Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Random photo: Kitten!

Bad taste in your mouth after reading my bad review of The Iron Wyrm Affair? Here: have a kitten picture.

My cat Callisto at 8 moths old

Book review: The Iron Wyrm Affair

The Iron Wyrm Affair (Bannon & Clare, #1)The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Well, to be honest, this is the first book for which I have downloaded a sample to my Kindle, bought the full book, and then had an unsatisfying reading experience. Usually the samples are enough to filter out books I won't like. I don't often write bad reviews for books, but I'm going to make an exception for this one.

The Iron Wyrm Affair is set in a Victorian London-esque fantasy world. It chronicles how a sorceress called Emma Bannon and a "mentath" called Archibald Clare (basically Sherlock Holmes by another name) team up to thwart a trio of intertwined evil plots.

I bought this book because I enjoyed Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, and I thought The Iron Wyrm Affair would be a similar sort of book. Unfortunately, whereas Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair are true steampunk, The Iron Wyrm Affair is more "slap some gears on it and call it steampunk".

I had various other complaints about the book:

Lack of satisfaction

The Iron Wyrm Affair jumps back and forth between the two characters on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Saintcrow often ends chapters on cliffhangers. This in itself isn't a problem. But when she switches back to a character, instead of being greeted with the resolution to the cliffhanger, the reader instead finds that the character has already solved the problem, and the narrator proceeds to tell the reader what happened "off screen" in a short summary. In other words, a lot of the most interesting action happens while the reader isn't "looking". This makes for a most dissatisfying reading experience!

No understanding of logic

Which, let's face it, is a big problem when one of your characters is supposedly a walking computer / logician. When Archibald Clare is fighting another "mentath", his foe is described as "blasting him with pure logic". Um, what? When the worldbuilding specifically states that what a mentath can do is as far from magic as you can get? What does that even mean? The author seems to have been unable to come up with something for Clare to do, so she defaulted to a magic-like battle because that was what she was comfortable with. Clare's 'deductions' are also poorly realised.

Meaningless props and plot points

Rampaging mecha! Why? Er . . . because they're cool!

Offscreen baddies

As I mentioned earlier, there were, the reader is told, three evil plots to be thwarted by our heroes. But in only one of these was there a proper confrontation with the enemy. In one of the other plots, a secondary character takes out the bad guy OFF SCREEN and we don't even find out who was paying him or what the ultimate goal was. Hell, we never even SEE him! And the third plot we don't even have any evidence that it existed, other than that the characters told us it did, and there were bits of infodumping throughout the book to support their hypothesis. Again, not a satisfying conclusion.

Muddled storyline

The story gets so muddled and nonsensical towards the end that it honestly reads like a first draft. This story needs significant assistance from a structural editor, assistance which it apparently didn't receive.

All in all, I found little to redeem this book. I wouldn't recommend reading it. But it has made me think about what makes a good book, and where stories can go wrong, and I appreciate that lesson.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Book review: Empire State

Empire StateEmpire State by Adam Christopher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Superheroes, parallel dimensions, and noir – oh, my!

Empire State is the tale of two cities, reflections of one another – New York, and the Empire State. Neither of these cities are the one we know in our world. In New York, war is being waged between two rocket-powered superheroes who used to be the best of friends until they had a falling out. In the Empire State, a grim city suffering under Wartime restrictions, a private detective is hired to find a missing woman. These stories are linked together in a most puzzling manner.

Empire State kept me guessing – the overall picture of what is going on remains tantalisingly just out of reach for most of the book. I enjoyed the unusual combination of elements; while noir+superheroes has been done before, as has superheroes+parallel universes, noir+superheroes+parallel universes was just enough different to be fresh. I also enjoyed Christopher's attention to small details and his ability to capture the essence of a character or a scene with them. He is clearly a keen observer of human behaviour. Everything from the way characters walk to how they light their cigarettes or drink their drinks is carefully considered.

I do have a few small complaints about the book. First, it seemed as if there were just a few too many elements incorporated into the concept. If merely a single thing had been trimmed, the book might have been a more settled read. My other complaint is the logic of the timelines and people's ages. The only thing that I think needed to change for it all to make sense would be for the character Nimrod to be 20 years older than he was.

But all in all, I found Empire State a fresh and enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to Christopher's next book, Seven Wonders.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Movie review: The Dark Knight Rises

Last night we finally went to see The Dark Knight Rises. I've been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since I saw The Dark Knight. However, I have to say, The Dark Knight Rises is not as good as The Dark Knight. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy it, because I did. But it didn't live up to the promise of the previous movie.

  • The musical score was good compared with other movie scores, but not as good at the one for The Dark Knight, which is a particular favourite of mine.
  • Seeing Bruce Wayne as a pale shade of his former self was powerful to watch, but it did not compare to the anguish he went through at the hands of Harvey Dent in the previous movie.
  • The 'surprises' in The Dark Knight Rises were easy to see coming. In fact, one of the surprises I picked long before I saw the movie, purely because of the casting.

