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Maddalena

Space & Sorcery

My reading adventures in Science Fiction, Fantasy and other speculative fiction genres

Currently reading

Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Red Rising
Pierce Brown

John Scalzi's "REDSHIRTS" becomes a tv mini-series

The author just announced the news on his blog.

Here is the official announcement.

 

Redshirts won the 2013 Hugo for Best Novel and is a deceptively light story that's both amusing and thought-provoking, while it pokes some fun at the tropes of sci-fi series.

 

Let's hope that scripts and casting will treat the source material as it deserves...

Indexing

Indexing (Kindle Serial) - Seanan McGuire

A new book by Seanan McGuire (or Mira Grant, depending on the genre) is something I always look forward to since I discovered this prolific and imaginative author, and this one was no exception. It was originally published as a serial on Kindle, then released as a single book - much better from my point of view, because I don't take well to waiting between installments.

 

The original concept is intriguing: what we know as fairy tales are just different aspects of reality that keep trying to intrude in our primary world, more often than not wreaking some kind of havoc, and a secret government agency works to keep the balance. What's interesting is that most of these agents are fairy tale material themselves, somewhat "frozen" before their narrative can develop its dangerous potential.

 

As I've come to expect from McGuire's books, the story (or rather, stories) develops on the fine line between drama and humor - the latter often tinged with dark overtones. Unfortunately the serialized aspect of this work seems to prevent a deeper insight into what makes the main characters tick, and they look a little less defined than what I've come to expect after enjoying her October Daye or Incryptid series.

 

The book is however a quick and entertaining read, and the character of Sloane - the archetype for the Wicked Stepsister - became soon my favorite, since I can't resist a nasty-tempered, often foul-mouthed kickass heroine. My only regret is that McGuire has declared there will be no further issues - at least for now - in this series, and this is a pity because I know that her world-building gets better over time and "practice", and here I've seen a huge potential that needs to be tapped and explored more fully.

 

Hopefully the future will bring some better news...

The Affinity Bridge (Newbury & Hobbes #1)

The Affinity Bridge - George Mann

I'm of two minds about this book: on one side it was a quick, not unpleasant read, different enough in genre from my usual haunts to be interestingly new; on the other I felt it lacked something - maybe a deeper exploration of the characters, or maybe the willingness to push the envelope a bit further.

 

The beginning drew me in immediately, with its vivid descriptions of an alternate London at the beginning of the 20th Century, and the presentation of several narrative threads that in the end fused into one big mystery (with zombies, to boot!); and yet toward the middle of the book it all felt a little... stale, for want of a better word, or maybe predictable, and something very close to disappointment settled on me.

 

One of the two main characters, Veronica Hobbes, is quite interesting and does not suffer from any cliché of the genre: she is indeed a daring heroine yet she suffers from some human failings, and that makes her both believable and likeable. Her counterpart Sir Maurice Newbury, on the other hand, has too many points in common with Sherlock Holmes (including a dependence on drugs) to appear truly original.

 

If the action scenes are quite good, showing the author can build up the narrative tension when he feels like it, they are offset by long explanatory dialogues that do nothing to move the pace - and the story - along.

 

Those dialogues also feel a little stilted, as if the author were trying hard to conform to the historical period's speech patterns: he does not do it in a convincing way, though, so that it all feels contrived rather than natural. To make matters worse, at least from my point of view, the repeated use of the term "whilst" transformed soon into an annoyance that kept drawing me further out of the narrative.

 

It was not enough to make me stop reading, and I did indeed finish the book, but not even an unexpected turn in the epilogue managed to offset that anti-climatic dissatisfaction. I'm more than ready to admit that the fault must lie with me and my tastes, but no matter what, I'm not sure I will be reading any more stories in this series...

 

An Autumn War (The Long Price Quartet #3)

An Autumn War  - Daniel Abraham

This third installment of Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet is definitely more than the sum of its predecessors, both of them outstanding books: where the first two parts of this series introduced the world in which the action unfolds, and fleshed out the characters peopling it, An Autumn War brings all these elements to fruition in a tale that is both enthralling and satisfying.

 

One of the most fascinating aspects of this series has been the notion of the andats, the anthropomorphic manifestations of complex thoughts or ideas summoned to life by the "poets", specially trained people able to give them substance and control them. Andats like Seedless - the creature that can "remove the part that continues" and is employed by the cotton growers to remove the seed from raw cotton so that the weavers can easily process the material; or Stone-Made-Soft, dedicated to mining and effortless tunneling. These constructs require a constant vigilance though, because like all unwilling slaves they hunger for freedom and are not averse to dangerous or deadly trickery.

 

The Khaiem, the eastern-like, feudal culture deployed over several city-states, has used the andats for generations, relying on them to the point that no other way of life is deemed possible, to the point that the loss of a city's andat means ruin and decadence. While their historical adversaries, the Galt, see the creatures as a danger and an obstacle to progress, and are determined to rid the world of them.

