Y’all, I managed to get more leisure reading done in the past three months than I have in the past two years combined. It’s amazing what being stuck on a plane or a bus will do to one’s reading time, not to mention the one month I spent laid up in bed from a one-two whammy of a really nasty summer flu, followed by strep throat. (Lymph nodes the size of ripe plums, dudes. It was amazing.) In any case, I looked at the backlog of books I wanted to talk about, and realized I was never, ever going to write about them if I had to write my usual 1,000-1,500 word review. So what’s a girl to do? Why, review all of them at once, of course, in abbreviated blurb form. Everything’s more fun when it’s bite-sized!
So here, in approximately chronological order, are the first five of the ten books I’ve read so far this summer, and what I think of them:
Ilium by Dan Simmons (Science Fiction), HarperTorch 2005
I loved this book. Loved it. Nobody does cracktastically fun space opera like Dan Simmons, and this book is even more cracktastic than his last epic space opera (the Hyperion series—Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion are probably my two favorite far-future space operas of all time). It mashes together: sentient robots; resurrected classics scholars forced to watch and document a re-creation of the Iliad (and I do mean that in a literal sense); quantum mechanically savvy ancient Greek gods; a terraformed Mars; and humans struggling to regain lost knowledge while freeing themselves from mysterious machines that both serve them and imprison them in a life of indolence and luxury. All this is liberally doused liberally with the finest quantum mechanics gobbledegook this side of an Einstein-Rosen bridge and then deep-fried till crispy. The book jumps between at least three different major storylines, and those major storylines often break off into mini-storylines of their own, but Simmons keeps the pacing incredibly tight. It’s an enormous book, but like Schwarzenegger of old, there’s almost no fat on it; Simmons clearly had as much fun writing this as I had reading it. If you like your science fiction epic, action-packed and kinda schlocky, then look no further.
Olympos by Dan Simmons (Science Fiction), Eos 2006
And then Simmons lost control of the story. When I finished Ilium, I was on tenterhooks: dear God, how could he resolve all the craziness he’d kick-started? The last book ended, not so much with a bang, as a world-shattering boom. But alas, in this follow-up, things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the worlds of Earth, Ilium-Earth and terraformed Mars. We rocket crazily from storyline to storyline, jumping between the sentient robots known as moravecs, the resurrected human scholar named Hockenberry, the various characters from the Iliad (Helen, Menelaus, Achilles), and various “old-style” humans who find themselves facing bloody sieges. In short: Simmons piles on MORE stuff instead of working on resolving existing storylines. When bits of backstory create holes in plot and worldbuilding, never fear: they’re spackled with copious amounts of quantum gobbledegook. Tsk. Also: the resolution wasn’t so much weird, as it was dropped while only half-finished. To add insult to injury, the sentences and editing reflect the slapdash plot, with typos and just plain bad sentences dotting the book like soft spots on a peach. Reading Olympos, I was overcome with the strongest urge to grab the editor and copyeditor by their scruffs and yell “Bad puppy! No cookie for you!” In short: disappointing. Incoherent. Loose. (And look! I just set the foundation for a Your Mom joke!)
Sebastian by Anne Bishop (Fantasy), Roc 2007
I had been assured that Anne Bishop was an amazing author I needed to try if I liked romantic fantasy with dark, complicated characters, so when I was laid up at @HeatherOsborn’s apartment with the beginnings of strep throat, I decided to pull her copy off her holy shit AMAZING shelves. (This woman has more books than I do. I don’t know whether to be turned on, or scared, or both.) It turned out to be pretty disappointing: the world-building was really interesting, but the characters were mostly meh. The world, Ephemera, is a world that responds to the deepest fears and desires of its inhabitants, and A Long Time Ago, it was literally torn apart by magic in an effort to save it from the Eater of Worlds. (Here’s a strategy for you: shatter your world into bits, then wall off the Big Bad Magic Monster into an unconnected shattered bit. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this plan! Like, say, somebody POKING A HOLE IN THE WALL WITH A POINTED STICK.) The various bits of world are kept healthy and sane by Landscapers, and they’re connected by bridges built by, uh, Bridges. Some of the bridges act the way you expect them to: they connect one landscape to another. Other bridges, however, are resonating bridges, which means that they take you to landscapes that resonate with your heart’s deepest desire, so you a) never know exactly where you’re going, and b) you have no guarantee of getting back to where you came from. Which I thought was kind of dippy (is this a book written for emo twelve-year-olds?), but kind of fascinating, because you could have a lot of fun with this sort of thing (hey, I was an emo twelve-year-old once upon a time). The characters, though, are just plain flat. The hero, Sebastian, is an incubus with a heart of gold (he can’t help but fuck! Like, a lot of women! Really! Otherwise he dies) and the heroine, Whatserbucket, is a generic fresh farmhouse ingénue who is abused and unappreciated. And then they get sucked into the battle to save Ephemera because Sebastian’s favorite cousin, Glorianna, is also the Most Powerful Landscaper Evar, with Stupendous Powers of Mary Sue in her steely yet sorrowing fingertips, and she’s pretty much the only one who can take care of Big Bad Eater Daddy. The romance is thin, because the characters are mostly familiar caricatures, but the world-building is interesting enough that I may pick up the sequel, Belladonna, some time in the future.
The Grey King by Susan Cooper (Young Adult), McElderry 2007
Though I’d heard of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series ever since I was a wee ‘un, I had never picked up one of the books until last December—when Snowpocalypse was befalling Portland (we got almost two feet of snow where we were, which is unheard-of in Po-Po), which certainly made reading The Dark Is Rising extra super special creepy. I was hooked, and have been kicking myself for not having picked it up twenty years ago. The Grey King, the penultimate in the five-book cycle, starts with Will, Our Intrepid Protagonist, going to Wales to recover from a bout of hepatitis. His brains have been a bit battered about because of the sickness, and he knows there’s something he needs to do while there—something about a prophecy regarding the malevolent Grey King, and awakening the Sleepers, but he’s not sure he can remember everything in time to fulfill his quest. This book also introduces Bran, an albino boy with mysterious origins who befriends Will and has a significant part to play in the coming battle against the Dark. In all, the novel is engaging and beautifully-written, though it does a little bit too much of the “Oh, the young ‘uns aren’t in too much danger because there are Forces Working to Put Things In Place” hand-waving to resolve certain conflicts in parts of the story, and oftentimes, the readiness of the Light to sacrifice anything to win its battle against the Dark makes (in my opinion) the separation between Light and Dark pretty damn thin. If you have a young ‘un, or if you’re young at heart, you’ll probably enjoy this one.
Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas (Historical Romance – European), Avon 2006
Lisa Kleypas novels are the equivalent of mashed potatoes for me: when they’re good, they’re amazing and filling and satisfying, and when they’re bad, they’re bland and gummy and kind of gross. Either way, I seem incapable of not finishing them. Devil in Winter, the third of the Wallflowers series, is competently written and pretty fun to read, but once I put it down, I had a hard time remembering what it was all about because it started blurring with all the other Kleypas novels I’ve read. There’s a cynical hero, and he’s hot and kind of a dick. There’s a shy heroine, and she’s the daughter of Ivo Jenner, the owner of one of the most notorious gambling houses in London. The cynical hero marries the heroine for cynical reasons (he likes living a rich life with minimal exertion), only to discover both his deeply-buried work ethic and that he’s actually besotted with his stuttering bride. There’s a suspense-ish side plot in which the Heroine Is In Danger, but the solution is quite glaringly obvious. In all, decently fun, but not something I’m ever going to re-read.