But it is a good movie, and worthwhile seeing at the cinema if you enjoyed the first two in the trilogy. The actors all gave excellent performances (even Anne Hathaway – I was worried she wouldn't be right for the role of catwoman, but she convinced me). And there are enough explosions to keep any comic book movie fan happy.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Movie review: The Cabin in the Woods

Last week we went to see The Cabin in the Woods as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival. It's not the sort of movie I feel that I should give a full review of, because I don't want to give away too much about it. This is a movie that is best watched without prior knowledge of what to expect.

What can I say about this movie? It is a horror, directed by Joss Whedon. Stuff happens – weird stuff.

What did I think of it? Even though I don't usually watch horror movies, I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods. I appreciated the commentary on the horror format, and on media culture in general. And that's all I'm going to say.

If you like either horror or the works of Joss Whedon, you should see this movie.

Friday, 10 August 2012

New title for my novel?

For the past few months I have been referring to my novel in progress as Symmetry Breaking, which is a term I picked up from a physics book. It seemed appropriate in a way because a large chunk of the worldbuilding for my story is inspired by M-theory (because I am that much of a geek). But I've been thinking of Symmetry Breaking as a tentative title, even though it reflected the theme, because it didn't sound quite right. This is a fantasy novel after all, not hard SF.

Yesterday a different title popped into my head – Dimensions of the Mind. May I ask your opinion on these titles? Do you:

  • Prefer Symmetry Breaking?
  • Prefer Dimensions of the Mind?
  • Think they both suck?

Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

Googling at the right time

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly irate that my copy of Womanthology, which I backed on Kickstarter a year ago, still hadn't arrived. I know that the project creator has been very sick, but still, I was sent an email saying the international orders were being shipped months ago. I've trawled all over the Kickstarter listing, sending emails and leaving comments hoping for some response. Sadly, nothing.

Sigh. I should learn that Google knows most things. When I Googled Womanthology the top link was a blog that had a post asking for people who haven't received their copies to add their names to a list. Sigh. It looks like my copy did go missing, after all.

Which I figured. Because Womanthology has been available on Amazon and in stores since March. New Zealand may suffer the tyranny of distance, but it's not on the Moon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Book review: books 1 & 2 of the Shattered Messiah trilogy

The Last GoddessThe Last Goddess by C.E. Stalbaum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye in the Amazon Kindle fantasy genre list. I wanted to try a self-published fantasy novel, so I downloaded the sample, and then quickly bought the whole book.

The Last Goddess is about an 'information broker' (read: spy/smuggler) who purchases, amongst some ancient artefacts, the body of a woman held in stasis in a coffin. This woman is apparently the Kirshal (Messiah), hidden for a thousand years, and is prophesied to bring about a new age. Of course, there are many people who would like to get their hands on the Kirshal for various, not always benign, reasons.

I found this book to be a gripping, enjoyable read. I was swept away by the story quite thoroughly. However, there were a few things about it that irritated me:

  1. Some of the characters and dialogue forms (particularly the banter) have obviously been copied from the TV series Firefly. The main character is called Nathan Rook. I kid you not. For the first third of the book, I felt uncomfortable with how the characterisation was depending on Firefly as it is not what I would consider an honest practice; but from then on the characters started to stand on their own two feet and become interesting in their own rights. The author should have gone back to the beginning of the book during revisions and updated the characterisations to match the end of the book.
  2. Many conversations were at least twice as long as they needed to be. Characters argued back and forth for too long and rehashed old ground far too often. While this is normal in real speech, dialogue in fiction is supposed to be a shorthand approximation.
  3. Sans map, I found it difficult at the beginning to keep straight in my head which faction was which. It didn't help that in this book the reader has to keep track of both nations and religious groups which don't overlap neatly. Also, there were some names which were too similar to each other; I kept getting Edehans and Ebarans muddled up, even though they were very different groups of people!

Despite the flaws, I enjoyed the book. It is as good as a lot of traditionally published books I've read, and better than many!

The Last Empress (The Shattered Messiah, #2)The Last Empress by C.E. Stalbaum

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought The Last Empress, the second book in the Shattered Messiah trilogy, shortly after reading book one. I have to say, although this book was just as gripping as the first book, I didn't think it was quite as good overall. I have two reasons for this:

  1. There were too many POV characters and plot threads for the size of the book. It jumped around about as much as a Wheel of Time book, even though it was less than half the length. A few of the plot threads could have been trimmed.
  2. The book was a lot darker than the first, which isn't in itself a bad thing. This extra darkness was added in part through the characters making a lot of stupid mistakes. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes were out of character and were unbelievable considering who the characters are. The two main mistakes that bothered me were Rook not being overly concerned about Aston, and Selaste letting the four mages go behind enemy lines. These mistakes lessened the characters, and showed them to be idiots.

Despite these issues, I am looking forward to reading book three when it is published.

View all my reviews