Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reading in March

Even doing a review a week, there's no way I can get through all the books I want to get through. There is, of course, no obvious NEED to review everything I've read, but I feel like I should at least mention most of it. I'm not doing this (purely) in a masturbatory, look-what-I've-read fashion, but hopefully also giving you a rough idea about the books I don't have time to talk about in a more developed fashion. I'll also link any reviews I've done for the books, as well as any outside reviews that I found particularly worth reading. So, without further ado, what I read in March:

The Handmaid’s Tale is a disturbing, intriguing novel. It’s very much a novel of excellent prose and slight shifts rather than big explosions, and you need to be digging into every word as you read, but the experience is well worth it. My only qualm is the needlessly ambiguous ending, especially since any actual doubts are resolved in the epilogue.

The first Black Company novel in the omnibus was interesting due to the writing’s simplicity and the world’s refreshing amorality, but I wasn’t totally sold on the series. I can’t say that I’m a total convert yet, but Shadows Linger went a long way toward winning me over. My main gripe with the first volume, the highly episodic nature of the plotting, is absent here, and the character of Shed gives the story some variety. I have no idea how Cook’s going to bring this to a close in just two hundred or so pages, but I guess I’ll find out when I read White Rose next month. Look for a review then.

I’ve heard again and again that Malazan gets worse as it goes along, and I know two or three people who dropped the series at Reaper’s Gale, and yet it’s having the opposite effect on me. I didn’t fall in love until House of Chains, and each successive volume seems to just drag me deeper. This volume wasn’t perfect, of course (none of the Malazan books are even close to that), but like with all the other volumes, there are enough jaw dropping positives to overpower the occasional cringe worthy negative. I’m going to try and wrap up the Malazan series in a grand series of reviews once I get caught up.

Mad Ship is even better than Ship of Magic, and Ship of Magic in turn was even better than Farseer. At this rate, Liveships is going to quite possibly become my favorite trilogy. The characterization is just as good here, the world is broad and interesting, and the plot will occasionally surprise the hell out of you…though it probably wouldn’t have helped if the back cover didn’t reveal the first few hundred pages of the book quite so glibly. Look for my review once I finish the trilogy.

I’ve said it before (to myself, if that counts) that Stephen King is the best modern horror author there is (though I haven’t read nearly enough to properly make that statement), and that The Shining is his best novel (there I think I can qualify, having read over twenty of ‘em). I’ve been truly terrified by three stories – and I mean terrified, not kinda uncomfortable or whatever the hell most horror movies are shooting at – and the Shining has one of those three scenes. The horror, however, is far from the main part. Jack’s struggle with himself is torturous to watch, yet some of the best writing I’ve ever read. The ending is awful, but compared to some of King’s others it’s only kinda-awful, so I guess we’re lucky there. If you haven’t read the Shining yet, you’re missing out.

I have no idea why I picked Stephen King’s latest short story collection, when his earliest was stocked right next to it, no less, but I did, and I really wish I hadn’t. Everything’s Eventual is the first time that I’ve been truly disappointed by King, but damn did it hurt. My complete review is here.

The City and the City is a bit of an outlier for Mieville, but it succeeds at what it set out to do with ease. The book’s cornerstone, the two overlapping cities and their mutual ignoring campaign, is thought provoking and well handled, and the cinematic prose style (as in a lack of interior thoughts, not a lot of explosions) conveyed the atmosphere quite well. Unfortunately, both of those are interesting techniques that don’t make for easy reads. In addition, the ending, while technically filling all of the holes, was more than a bit disappointing. Though I don't necessarily agree with his conclusions, James has a good review of this up that should let you get a decent idea of the contents.

You know when you’ve built your expectations about something to the point where you know it’s going to disappoint you? And then it surpasses even those? Yeah, that’s what happened with Terminal World. It’s not a perfect novel, but it’s impossible to predict and written with a ridiculous amount of panache. If I were to compare it to something, I’d say that it’d be an odd mixture of Century Rain, Mieville’s bibliography. If you like Reynolds, you need to read this. If I succeed in composing my thoughts, I’ll write a review of this in a week or two. Until then, I'll contrast the Wert review I posted earlier with the Walker of Worlds one that I just read. Though some of the things he disliked were precisely why I loved the book, the review's quite informative and should give you a good idea of what you're getting into. UPDATE, I've now reviewed this here.

Old Man’s War was a fun, easy ride that had some intriguing ideas under its hood. The whole experience was slightly marred, however, by occasional clichés (which aren’t helped by Scalzi’s pointing them out) and a few scenes that are just too over the top to be effective. If you’ve read the book, you know what I mean. Hint: it involves Lilliputians. Still, I’ll be reading more of Scalzi’s work without a doubt. If you want a more comprehensive look at the novel, check out Aidan’s review. For a glimpse of some more of the novel's faults, go here.

This was absolutely delightful. The play is laugh out loud funny at several points, and the underlying ideas are brilliant. I only have two regrets: 1. That I couldn’t see it performed, and 2. That I didn’t get a chance to write down some of the passages before having to return my copy.

Not every story in this collection works, but every story tries something new and imaginative. There are three main story cycles here, as well as a few miscellaneous pieces, and all three are quite varied. The collection contains little in the way of new Ambergris material, though that’s not to say none, but the Incan stories are completely new and quite intriguing. Though I’d already read the majority of the Veniss stories in Veniss Underground, I was far more impressed the second time around, and I think my older treatment of them was more than a tad superficial. VanderMeer has yet to disappoint me, and he certainly didn’t do it here.

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