Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Princess and the Queen, or The Blacks and the Greens, by George R. R. Martin

George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series has received much attention and accolades, and on the whole they are deserved.  It's a marvelously ambitious story, though the volumes are getting sparse and I do wonder if Martin has overreached.  This story, The Princess and the Queen, is from the history of Westeros before the time of The Song of Ice and Fire.

The title is a little misleading, since the focus of the story is a succession war between a king's designated heir, a princess, and his son.  But it's explained in the introduction to the story as the "blacks and greens" part explains the rivalry of the princess and the prince's mother.

This story is not any sort of introduction to the series, so if you're looking to dabble this is not the way.  It's also not an extension of the main plot, for the further entertainment of the casual reader.  This is a history lesson, written pretty much the way European history is usually written.  Lots of names of royalty and battles.  Pretty much everyone loses, which is the object lesson.

This is the sort of backstory that Tolkien, Robert Jordan and any other large-scale world building fantasy author has to write in order to make sense of the main line.  Martin found a place to put it out for public consumption.  I recommend it only if you are an obsessive fan.  As a somewhat more casual reader, I found it more of a slog than entertainment.  There are no significant characters overlapping the Song of Ice and Fire, but lots of shared names or close analogs.  So someone by the name of Viserys or Rhanys will be a player, but not the ones we remember, so it ends up pretty confusing.  It's pretty dry stuff--very much the historical read.  I'll give it two stars, but only because I know that for the true otaku it will be worth reading.  Like the Tolkien backstory volumes.  Knock yourself out.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lies My Mother Told Me, by Caroline Spector

There are a whole lot of authors involved in the Wild Cards series, but the consistency is really quite good.  I haven't read any in awhile, but Lies My Mother Told Me is quite consistent with the theme.  It's edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass, and our story appears in his Dangerous Women anthology.

The premise is pretty simple, but leaves infinite room.  A virus has emerged that changes people, without regard to physics or logic.  Any power or curse is possible.  So we instantly get superheroes and supervillains.  No problems with how they get the powers.

Our story here shows how the politics of the long series continue to evolve.  Bubbles, a very powerful Ace (superhero) is being manipulated through her friend Joey, a very different and troubled Ace.  Bubbles has raw power--she can absorb pretty much infinite damage, and hand it back out in powerful bubbles of force.  Joey can raise and control the dead.  They confront a figure representing one of the larger organizations.  They never figure out which one, but it's menacing.  It's a fun adventure story, the action in a Wild Card story is always great.  2 stars, but almost 3 for me.  My only complaint is that it just seems too easy.  Maybe Caroline Spector just makes it look that way.  It's all good.

Caretakers, by Pat Cadigan

Retirement homes have been on my mind lately.  I know people going into them, and I worked in one for many years.  It was a pretty good job, really.  But bad homes are pretty common, and it is very hard not to worry.  Such is the theme for Cadigan's story.  It's speculative fiction, but it could sure enough be real. 

Caretakers is really well written.  We have a complex personal relationship to add meat to the speculative theme.  The protagonist has a younger sister she's never taken very seriously, for what look like pretty good reasons.  And a mother in a nursing home.  The little sister starts to suspect that the home is up to something.  But the staff means well...do read it, this is quite good stuff.  3 stars.  I can't believe I've never reviewed anything by her before, I know I've read some other stories, but there it is...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Name the Beast, by Samuel Sykes

Continuing in Dangerous Women--Name the Beast is an interestingly written story.  The protagonist is a schict, a member of a race of somewhat wolf-like beings that live among humans.  It is very mystical in approach, but with some very ordinary grounding elements.  Kalindris has a strained, mystical relationship with her husband and a very ordinary, irritated relationship with her child.  We also see humans, and her complex reaction to them.  Humans are for killing, but...