 

This is the nature of the conflict built over the previous two books and that finds here its culmination: what is fascinating is that the main opponents - Otah, Khai of the city-state of Machi and General Gice, the Galt commander bent on destroying the andats - are both honorable men, and likeable, complex characters, who want the best for their own peoples. The unexpected, tragic way in which the conflict is resolved opens the road to future promising developments, since the aftermath will require huge adjustments from both cultures. The last book in the saga will no doubt be quite interesting...

 

The more I read of Abraham's work, the more I appreciate his storytelling style, simple and elegant, with rich descriptions that paint a complex, fascinating picture. The best feature of this saga comes from his choice to forgo the usual (and in my opinion over-used) medieval-like setting, to create a culture resembling that of ancient Japan - complete with structured hand gestures ("poses") that convey subtle layers of meaning. This new approach, combined with a minimal but expressive prose, makes for a compelling reading that never fails to leave me wanting for more.

Books, books and... more books!

                       

                                     

 

 

Let's admit it: our TBR lists are already filled to capacity, and yet there's always that little devil whispering in our ears that some other interesting book is just around the corner. And how could we resist that kind of temptation?

 

For me, this tendency has become worse since I switched from paper books to an e-reader: if, in the past, the thought of not having enough shelf space could curb my hoarding instincts, now I've lost any residual trace of self- control.

 

When I see a title that looks promising, and if the reviews seem to indicate that the story might appeal to my tastes, I go to an online bookstore, buy and download. No need to have a list with a certain number of books to make the Amazon delivery price worthwhile, no more waiting for the postal service to deliver my volumes to the door. Instant gratification. Technology is indeed both a wonder and a bane!

 

Right now I have 18 books stored in my e-reader's memory (a couple of them already read), and a folder on my computer with the other "prizes" waiting to be enjoyed - and regularly backed up on an external drive. I just wish that my free time could be as expandable as a computer's memory banks...

Red Seas under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards #2)

Red Seas under Red Skies - Scott Lynch

This second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series was something of a letdown, at least in the beginning: having thoroughly enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora, I expected to be just as thrilled with Red Seas Under Red Skies, but for the first half of this book it was not so. This second installment takes a while to finally find its legs, and that happens only when Locke and Jean, the surviving members of the Gentlemen Bastards, meet with pirate Zamira Drakasha's crew and the adventure begins in earnest.

 

Until then, Mr. Lynch's story seems to wander in several directions, as if in search of its identity: the only reason I stayed with it was that I wanted to trust the author on the basis of the first book's strength and innovative storytelling - luckily for me, that trust paid off in the end, even though it was a close call.

 

One of the book's saving graces comes of course from its main characters: the interplay between Locke and Jean both defines them as persons and expands on the story. Here they are often at odds with each other: the loss of their comrades, Locke's fall into depression and Jean's efforts to carry them both forward until they can recover from that loss, all contribute to a friction that explodes at times into dangerous conflict. Yet their friendship - the bond of kinship that goes well beyond mere association to become true brotherhood - comes out of those pitfalls stronger than ever.

 

The pirate society - or rather the microcosm aboard the Poison Orchid, the ship where our heroes become full-fledged raiders - is wonderfully described and quite vivid: Drakasha is a memorable character, a pirate captain who is a middle-aged woman and a mother, but at the same time a ruthless brigand and a fair, level-headed commander. Her second Ezri is also a strong female character, but sadly she gets less development than Drakasha, since her function seems to be there merely as Jean's love interest, and she finally shines through only toward the end in a dramatic scene that loses nothing of its potency even as the reader realizes that events were tailored to bring that ending about.

 

After the shaky beginning I mentioned the plot does gain speed and proceeds toward the end in a satisfactorily adventurous way, but still I feel that it lacks the spirited quality of the first book, that the author somehow felt the pressure to deliver that followed the debut novel in this series and this hampered his style in some way.

 

Nonetheless, the misgivings I listed are not enough to stop me from going on reading - not in the least because this second book closes with a huge cliffhanger that I can't wait to see resolved...

October Daye short stories by Seanan McGuire

Two poignant additions to the October Daye series, or rather its background and past, that can be freely downloaded from author Seanan McGuire's site.

 

In both cases the short stories expand on the Selkie myths while showcasing two of the best characters from the series, respectively the Luidaeg (In Sea-Salt Tears) and Tybalt, King of Cats (Forbid the Sea).  And in both stories, those characters lose their loved ones to the sea, even though in different ways.

In these two stories I found a change in the usual tone employed with the Toby Daye novels: while the main series is a seamless blend of drama and wry humor, these shorts contain a not-so-subtle vein of melancholy, an underlying sense of heartbreak that cuts deep and stays with you for some time after the end of the tale.

As always, I am amazed at the depth and richness of Seanan McGuire's narrative, one of my best discoveries of the last two years, and the way in which her stories can always be different and totally engrossing, no matter the length or the subject.

Incryptid Short Stories by Seanan McGuire

I've delayed reading these short stories, available for free download from author's Seanan McGuire's site, because I prefer traditional books to short format stories; but I felt like exploring a little bit more of the Incryptid universe and decided to… take the plunge, so to speak.

