Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Mount Toberead - Ice Station by Matthew Reilly

I promised something different and I think I have delivered. The vast majority of the works I cover here are either fantasy or science fiction. Matthew Reilly's Ice Station is neither (I guess an argument could be made for science fiction), it's a straight forward, white knuckled, high adrenalin, military action novel.

The book has been around for 20 years, and it was the author's first traditionally published work, his first novel was a self published effort. My wife rereads it regularly and had recommended it to me a number of times, but I'd read another book by the same author and came away distinctly unimpressed, so I always held off on Ice Station until now.

I have to say that I loved the book. I started it late on a Thursday night and finished it that Sunday afternoon, and it's a 600 page book.

Occasionally as a reader I'll encounter a book that grabs me right from page one and won't let me go until I complete it. Ice Station is such a book.

Matthew Reilly is an unashamed fan of Michael Crichton, and while he covers different material, he has the knack of knowing how to control his audience.

The premise of Ice Station is fairly preposterous: the scientists manning an American ice station in Antarctica discover what they think is a spacecraft under their facility and a number of them promptly wind up dead. The US reconnaissance unit that come to their rescue are in turn attacked by covert French and British forces, plus there's a killer loose on the base and the reconnaissance lead by the badass Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield has infiltrators amongst it's make up. Oh, I didn't mention the pod of orcas that hang around the base, either.

Somehow Reilly makes this all hang together. Like any good action movie, it moves quickly and doesn't give the reader a lot of time to get their breath or realise how some of it really doesn't make a lot of sense when given some time to think about it.

Reilly writes really good action sequences and there are two massive ones in Ice Station; a firefight on the base early on and a hovercraft chase, where every section ends on a cliff and drags the reader through to see what happens next.

The characters are fairly strong with decent shades of grey, although there is the occasional white hat and black hat. The author took the time to give them proper back stories and built up some decent chemistry between them, I particularly liked sequences featuring the pre teen science/math geek Kirsty and Scarecrow interacting.

There's been talk about making this into a film and how it hasn't already happened I do not know. Modern audiences would absolutely lap it up.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Mount Toberead 14 - Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

On the face of it Cherie Priest's Boneshaker should be a cracking read: steampunk, alternate history, sky pirates, zombies, honestly what is there not to like?

Unfortunately it sounds a little better than it actually is. It's set in an alternate 19th century US in Seattle and a US that is beset by a seemingly endless Civil War that has gone on a lot longer than the one in our world did.

Seattle isn't involved in the war that much, but they have bigger problems, ever since Dr. Leviticus Blue's Boneshaker machine destroyed much of the city and unleashed a noxious gas that turns those exposed to it into mindless shambling undead creatures with a desperate need to feed.

In most cases I don't really want to read zombie books where we see the zombocalypse take place. In the case of Boneshaker I'm willing to make an exception. Had I read a book where we saw the Boneshaker being built and causing a massive disaster, and actually met the mysterious and brilliant Leviticus Blue, I think I would have liked it more.

Having said all that I didn't actually dislike Boneshaker. I just found it a bit frustrating. I liked the character of Briar, but she was inconsistent. I did not like the character of Zeke (the son of Briar and Leviticus), he was 15, but acted 12 and was written as if he were younger than he actually was. He behaved much like many pre teen characters in fiction these days, and I find many of them to be suffering from TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) syndrome. Zeke was no exception.

Often the book itself read as if it were a steampunk extravaganza for the young adult reader, rather than the dark more epic thing it was meant to be.

Possibly the reason it sat on the shelf for as long as it did was because somewhere I knew the book probably wasn't going to ultimately be for me. Shame, because I generally tend to like Cherie Priest's work.

R is up next (can't find a Q) and I have something completely different planned.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mount Toberead 13 - Emperpr Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain by A. Lee Martinez

That title is a mouthful even for the mind that brought readers Gil's All-Fright Diner.

Gil's All-Fright Diner was A. Lee Martinez's debut novel, it was also the first one I read, and in my mind easily remains his best work.

Martinez is an interesting author in this day of multi volume series and trilogies, he writes standalone novels. To date he has not written a sequel to any of his books, including Gil's All-Fright Diner, which just screams for a sequel. He also likes to jump genres and sub genres. In some cases they're a mix up of things which makes classification next to impossible, Personally, I think Martinez just likes doing it to annoy people who want to put everything in a neat little box.

Over time, though, even the most fertile of minds can run a bit low on inspiration, and I think Martinez hit that wall with Emperor Mollusk Versus The Sinister Brain.