It's different enough in approach, and decent enough, to give 3 stars.  Not so easy to read, but worth it.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pronouncing Doom, by S. M. Stirling

We are getting toward the end of Dangerous Women--not quite there yet.  Post-apocalyptic times are certainly dangerous, but the protagonist here is "dangerous" as duly constituted justice.  Pronouncing Doom illustrates rough (but actually pretty clean) justice.  This group of survivors has adopted Earth-centered worship and Scots clan justice, and metes it on a pretty clear psychopath.  The lesson - trust your instincts.  You can tell when an author writes a lot, and Stirling is prolific.  Also polished.  2 stars, it's a decent read but very much done.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Hell Hath No Fury, by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Hell Hath No Fury is a pretty much straight-up horror story in Dangerous Women.  Not seriously shocking or weird.  Can't think of much to say about it.  2 stars.

Virgins, by Diana Gabaldon

Virgins is a prequel story in Gabaldon's Outlander series.  Interesting that she works across several genres.  This may be in sequence on the timeline but is out of sequence in written order, so hard to judge the series.  But it seems to go on a bit.  Some nice comic moments and action.  2 stars from me.

Friday, February 13, 2015

City Lazarus, by Diana Rowland

City Lazarus is a short little crime tale in Dangerous Women.  This is the best link I could get for it.  It's a little bit speculative, mostly about what would happen if New Orleans allowed the Mississippi to shift to the Atchafalya.  I have visited New Orleans a few times, but tend to agree that too much is made of it. Our protagonist agrees, but needs to watch out for that city defender he's dating.  2 stars.

Second Arabesque, Very Slowly, by Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress is a first-rate writer, the stories illuminate even rather standard setups very well.  Such is the case here.  Second Arabesque, Very Slowly is from the Dangerous Women collection, and it's predictable as a post-Apocalypse tale--in this case a population collapse due to an infertility plague.  The protagonist is a Nurse, a small tribe's healer.  She is getting on in years and knows she can't keep up much longer.  In post-Apocalypse worlds life is about survival.  But even in desperate survival conditions people want beauty.  So it is here.  It's heartwarming in its own way, and nice to read, but not really above average.  Two stars.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Girl In the Mirror, by Lev Grossman

The Girl In the Mirror is another story in Dangerous Women, and is a part of the author's The Magicians setting.  As always it's hard to judge a short story out of the context of its series.  But from this sample I get the feeling I've read it already--Harry Potter (there's even a shoutout in here)--so probably won't pursue it further.  It's kind of fun but there's a lot of references outside the story and just feels derivative now.  2 stars.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Queen in Exile, by Sharon Kay Penman

From Dangerous Women: A Queen in Exile is a historical piece.  It's well done, and straight history holds up reasonably well against fantasy such as Game of Thrones.  But in the end I like speculation.  2 stars.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, by Brandon Sanderson

I greatly admire Brandon Sanderson's fantasy.  All the stories I have read seem very complete and well-developed, and this story is no exception.  I just discovered why--he has them all tied together under the Cosmere, an overarching structure of "Shardworlds" that allow for different world structures but fit together.  You learn something every day.

Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is set in a world where some manner of fantastic tragedy has created a place where the dead turn into dangerous "shades" that require careful preparation to deal with.  Fortunately they follow some logical rules.  Our protagonist, Silence, owns an inn in the middle of Shadow territory, and is a bounty hunter as well as an inkeeper.  Tough life, since her fence is a government agent putting the squeeze to her.  This makes a good setup for a strong story, with lots of action and a world that has a nasty potential beauty, just a little like Sean McMullen's Greatwinter trilogy, though it's kind of a stretch. 

3 stars from me.  Fun to read.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Know How to Pick 'Em, by Lawrence Block

More from Dangerous Women--I Know How to Pick 'Em is one that I kind of wonder if it qualifies.  Yes, the lady definitely has intentions, but I wonder if she really knew as well as the protagonist thought that she could carry them off.  To be dangerous you have to have bad thoughts and be able to carry them out.  Now the protagonist (a guy), he really is dangerous.  2 stars but almost fun. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Neighbors, by Megan Lindholm

Megan Lindholm's story Neighbors (the link to LibraryThing attributes to Robin Hobb, a pseudonymn) is a decent parallel universe story, with the theme of an aging person who might be suffering from dementia crossing over.  To what sounds like a worse place, except she would be free there.  That's all fine--what stuck in my mind is the apparent age of the "old" people.  The protagonist is becoming dangerously forgetful, and is "closer to sixty-eight than eight".  Her neighbor who has already lost it was carpooling kids to soccer just 22 years ago.  The protagonist's brother is rotting with Alzheimer's in a nursing home.  Lot of early onset Alzheimers here.  Amusing.  Two stars for ordinariness, but intriguing for the unintended commentary. 