Well, it was a very pleasant surprise: these short stories, read in sequence, give the effect of a complete novel, and expand on the main story's background in a major way.

 

There are seven of them:

One Hell of a Ride
No Place Like Home
Married in Green
Sweet Poison Wine
The First Fall
Loch and Key
We Both Go Down Together


The main characters are Frances Brown and Jonathan Healy, the great-grandparents of Verity Price - protagonist of the first two books in this series - and the sequence follows their story as they meet, fall in love and proceed to have a family of their own, despite the unusual lifestyle the Healys have chosen for themselves.

In pure McGuire style there is humor finely balanced with drama - in some instances very heavy drama - that drew me right in and kept me reading at a fast pace. The author can draw some wonderful characters and breathe life into them in a special way, and that's true both for humans and cryptids.  

McGuire has a knack for creating these bizarre creatures - be they either drawn from mythology or totally invented - and providing them with some human traits that make them less scary and at the same time totally believable.

No Incryptid review would be complete without a mention of the Aeslin mice: they are, in my opinion, the most brilliant creation in McGuire's universe, both funny and thoughtful and a constant background presence, not much different from a Greek chorus in their observations of unfolding events.  Every time they appear on the scene, I can't refrain from smiling - and cheering of course.

When I read that the next Incryptid novel would focus on different characters from the ones presented until now, I had some doubts, fearing that the story would somehow lose momentum, but after the experience with these short stories there are no more misgivings in my mind.  I know I can trust McGuire to deliver a rich and entertaining tale, no matter the… actors.

A Betrayal in Winter (Long Price Quartet #2)

A Betrayal in Winter - Daniel Abraham

When I finish the first book in a series I don't usually go straight to the following volume, leaving myself some time to… digest the story and the characters. Not this time: after closing A Shadow in Summer I began immediately to read book two, and that might explain the undefined feeling of something missing that had me struggling to go on for the first few chapters.  Luckily for me that sensation passed quickly and once the story started to unfold I was once more totally immersed in Daniel Abraham's world and completely absorbed by the unfolding tale.

 

Such elements that were more lightly touched in the first book, as the cruel custom of sending away the "excess" sons of a ruling house so they don't create further contention with their warring brothers over succession, take a more defined and dramatic shape in the second book where the story develops with the characteristics and rhythms of a Greek tragedy, where the reader (or spectator) knows that it can only end in death and anguish - and that's one of the hooks that grab the reader and never let go until the end.

 

The level of political intrigue and scheming is taken to new levels, at the same time giving a broader and deeper insight into the world's society and its customs, and at the same time it forces the characters - both old and new - toward choices that can be both cruel and unavoidable.  I am amazed at Mr. Abraham's skill in world building and the way he makes the background of the cities and the world at large interact with those characters and create a solid, believable, three-dimensional story animated by people I care about - both in the positive and negative way.

 

With a very few exceptions I tend not to re-read books, but I suspect these will end up in that short list, because I'm certain that revisiting them will prove even more entertaining, and that I will discover more facets that I might have overlooked now.

A Shadow in Summer (Long Price Quartet #1)

A Shadow in Summer  - Daniel Abraham

I was aware of Daniel Abraham as one half of the J.A. Corey partnership that penned the Expanse Trilogy, so I decided to try out his fantasy novels - and made a great discovery.  Over the years I've become somewhat picky in my fantasy reading, and whenever I find myself confronted with over-used tropes I quickly lose patience and abandon the book: this was something else entirely

 

The main definition I can come up with for this first volume of The Long Price Quartet is enchanting: the unusual, almost-far-Eastern setting , with its customs and sights and smells, is so very different and so aptly described that I could practically feel it taking shape all around me. 

 

More than once I wondered if there was not some subtle message in the concept of poets giving shape and life to ideas with their thoughts and creating the andats - beings that embody those thoughts and concepts - because while I was immersed in Mr. Abraham's words I considered that he had managed the same feat, to create a vivid world that lived and breathed under my eyes. The same notion that andats do possess a will of their own, often in contrast to the poet's, seemed to reinforce my belief, because sometimes a story does indeed take off in a direction a writer had not foreseen at all.

 

The tale is all about subtle games of power, intricate plots and far-reaching consequences more than about clashes between good and evil or warring empires; struggles are more focused on the inner workings of a character's mind rather than on armies; choices and decisions, and their consequences, have more impact on an individual's moral compass rather than on a kingdom or a world. And yet, for this very reason - and not despite it - the resulting anguish and strife feel more profound and meaningful.

 

This subtlety is mirrored by the fascinating detail of hand gestures that supplement and enhance the spoken language, adding nuances of meaning that cannot be conveyed by word alone; these gestures, together with the different name suffixes that define the various social relationships, are so very pervasive and yet unexplained, adding to the depth of the story in an undefined but very effective way, keeping me awake until the small hours for more times than I care to remember…