It's not a bad idea at the heart of it. It's a sort of pulp science fiction riff (something that seems to be enjoying a new rush of popularity at present) about the Neptunon self proclaimed Emperor of Earth (or Terra as our planet seems to be known) and the greatest threat he's even faced.

I'm sure Mollusk was meant to be both entertaining and amusing, but he somehow managed to be neither and became one of the most unlikable heroes I can remember encountering. One of the big problems was that he was too perfect and had the desire to try and turn everything into a joke. This made him look like a try hard. The perfection thing also worked against the story, because it very soon became clear that no matter how dire the situation, nothing would happen to Mollusk.

I felt that had Mollusk's much put upon bodyguard the Venusian warrior Zala been the central character and narrator that the whole thing would have worked a lot better.

While I've read a few A. Lee Martinez books that I wish had sequels, this isn't one of them.

I'll be skipping the letter N, because I just don't have anything that fits for this particular idea, and going straight to P.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mount Toberead 12 - The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey

Quite some time ago, I was a big fan of Mercedes Lackey/ I read one of her Valdemar books (from memory it the was first of The Last Herald Mage trilogy) and I was hooked. I gathered as much of her Valdemar stuff as I could and then moved onto other things, Amongst them was a wonderful urban fantasy series about a witch called Diana Tregarde. Unfortunately at the time urban fantasy hadn't boomed as a genre and for a number of reasons (sales amongst them) Lackey gave up writing Diana Tregarde books after 3 entries. I still think they're amongst the best things she's written.

This one sat on Mount Toebread for a while. My wife had read it and other entries into her reimagined fairy tales. The Fairy Godmother is a fun book and some of her alterations to fairy tales are quite clever. In this one Cinderella (known as Elena) becomes the fairy godmother and has to find her own prince. He starts out not very good at all, but after spending a period of time as a donkey, appreciates the advantages he's been given and comes to fall in love with Elena.

I felt the book could have been a good deal shorter and an easier and better read for it. There was a lot of info dumping around the tales she was telling and involving the magic system she'd invented for this. There was also a fair bit of repetition. Overall it was a solid story, but it did drag through the middle before ramping up the action and ending up as a reader would expect with a fairy tale, happily ever after.

M looks like fun with A. Lee Martinez on my radar,

Friday, May 4, 2018

Mount Toberead 11 - The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

I kind of cheated with these. They were on my Toberead pile, but my wife had read them all and adored them. It was largely due to her urging that I put them in this challenge. I did always want to be read them, it was a matter of getting the right time and I decided to shot gun them all.

Prior to the publication of Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal was better known as a science fiction author, with some of her work having been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards, Shades of Milk and Honey was also her first full length novel.

Shades of Milk and Honey is very much a Jane Austen influenced story. At times it feels like reading Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but with magic in the form of glamour. In that it's another entry in the recent (20 or so years) subgenre of Regency romance influenced fantasy. Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede's Cecelia and Kate series and Emma Newman's Split Worlds all fit into that category in some ways. I don't think the author originally envisioned a series, because the first book is very much standalone, although she gave herself room for growth, particularly in the relationship between her Mr Darcyesque male lead Mr Vincent and her protagonist Jane.

With Glamour in Glass it became more apparent that the whole idea had legs. This is when the themes in the books started. It was very much a 'war' or even 'spies' book. Showing that glamour had practical military applications put me in mind of similar uses in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The science fiction author in Mary Robinette Kowal came to the fore as she delved deeper into how and why glamour worked. It's interesting to see authors explain how magic works. I've seen people say that Brandon Sanderson has some of the best thought out and explained magic systems. He doesn't hold a candle to what Kowal did with glamour in these books.

Without a Summer used a historical fact that is only just being better known about in recent times as its backdrop. That was 1816 the year that the eruption of Mt Tambora played havoc with world weather patterns and effectively meant that the northern hemisphere didn't really get a summer. The book was a legal drama and I think of the 5 it was my favourite. The courtroom battle and the machinations of Vincent's horrible aristocratic family kept me reading until late into the night and early into the morning.

Then came Valour and Vanity, which was the caper/heist novel. This was a heap of fun, we had characters like Vincent's friend Lord Byron playing a significant part. There was a puppeteer character who had to be based on Mary Robinette Kowal herself, who is a puppeteer. And the whole thing was set in Venice. Most of the action took place on Murano, though.