Wrestling Jesus, by Joe R. Lansdale

I kind of thought I remembered Joe R. Lansdale, but not until after I read Wrestling Jesus, which was probably a good thing--turns out the other story I read by him is one I really disliked, so that experience would have kind of spoiled me.  But this one is actually quite good--think Karate Kid with a professional wrestler.  Indeed, it's a heartwarming tale, so quite the switch.  Good writing and fun to read, so I can recommend it with 3 stars.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Raisa Stepanova, by Carrie Vaughn

Raisa Stepanova is a historical fiction piece from the Dangerous Women anthology.  And it's a nice little read--I also enjoy WWII books and found the info on Russian women fighter pilots interesting.  2 stars for me.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Bombshells, by Jim Butcher

More from the Dangerous Women anthology--Bombshells is a fun magic adventure, coming late in a series called The Dresden Files.  I say late because, according to the introduction, the author has killed off the protagonist, but is continuing the series with Dresden's ghost and in this story, his apprentice.  You can't do that forever.  The piece is full of good action and reminds me quite a lot of Jasper Fforde.  Read for good fun.  3 stars. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Hands That Are Not There, by Melinda Snodgrass

The Hands That Are Not There is another story that is only available in the Dangerous Women anthology.  It's a bit of a throwback--exotic aliens conquered by humans, serving in low class positions.  A highly class and gender conscious (and conservative) society.  A story from the point of view of a fallen aristocrat, describing a threat from within.  OK but a little clumsy, very spelled out like a not-that-ambitious TV script (Snodgrass writes for television).  2 stars from me.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Nora's Song, by Cecelia Holland

As far as I know, Nora's Song is only available as part of the Dangerous Women anthology.  It's a good little story about Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and how they had many more children than was really good for them.  From the third youngest's perspective.  2 stars.

My Heart is Either Broken, by Megan Abbott

Continuing Dangerous Women--My Heart Is Either Broken is a very good story.  It's not speculative fiction, but I'll review it here anyway.  The story has a very interesting take on how a woman's behavior is judged in the media, particularly when the family undergoes tragedy--in this case the kidnapping of their daughter.  Told from the father's perspective, it frames a real dilemma, since on one hand it seems apparent that she doesn't deserve the treatment she is getting, but on the other that she actually might.  Good stuff.  3 stars.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Some Desperado, by Joe Abercrombie

I have just started George R. R. Martin's Dangerous Women anthology.  Got it as a gift so definitely qualifies as free, even if I'm not so stiff about that in this blog anymore.  My usual practice is to review all the stories individually, but in this case I'll also make comments on what I see in the anthology as a whole as I go along.

Some Desperado is an action story--a woman outlaw on the run, from the law and her erstwhile partners.  It's a gritty fight scene that shows Shy, the protagonist, as a tough but now quite desperate survivor.  It was OK to read, but I don't know if it would really stand alone as the link's marketing implies.  On its own it's two stars.

As I was reading it, it made me think about what to get out of this anthology.  It is supposed to be about strong women who will fight, with wits, wiles, or force.  And sure enough this one is a fighter, with a reflective backstory.  But other than a couple of paragraphs that indicated one of the other outlaws had kept her bedroll warm, it pretty much felt like reading about a man.  Contrast this with Pyre of New Day, by Catherine Asaro, which also features a physically strong woman but ends up to be a more clever role reversal.  I am thinking Asaro wasn't invited to this particular party, not sure she would fit here.  Onward.