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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Capsule Reviews: Harry Turtledove, Chris Wooding, Hannu Rajaniemi, Tim Akers and Val Gunn (by Liviu Suciu)

As per the recent post about Anticipated 2010 Books revisited, here are some quick thoughts about four such, plus a small press series debut that will appear in 2011 and turned out to be a big mismatch with me.

FBC Review of 'Hitler's War" and of "The Man with the Iron Heart"

I liked Hitler's War, the series debut a lot, it's among the best Turtledove I've read and as fine a WW2 historical novel with a slight twist (WW2 starts in Sept 1938) that expands to quite different outcomes as it gets, but the rest is pitch perfect period, all told from the point of view of "grunts" - mostly soldiers and non-coms, with a submarine captain and a Stuka pilot Lt the highest ranked pov's - and two special women, a middle age US socialite from Philadelphia that gets stuck in the Reich and a 17 year old Jewish girl from Munster.

West and East continues the same absorbing story, with mostly the same pov's (some die and some new ones appear) and the book has a lot of happenings on the personal level of everyone, but as the big picture goes it is mostly a lull in the big battles kind of action, though things advance and we end as 1940 is approaching; since the series will go 6 minimum there is a lot to come (A)

Recommended by me and for all mil-fiction/alt-history fans who like a "grunt's eye of events".

***********************************************************FBC Review of "Retribution Falls"

Not on par with Retribution Falls but it has its moments - all the crew interactions in solving their personal issues from the last volume are superb, as are Frey's interactions with Trinica.
The plot is ok, less suspenseful than in
Retribution Falls and there is a bit too much repetition and not enough new stuff. The biggest failing though was in pulp moments like the silly beginning and the Amalicia part which made me cringe. All in all I am still in the series and I hope the next installment recaptures the excitement of Retribution Falls. (B)

Check this one out if you liked Retribution Falls

After all the hype, it turned out the author can write "gadget fiction" but it remains unclear if he can write interesting fiction otherwise since this book despite its moments falls flat as writing style goes. Far away from the vigorous prose of RK Morgan to whose Altered Carbon debut this one has been compared and far away from the ornate prose of JC Wright's debut The Golden Age to which this novel has many similarities in themes, the novel has many "goodies" and a great ending but it suffers from three major flaws:

The writing depends on gadgets and this was not a surprise since the author' short fiction I have read before had the same issues and made me a bit wary about this novel.

Emotional remoteness almost verging on solipsism and the worst flaw of all, plot dependence on "my magic is bigger than yours" typical of run-off-the-mill fantasies - here of course it's tech magic but there is the destined boy and all nonetheless.

If you are new to "sf as magic" - could not call it sense of wonder since there is only some of that - you may try this one, otherwise wait for the next installment to see if the author gets better at writing fiction rather than gadgetry. Though to be honest, the author writes better prose than other hard-sf authors like Charles Stross or Vernor Vinge so there may be hope, but this book' subject and his style do not match well. (B)

Instead of The Quantum Thief, I would also direct you to Liz Williams considerably superior "Banner of Souls" or 'Winterstrike" which have similar themes too though they eschew the mumbo-jumbo from this one.

***********************************************************FBC Review of "Heart of Veridon"

Very disappointing; I had so high hopes for this one after the wonderful Heart of Veridon novel and The Horns of Ruin was so linear, unsubtle, lacking nuance, predictable and with a heroine that is "wonder woman on steroids", untouchable and unbeatable with the often repeated "magical" invocations that became so annoying that I would shudder and skip when I encountered them...

Basically The Horns of Ruin is a comic strip disguised as a novel and set in a steampunk/fantasy world and the inventiveness of the author reads like unnecessary baggage; better do a straight out Superwoman in Gotham than this elaborate world wasted on such thin and totally lacking in depth novel.

The only redeeming quality is the narrative energy which the author clearly possesses and that made the experience of reading The Horns of Ruin partly enjoyable, but again so far from my high expectations....

If you are a fan of comic-book novelizations or of action-only UF and you do not mind an elaborate setting, this one may be for you.

Disappointing; the world is supposedly exotic but has no depth, the writing is ok in a thriller-ish mode, fast enough, but very bland characters, very disjointed plot and all depending on supposedly long going (nine centuries or so) conspiracies that are based on everyone being dumb and on coincidences; the extract that I read and made me try this one gives a very misleading impression of what comes after.

The ending redeems a bit the rest with some intriguing developments, but I have no intention of reading more in this series. Somewhat similar to Lamentation by K. Scholes, so if you liked that, you may like this one, but sadly not me... (D)

Also for fans of Richard Patterson and other "no-characters, all-action" thrillers with an exotic background.


The Reader said...

I like the V. Gunn book cover, seems sparsely striking. I haven't read any R. Patterson books.

Though I'm tempted to give this book a try.


Anonymous said...

So 'The Quantum Thief' disappointed you?
Ah, well. Takes all sorts, I suppose.

But a bit better than Stross and Vinge, though inferior to Morgan?

That's all right then, his future looks assured:-
Stross: 1 Hugo plus 4 nominations
Vinge: 3 Hugos plus 4 nominations

I think you'll find that with SF awards prose isn't the deciding factor:
Morgan: 0 Hugos, 0 nominations.

Liviu said...

I happen to think that Hugos are almost worthless these days, so I could not care less about that. As prizes go, there only two I really pay attention to the AC Clarke and The Man Booker especially for their longlists/submitted and shortlists though I do my duty and vote in the Locus awards

As for the rest, I happen to strongly dislike the prose of Mr. Vinge and dislike the one of Mr. Stross at least as far as recent novels go since I kind of liked Festival of Fools and Iron Sunrise and even at a stretch Glasshouse though it has some of the problems of TQF.

The model of the universe in TQF (more or less easy erasure of collective memory, hard AI, people in new bodies like people in new clothes, not even that since even new clothes get more attention, multiple humans like cells - ‘Trust me, you are out. It required considerable expense. Of course, there are still several million of you in the Prison, so consider yourself lucky....) requires much more as prose go to suspend my disbelief

Anonymous said...

I too find the cover for Gunn's book intriguing-much different than most standard fare you see on the shelves. A bit like the Prince of Nothing series. The Black Lung Captain cover is also very good as well.

Wow that is a bummer on Horns of Ruin. I absolutely devoured Aikers' Heart of Veridon, perfect for my pulp fantasy appetite. I still might have to pick Horns up.

In the Shadow of Swords you mentioned that the ending was somewhat redeeming. What do you mean by that?

- Taylor K.

Liviu said...

Maybe you will like Horns of Ruin - the same energy and elaborate world building as Veridon, but I strongly disliked the content - the book starts with almost (or at least it seems that way) 100 pages non-stop action and while I like action, this was a bit too much

Shadow of Swords has a pretty intriguing ending with some unexpected developments that may promise a subtler story next. It has also a lot of closure so it offers a reasonable reading experience from that point of view.

Bastard said...

Me and my bro liked Black Lung Captain better than Retribution Falls, for whatever it's worth.

Liviu said...

I saw several people saying that and that's fair since I can see their points; I think it all depends on which elements you put more weight/like more and which annoy you

I am big for "new universe" for example so lots of first books have an extra oomph for me just by being first (Leviathan/westerfeld, the Kate Griffin UF, Prospero Lost, the Nylund series, the Kollin brother series are all examples where I liked the first book, have the second one but not read yet since they all are from subgenres that are more marginal for me than others and a lot of my liking the first one came to "new universe"...)


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