By the time Of Noble Family came out it was apparent that there had to be a reckoning between Vincent and his father. The book was easily the biggest of the whole series and it had a family saga feel to it. It was also set in the West Indies, which gave it a very exotic feel and is not a place that many fantasies are actually set. Adventure novels, yes, but not fantasy, unless it's a secondary world that has a Caribbean feel to it.

Overall the entire series was a great read. The characters were solid and the magic had a real feel to it, because of the care and detail the author took and found fit to include. They were well paced and easy to read, they contained fun and drama in the correct amounts. I was a little sad when I finished Of Noble Family, but at the same time I felt that the series and the characters had come to a satisfying conclusion. There is room to write more in the world, but I would prefer that it be left where it was and not go to the well too often.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Mount Toberead 10: The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group by Catherine Jinks

The Reformed Vampire Support Group also by Catherine Jinks is one of the best recent vampire novels I've read over the last 10 or so years. I call it the Anti-Twilight, as it basically explains exactly why being an immortal vampire (especially a teenage one) sucks (pun not intended).

Despite that, for some reason, the sequel; The Abused Werewolf Rescue Group, wound up on Mount Toberead for quite some time. I really don't know why. It could be that werewolves tend to interest me less than vampires, and I'm really not that into vampires, either.

One of the unusual things about both books is that they're set in and around Sydney. The reason for this is that Catherine Jinks is an Australian, and she lives in Australia (although not all of her books are set in the country). It's hard to write Australians, although being an Aussie, I probably give that a higher bar than most. Jinks gets it right and her descriptions of her setting prove that she does actually know the city that she's talking about. One of the vernacular things that she did get wrong, though, was referring to tomato sauce as ketchup. We rarely call it that.

The existence of werewolves along with the vampires in Sydney was mentioned in the first book, and the rescue of some of them being used to illegal dog fights in the outback was also part of the plot.

This one concerns a fairly clueless young man called Toby, who becomes a werewolf. Jinks changed a few things about the accepted methods and backgrounds of werewolves. It's not passed on by being bitten by an infected one, it's a hereditary thing (rather like in the original Teen Wolf film) and it also seems to affect people with Portuguese or Spanish heritage (not sure why Jinks targeted that particular background, but it was a point of difference).

Toby came across as quite real, as did his friends Fergus and Amin. In fact I did find it rather odd that Toby, who was a bit whiny and dopey at times, hung out with an idiot like Fergus, I also thought it strange that Amin also hung out with Fergus,. Not only was he an idiot, he was one with dangerous and stupid ideas.

The story mostly concerns Toby coming to terms with being a werewolf (it sucks about as much as being a teenage vampire does, although at least Toby won't live forever and won't permanently remain at 14 years old, he's also not dead) and trying to get his mother to deal with the reality as well.

He is eventually taken by members of the same illegal fight ring that appeared in the first book and has to be rescued by members of the Vampire Support Group. It's quite funny, sometimes violent  and confronting, it also moves fast and is fairly likeable due to a diverse and interesting, well drawn cast.

I wish I'd read it a bit earlier. although I still enjoyed it. I did find The Reformed Vampire Support Group a better book, however.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Mount Toberead 9: Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

There aren't a lot of authors whose surnames start with I (there may be, but they aren't on the shelves of our library), so I was in a bit of a quandary until I saw my wife's collection of Eva Ibbitson books. I'd never read anything by her, but my wife had urged me to on a couple of occasions. Here was the opportunity. Journey to the River Sea appealed to me most.

It's not fantasy, although it does have adventure and it's set in a very different world than that familiar to many of us. It's basically the story of a sunny dispositioned English girl Maia and her life after her parents pass away and she's sent to live with a family of distant relatives in Brazil.

The Carters, specifically Mrs Carter and her horrible twins Beatrice and Gwendolyn, could have come straight out of Cinderella. Mrs Carter made a splendid Lady Tremaine, and her daughters were excellent stepsisters.

Maia isn't alone, though, she has her governess Miss Minton and later meets Finn and has the young actor Clovis King. While I found most of the characters a bit too clearly either all bad (Beatrice and Gwendolyn) or all good (Maia, she's actually too pleasant to be believable), I loved Miss Minton, she definitely had layers to her. She also reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Perspicacia Tick.

The story, while not revolutionary, moves fast and is involving. Ibbotson used her setting well and described it vividly, even if it was just a little too pleasant at times. I did find myself comparing Ibbotson's writing with that of other teen and children's authors and she came off favourably. The others should read some of Ibbotson to work out how to really write.

After the frustration of A. G. Howard, Eva Ibbotson and Maia were a welcome remedy.