Heller will soon be a best-selling series book hero. His sister-in-law is walking back with her husband after dinner, when they are attacked. Roger screams “Why her?” Why indeedy? Surely, Roger is not what he seems, and sure enough, that's what we soon find out. Who can decipher this Gordian knot? Enter Nick Heller, the only one who can get to the root of this tale. Also featuring a sharp and interesting teen, this book has some breathtaking action scenes and crisp dialog. I particularly liked the one in which the teen asks the uncle if he uses a gun to 'get' his targets. Nope, says the uncle. He uses his hands. You kill people with your hands? gasps the teen in awe. No, says the uncle witheringly, I search for them on the computer...

09 April 2013

Lucky Luke takes on Ma Dalton, and does not lose.

Graphic Novel | Morris and Goscinny |  Ma Dalton

Lucky Luke, our hero, who can shoot faster than his own shadow, takes on Ma Dalton and the Dalton brothers (a set of clones in different sizes, with the shortest of them being the smartest, and the tallest, the stupidest, but all of them equally funny). The Dalton brothers are in jail, which they break out of, going home to ma. Lucky Luke is sent after them, with the help of the wonder dog, Rin Tin Can (I know, right?). The wonder is if he is ever awake.

The book is a riot of laughs. Like when the brothers read a letter together, and conclude that one of the letters is a 'g'. Later, you find out what the letter is when the tallest Dalton rushes to his mother, calling, 'It's me, Ma, your gagy!' I laughed out loud. The horse gets his laughs, too. The whole thing is as convoluted as a prime time sitcom, and twice as funny.

I guess there were cigarettes in the Wild West. Lucky Luke has plenty of them. Today, the story would have had a statutory warning that tobacco is dangerous, or maybe Lucky Luke would not have been a smoker at all. Only smokin' fast with his gun.

Her dresses are worth more than her strength

Fantasy | Elizabeth Haydon | Destiny 

As someone mentioned online, no wonder people prefer writing fantasy to hard science fiction. A few horses, some random magic, a demon to vanquish, and dresses like a millionaire's wedding confection. That's all you need to generate terrific sales. No wondering if the planet you posit would develop with the atmosphere you need for the critters you invented for the story to move. Ha.

The first thing I noticed about the book was the contorted pose of the heroine on the cover. Bent head, bust stuck out, butt stuck out, and no feet. She is also holding—delicately--a long and heavy sword, at one end, cantilevered out ridiculously. Try standing like that in real life, and you may find the ground is closer than you thought, as well as a lot harder and sooner than you expected, and the sword, while dropping, would take off a knuckle or two. The only people who can hold huge swords in two fingers are the video game characters in Final Fantasy. Oh, wait, this is a fantasy, too.

This book is part of a series, the last in the row. Rhapsody, a Namer, has tied up with Achmed, an assassin who is now a king, and the Sergeant (who gets only a few bit parts in this book). She is also in love with Ashe, or is his name Gwydion? The evil F'dor is finally bested by our heroes in this book. Assorted magic weilders suddenly and for no good reason decide they want Rhapsody as their Queen, so she gets a lot of gowns that take several pages to describe. Characters with exotic and relentless power succumb to her charm, or her Naming, or something else. Anyway, the reader who identifies with Rhapsody will be much reassured to be told, several times in the book, that she is way powerful, and the most beautiful woman in the world. Powerful men love her to bits.

Damn. That's all I remember. There were some nice fantasy scenes in between, but this is what sticks. Why do I read these books? Because they don't mind if I switch off my brain before I start? Not good enough reason, my dear...

Living in olden times

Historical detective | Michael Jecks | The Sticklepath Strangler 

Many books that purport to be placed in the past get the past all wrong. If you were a king, you would be relatively well off, albeit without a decent doctor or dentist, but for the majority of people, life was nasty, brutish and short. Ordinary people had little or no rights. As Lois McMaster Bujold's Capt Cordelia Naismith once drily remarked, democrats have no problem with an aristocracy as long as they get to be the aristocrats. Aren't most of us fantasy readers expected to identify with benevolent kings rather than the downtrodden serfs? Yeah, you read my previous review, right? It would indeed be difficult in the extreme for us to identify with the serfs of bygone ages, so Michael Jecks wisely gives us the viewpoint of Baldwin Furnshill (Sir, no less) so that we aren't faced with the viewpoints of the ordinary villagers of Sticklepath (steep path) -- which would drive us quickly insane.

Did you know that villages were fined if a murder occurred in them? Heavily? Now that's a motive for not reporting it, if there ever was one. However, a blabbermouth traveller happens to be around when some young girls discover an old body in a wall, and the King's men, Sir Baldwin and his friend the bailiff Simon, turn up to investigate.

The mystery is an old-fashioned detective story (ha! In more ways than one) in which you get clues, and you have to deduce the facts logically from what people state. No forensics, no photographs, not even written records. More than one murder is unearthed (cough, cough, no pun intended, I'm sure), and more than one murderer is unmasked, with more than one motive for murder. To Jecks' credit, he manages to explain the surreal motives of people in ye olde times understandable, with good doses of prior exposition neatly woven into the story so that you get your aha moment from the mystery's solution(s).

It's easy to understand the jaquerie after reading a book like this and finding out what a horrible life most people had before the industrial revolution and modern medicine. I'm grateful to live now, and not a few centuries ago, and especially not in rural England.

Recommended for a good mystery as well as insight into ye olde times.