Mikko: July 2008 Archives

Lucius Shepard: The Golden

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The Golden is a vampire story that mixes good old-fashioned vampires with a detective plot. The vampires have gathered to the Castle Banat to make major decisions about their future. It's the 1860's and vampires must decide, whether to remain in Europe or to flee to progress of the world to the Far East, where things might be safer for them.

However, a gruesome murder stops all that, and even though vampires are a rather cruel and violent lot, this crime is such an offense against their tradition that the guilty parties must be found. Michel Beheim, a young vampire and an ex-police from Paris gets the unpleasant job of figuring out who did it.

The vampires, scheming beasts as they are, twist the murder investigation into a vicious game, each trying to further their own interests. Can Michel trust anybody? And how can you investigate someone who's very powerful, nearly immortal and doesn't want to cooperate? It's a tough job, but Michel must figure out what happened.

The vampires are powerful people, driven by their passions. That means they're thinking about sex, pretty much all the time, and the book gets downright steamy at times. Then there's gratuitous violence, too. All the necessary entertainment, that is! Shepard's prose is baroque, which certainly fits the theme, but at times he gets perhaps too carried away. The descriptions of the Castle Banat are at some points almost silly.

The combination of a vampire setting with the detective plot does work, though. A pleasant book, if not mind-blowing. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Golden at Amazon.co.uk ]The Golden at LibraryThing ]

Night Autopsy Room tells a story of Yoshio, a medical student living in Japan just after the World War II. In the autopsy room of the medical college, he meets seven spirits, who want to tell the stories of their lives to him.

The spirits have lived hard lifes, and their stories are stories of hardship and oppression. The first spirit is a woman who was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb fell, the second is a Korean man who faced discrimination in Japan, the third a Japanese woman driven to suicide by discrimination in America and so on.

I made it through the first two stories, then I had to quit - it was too depressing. Not the stories, though, even though they told awful tales of hard life. No, what bugged me was the way the author used the suffering of the people he created to promote religion. If there's something I really hate, it's telling people that suffering in this life is good, because it gives you a better place in Heaven after you die - that's the basic idea of the second story.

I simply can't tolerate that kind of rubbish. The spirits were a rather too excited about Jesus, too, the author seems very certain of his faith. Too bad I don't share it. The stories itself were ok, though the prose was somewhat wooden. Whether that is the author's or the translator's fault, I can't tell, but the way the stories were told was, to be frank, boring: surely these horrid fates could've been told more vividly. [ Night Autopsy Room: Seven Tales of Life, Death and Hope at Amazon.co.uk ]Night Autopsy Room at LibraryThing ]

Naomi Novik: Throne of Jade

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Throne of Jade continues the story that began in Temeraire. The first book revealed that the dragon Temeraire is a rare Chinese Celestial and, as it happens, the Chinese want him back. The British government doesn't put up much resistance and thus Will and Temeraire find them on Allegiance, a large transport, on their way to China.

The sea journey takes them months, so there's lots of room for all kinds of action during the journey - battles, intrigue and conversations. The characters of Temeraire and Will are explored further, and the supporting cast is interesting as well, there are some rather cryptic Chinese fellows aboard the ship.

Towards the end of the novel, the ship takes them to China, where the events finally reach their peak. Of course, the reader probably knows they're going to make it just fine (there are, after all, three more books in the series), but how it turns out is a bit of a mystery until it happens. The way things are resolved smells perhaps a tad too deus ex machina to me, but I can forgive that: the book is otherwise very good. Besides, I think I prefer to have a fast-paced adventure instead of slower, several hundred pages long epic, so some short cuts are probably mandatory.

So, I'm rather satisfied with this second part of the series and I'm definitely looking forward to continuing to the third installment. [ Temeraire: The Throne of Jade (Temeraire series book 2) at Amazon.co.uk ]Throne of Jade at LibraryThing ]

M. John Harrison: Nova Swing

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M. John Harrison returns to the universe he created for Light. This time the action is on planet-side, in a film noir world of Saudade. The Halo is a popular tourist attraction and there's nothing as attractive as the nasty stuff. Pieces of the Kefahuchi Tract have been falling on planets and that's what draws people to Saudade as well.

