Thursday, May 27, 2010

How To Kill My Interest as a Reader

"The emperor of China once asked his court painter, "What's easy to paint and what's hard to paint?" the answer was, "Dogs are difficult, demons are easy. Quiet, low-key things like dogs in our immediate surroundings are hard to get right, but anyone can draw a demon."--Alex Kerr, Dogs and Demons p. 10

I was reading Catherine Valente's Palimpsest last night. It is a famous book, nowadays, in certain circles. It's nominated for a Hugo, and is written by a young woman garnering a lot of attention in the SF/Fantasy world. And rightly so, the writing is rich and deep (if at times overpowering..."a bee sting blooms on her cheek like a kiss" (p. 6) is one of the more meaningless similes I've seen...).

It starts with some lovely fantasy, introducing a city of beauty and mystery, with impenetrable rituals and inhuman citizens. And just as I was settling into the new world, ready to explore it, I was whisked away to the mysteriouse oriente....

Sorry, I mean Japan.

The action jumps to a the interior of a Shinkansen, and within a paragraph I was utterly and completely disgusted.

For, you see, Japan here (as it so often is) is used as shorthand for exotic, unusual places with mysterious people. The manipulation is terrible. We are introduced to a young, apparently really hot, woman named Amaya Sei. It is implied that her name is intriguing because of it's meaning, "Purity". Unfortunately, that's 1.) not how Japanese names work and 2.) "Sei" does not mean purity. The sound "sei", depending upon the kanji used to write it, can mean:

Sex, gender, fault, energy, military strength, nymph/sprite, semen, true, regular, saint...and a hundred other things, due to the plastic relationship between meaning and sounds in Japanese.

A great number of things. And without seeing the word written, without context, it's IMPOSSIBLE to know the meaning of the word. That's how Japanese works. But for the story, of course, it's important to manipulate the reality of a culture and people.

Of course, the names being meaningless is mentioned (Ms. Valente did, apparently, do some research):

He quirked an eyebrow briefly, slightly, in such a way that no one afterwards might be able to safely accuse him of having done it. Sei knew the look. Names are meaningless, plosives and breath, but those who liked the slope of her waist often made much of hers, which denoted purity, clarity—as though it had any more in the way of depth than others. They wondered,
all of them, if she really was pure, as pure as her name announced her to be, all white banners and hymeneal grace.

--Palimpsest, p. 9

(Another nit to pick...neither of the names, Amaya Sei and Sato Kenji, contain any plosives. Sorry, linguist.)

But again, HE COULD NOT HAVE KNOWN the meaning of her name.

But the thing that really gets me is the depiction of the SHinkansen itself. Because NOTHING SHE SAYS about the train is right.

Let's start with:
[S]he was always moved to do this on the long-distance trains which crisscrossed the islands like corset stays. They were so pale and pure and unfathomably fast, like iridescent snakes hissing down to the sea. The Shinkansen was always pristine, always perfect, its aim always true.

--Palimpsest, p. 7 you go:


So...look like a corsetlace to you?

And then...

He gestured for her to sit down and, though she knew better, they sat together for a moment, her body held tense and tight, ready to run, to cry out if need be. Their thighs touched—a gesture of intimacy she had never allowed herself with another passenger.

--Palimpsest, p. 9

The seats on a shinkansen:

The two varieties. You'll notice that the only way it would be POSSIBLE to let your thighs touch would be if you really tried...there's a good 8 inches between "normally sized" people sitting here.

But really, this is nothing compared to:

[S]he took Sato Kenji by their linked hands and led him to the rickety, shivering place between the carriage cars, where the wind keened and crooned through the cracks in the grating and the white walls gave way to chrome.

--Palimpsest, p. 11

There is no place, on any Shinkansen in Japan, where this could have happened. There is no grating, no wind (the shinkansen travels at speeds of up to 186mph...) no's a seamless, pressurized environment. That's part of what makes the shinkansen special...

And what bothers me about all of this, as minor and nitpicky as it is, is that it implies that Ms. Valente relies on the ignorance of her readers to maintain her illusion. Fiction is a grand lie, and you have to do it RIGHT to make it believable. Fantasy is easy--cause no one knows what a demon really looks like. But truth? You can't fake that. You have to do the research. You have to care about the details. For God's sake, the characters in this section LOVE the Shinkansen, and it is indeed worthy of love. So why didn't the author take the time to check out the beauty of the real thing? All it takes is a couple of minutes on Google, and you'll know all you need to know.

The short of it is, I'm not going to invest the time in this book that it probably deserves, because the author didn't invest the time in her subject that it deserved. There are lots of people who will say that all of this isn't important, and it probably isn't, but it ruined the book for me.

But hey, maybe you'll love it.

Click Here to read the rest.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Review: Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner

Zombie Detective! Good Times!

My first Angry Robot Army book, and this was definitely a fun read.

Nekropolis, by Tim Waggoner
US Release July, 2010 (possibly delayed...Angry Robot's going through some changes)
UK: Now Available

Nekropolis (scroll down at the link for a free sample) is a fun addition to the recent growth of the "supernatural noir" subgenre. Indeed, it's the logical progression--we've had the Noir Wizard (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files), the Noir Vampire (Charlie Huston's Joe Pitt series), and now we've got the Noir Zombie!

