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Monday, June 22, 2009

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys: A Novel
by Neil Gaiman
  • Publisher: HarperAudio; Unabridged edition (September 20, 2005)
  • ISBN-10: 0060823844

This is an Anansi story. Of course, all stories are Anansi stories now, but this one is really about Anansi. Well, it's mostly about Anansi's son's, Fat Charlie and Spyder, but that's almost the same as being about Anansi himself.

This is actually the second time I've listened to this book; I've never actually sat down and read the text, just listened to the audio. Lenny Henry does the reading, and he does an absolutely marvelous job bringing the story to life.

As I mentioned, the story mostly concerns itself with the life of Fat Charlie Nancy, an American transplanted to London after his parents split up, and who is perpetually scarred by the embarrassing tricks his father played on him as a youth. After his father's (embarrassing) death, Fat Charlie learns that he has a brother he never knew about, and decides to contact him. WHich is when things get very interesting, particularly in the Chinese sense of the term.

While ostensibly connected to American Gods, this book doesn't have much overlap with that one, other than a generally shared setting, and a belief in the importance of stories. Anansi Boys feels much lighter and more cheerful, though it's still got some rather gruesome and disturbing moments. It's got a lot of interesting twists and turns, and a variety of fun and memorable characters who are just as fun the second time around.

My only complaint, both times, has been the predictably of hte various romantic entanglements. But it's a small thing, really. In the end, this is still a great story. A great ANANSI story, really.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

David Eddings, RIP

I'm a bit late on this one, but...David Eddings apparently passed away about a week ago.

Eddings is one of those authors that I have weird mixed feelings about. I read the Belgariad and the Mallorean as a teenager, and really enjoyed them. Sometime in my twenties, I re-read them, and discovered that I still enjoyed them. They were popcorn fantasy, but the characters were fun and dialogue was witty, and by and large, I enjoyed it. None of it made me think very deeply, but I did enjoy it.

Everything I read of his afterwards got steadily worse. The Elenium and The Tamuli were mostly just dull. The Redemption of Althalus was just awful. I barely finished it.

Somewhere in there, I read one of his few non-fantasy works, The Losers, which actually turned out to be probably the best thing of his I've ever read. I remember being shocked, both because I kept expecting fantasy to creep in (the main characters names are Raphael and Damien, for crying out loud), and because in the end, it just turned out to be a good story about people. Nothing more, nothing less.

It's actually the book of his I'm most likely to go back and re-read, at this point.

I never picked up any of his other books; part of it was a belief that he probably wasn't turning out anything better than he more recent attempts. Part of it was reading a couple of statements of his that mocked the fantasy genre as a whole, which seemed a little crass to me (it's fine to not like it, but when you make your living writing it, it seems to me you shouldn't verbally piss on your audience...).

On the other hand, he does deserve credit for putting out some good, fun reads. And for fighting very hard to make sure that his wife eventually got the credit she deserved for helping him with his writing.

Thanks for the stories, Mr. Eddings.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ghost Brigades

The Ghost Brigades

John Scalzi

  • Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (May 1, 2007)

  • ISBN-10: 0765354063

When Poe Ghostal lent me Old Man's War, the first book in this series by John Scalzi, I thanked him. A few days after he lent me Ghost Brigades, I cursed him.

Ghost Brigades isn't just good; it's so good that it distracted me from the other reading I was doing. Hell, it distracted me from work. After about four chapters, it was distracting me from everything short of eating and other essential bodily functions. Fortunately, I finished it with no serious damage to myself or my upholstery.

Though set in the same universe as Old Man's War, calling Ghost Brigades a "sequel" is slightly misleading. This is not another story about John Perry (the titular "Old Man" from the first book); instead, the book focus primarily upon Jared Dirac, a recently created member of the Ghost Brigades, who was designed to be something a little different from an ordinary solider.

Specifically, he's designed to be a traitor.

I'll let the book jacket do the weight of the talking here

The Ghost Brigades are the Special Forces of the Colonial Defense Forces, elite troops created from the DNA of the dead and turned into the perfect soldiers for the CDF's toughest operations. They’re young, they’re fast and strong, and they’re totally without normal human qualms.

The universe is a dangerous place for humanity—and it's about to become far more dangerous. Three races that humans have clashed with before have allied to halt our expansion into space. Their linchpin: the turncoat military scientist Charles Boutin, who knows the CDF’s biggest military secrets. To prevail, the CDF must find out why Boutin did what he did.

Jared Dirac is the only human who can provide answers -- a superhuman hybrid, created from Boutin's DNA, Jared’s brain should be able to access Boutin's electronic memories. But when the memory transplant appears to fail, Jared is given to the Ghost Brigades.

At first, Jared is a perfect soldier, but as Boutin’s memories slowly surface, Jared begins to intuit the reason’s for Boutin’s betrayal. As Jared desperately hunts for his "father," he must also come to grips with his own choices. Time is running out: The alliance is preparing its offensive, and some of them plan worse things than humanity’s mere military defeat…

While some reviews seem to disagree, I actually found this book far more engaging than Old Man's War; I think a lot of that has to do with Dirac, who I found to be a really intersting character to read about. He goes through a very interesting evolution that is a bit different from that of John Perry, but contains a similar amount of deep introspection and thought. I also found the supporting characters in this story a lot more memorable, and even enjoyed Jane Sagan (one of the few major characters to reappear from Old Man's War) more this time around.

The plot itself is a good sci-fi military conspiracy plotline, as befits a novle that opens with a traitor faking his own death by kiling his clone, and working forward from there. The pacing is great, but very, very fast. I desperately don't want to use reviewing cliches like "it moves at warp speed", but I'm having a hard time dodging it. Once it ramps up, this plot MOVES.

In case I give the wrong impression, Ghost Brigades is not just a summer blockbuster in written form. Yes, it moves, and yes, there are fights and guns and explosions and sex...BUT, there is also a lot of introspection and thought about human beings, their motivations, and ultimately, what makes a person, well, a person.

There are apparently two or three other books in this series, and I can't wait to steal the rest from PoeGhostal.