Vic Serotonin is a tour-guide, a criminal who takes people to see the event site, where wrong physics run loose. On the side he makes money by taking event site artefacts back with him and selling them. It's very much like the Zone from Roadside Picnic, indeed. Vic is a very film noir -ish character, constantly boozing and messing with people he would be better to avoid - but then again, the proximity of the event site tends to do that.

This is a strong story, with lots of curious and innovative science fiction elements in it. It's true to M. John Harrison's usual style, it's quite recognisable in its charm and confusion. Highly recommended, if you're looking for something unusual. Knowing Light is not mandatory, but helps. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Nova Swing (Gollancz S.F.) at Amazon.co.uk ]Nova Swing at LibraryThing ]

Hugleikur Dagsson, Iceland's gift to black humour, is back with another collection of taboo-breaking little cartoons. Prepare to be offended, as Dagsson is blatantly politically incorrect. Which is, of course, terribly funny. No wonder the first collection, Should You Be Laughing At This?, has sold over 9 000 copies in Finland.

Some of the jokes aren't particularly excellent, but at times Dagsson hits a nerve and manages to come up with something unbelievably funny. Most of the cartoons aren't really that offensive, unless the reader is particularly sensitive to political incorrectness. There's some fairly graphic sexual content, which is probably the most likely part to offend some readers. Well, I suppose those people know to avoid something like this anyway.

The thousand dollar question here is whether Dagsson has enough material for a second book and the answer to that question is easy yes. And yes, it's funny, too. If you enjoyed the first book, you'll find this just as entertaining - some of the jokes are not that fresh, some are even more over-the-top than the cartoons in the first one. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Is This Supposed to Be Funny? at Amazon.co.uk ]Is This Supposed to Be Funny? at LibraryThing ]

Previously I've read from Jonathan Lethem his debut novel Gun, with Occasional Music. The book charmed me with its mix of hardboiled detective story and weird future. This Shape We're In, a novella, isn't less strange. It's a story about some people, living in a "shape" - something large and four-legged. Mr. F is a garbage hider from the bowels, when a cocktail party turns bad. Apparently his son is living in the eye of the shape as a beggar. Of course Mrs. F sends our protagonist to get the boy back.

Mr. F, a curious character, goes after the boy with Balkan, a friend of his son who found him in the eye. They travel through the shape drinking a lot. Mr. F keeps the witty banter running non-stop, too. It's fun little adventure, with an excellent twist in the end. The story is strange, almost surreal, and Lethem doesn't spend any time at all explaining what's going on - everything is fed to reader straight-faced. The ending gives a satisfying explanation, though.

This was a fun little book, definitely worth reading for some strange entertainment. [ This Shape We're in at Amazon.co.uk ]This Shape We're In at LibraryThing ]

Jo Walton: Farthing

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Farthing is a country house mystery set in an alternative history. The year is 1949, eight years after the war ended for Britain. See, in this reality, before United States got involved with the war in Europe, British agreed to peace with Nazi Germany, giving Hitler the control of the continent in exchange of peace.

Now Sir James Thirkie, the man who brokered the deal, is dead, killed in the Farthing country estate, surrounded by - well, if not friends, at least his closest political allies. It's an ugly case, too: the killer stabbed him with a dagger and left a star of David pinned in his chest. So who did it? Jews or the Bolshies? Sir James certainly has potential enemies.

The Farthing estate is owned by Lord Eversley, whose daughter disgraced the family by marrying a Jew. The daughter, Lucy Kahn, is one of the voices for the novel. The other is the Scotland Yard Inspector Carmichael, and the two take turns moving the story forward, chapter by chapter. What begins as a slow-paced murder case becomes quite a thriller.

Farthing isn't just a good murder mystery, but also a chilling tale of fascist politics. The alternate Britain the book is set in isn't necessarily a nice place. Walton doesn't really point fingers, but the ugly political power games of the book have fairly obvious reflections in the modern-day world. It makes for a fascinating story, indeed. [ Farthing at Amazon.co.uk ]Farthing at LibraryThing ]

Other blogs mentioning this book:
- bookshelves of doom: Farthing -- Jo Walton
- Books @ the Hathor Legacy: Farthing - Jo Walton
- Someone's Read It Already: Farthing by Jo Walton