Matthew Richter, our hero, is a walking corpse trying to keep his body from going the way of all flesh through expensive magical preservation. He funds his need by using the particular skills he developed in a 20-year police career to help people out with the rather unusual problems they encounter in the titular city of darkness, Nekropolis. He's unique in this city of unusual beings in that he is a zombie, a walking corpse, who has retained his will and consciousness...and the reasons for this remain unclear to himself and to those around him.

The particular MacGuffin in our story, the Dawnstone, is introduced by/used to introduce our requisite femme fatale--Davona Kanti, half vampire daughter of the city's Vampire Darklord. (How someone can be "half-vampire" is not exactly clear; the unusual idea that vampires can have children is kind of glossed over. But I digress.) Davona is blonde, thin, and apparently just the thing to get Richter's dead flesh perking.

Davona's problem is simple: the Dawnstone, a powerful artifact in her father's collection, a collection which had been entrusted to her, has gone missing and she's understandably terrified that her immensely powerful and rather unsympathetic father will hold her responsible. So she approaches Richter to ask for help, having heard he does that sort of thing.

After the expected banter (the humor in the book is actually pretty good, though it does occasionally "pun"ish the reader a bit much. Be warned.), the hunt begins and finally we meet the TRUE star of our story, the city itself. The title of the book is apt, as it is clear that the reason we're here is to see the place that Waggoner built. And it's worth it!

Nekropolis is a city populated by supernatural beings, with an immense variety of residents. Waggoner seems to have taken the kitchen sink approach to populating his world; it's full of demons, wizards, undead, shapeshifters, dark gods and more--he pulls characters from mythology (werewolves, Hindu demons), classic literature (Frankenstein's Monster, Jekyll & Hyde), and, apparently, thin air (The Chiranha, a cross between a chihuahua and a piranha, and the most fearsome scavenger in the city...???). It honestly gets a little overwhelming at times, but it's fun to spot all of the references (I was particularly tickled by the name of the information peddling bug).

All of these entities are aligned with a particular Darklord, divided by "type". There are the undead, shapeshifters (called "Lykes"), Vampires, magic users, and demons, and each group has its own area of Nekropolis. As our characters are touring the city, they move through these areas and encounter the Darklord of each of these groups, and in the process we learn about Richter's history, his relationships and conflicts with the Darklords, and find out a wee bit about the history of Nekropolis itself.

Personally, I would have enjoyed more of the latter; the city is a fascinating place, and I really think its connection to our world and the reasons for its existence, while explained in brief, could do with a much deeper examination. The fact that this book is obviously the first in a series (the sequel, Dark Streets, is due this year) encourages me.

Although the ending felt a little rushed, the book is a winner for sheer imagination and page-turning fun. All of the little turns along the way keep the story fresh, and the characters inhabiting the city are engaging. I read the book in one sitting (at 416pp it's not that long) and I enjoyed it enough that I'm looking forward to more, especially given that there are a few points in this book which, I think, were designed specifically to lead to further investiagtion. For example, there are advanced cybernetic enhancements that turn up in certain fringe characters that I think will be big in the sequel(s), and I'm eager to find out.

So the bottom line: Hemingway it ain't, but for a quick summer read, for the fan of fast paced, noirish dark fantasy, this one's a winner.

Jim Rion
Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Worldcon 2010 Here I Come!

Except, not really.

SF geeks everywhere already know, but if you're not one of them, the sort of Grand Ball of the geek world is the yearly Worldcon, the SF convention to end all socially inept conventions. Readers, writers, fen and filkers all get together and live it up, nerdstyle.

I've never been to one, alas, I couldn't afford it when it was in Tokyo and since it's in Australia this year, ain't no way.

I mean, I MIGHT be able to convince the wife to go to Australia, but just to watch me get all squealy over some writers she's never heard of (George RR MARTIN!!!!)? Not a chance.

But I DID decide to become a "supporting member" this year, giving me two things. First, I can vote on the Hugo awards for genre literature and arts, which is pretty cool. But for me, perhaps best of all is I get eBook copies of all the nominated literature...novels, novellas, comics and all.

I was ALREADY planning on buying 80% of this stuff, so for the about US$50 it's a bargain. I mean, Boneshaker, The City & The City, The Windup Girl, Julian Comstock...that's fifty bucks right there. Add the graphic novels, magazines and novellas and I'm practically making book!

So now I have to wade through the packet to be an informed voter...pity me! ;)
Click Here to read the rest.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I GET it now...

So I've finished the first book of A Song Of Ice and Fire, and am halfway through the second.

And yep, I get it. The fans of the books, of which I am now one, have found something very very special here.

I'm stunned, really, that I never read these before. I mean, I'm an epic fantasy JUNKIE. Why didn't I read these books years ago?

The characters are so real and complex, the plotting is compelling and it's just so good. It's everything I want in a book--a huge, sweeping story, filled with people that are actually PEOPLE, not just archetypes, and things happen that shouldn't happen in a story. People die or are crippled without warning, and it actually changes things. The story goes places that you don't expect, and it makes sense.

Goodness, I think I might be in trouble if the next book isn't released in the near future...

And on that note, I'd best be listening to John Anealio a bit more.
Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Interesting Genre News

Angry Robot Books, a relatively new SF/Fantasy imprint, is attracting my attention.

Lately there has been a lot of buzz about this imprint, and I'm liking what I'm seeing.

In their own words,
Angry Robot ™ is a new global publishing imprint. Our mission, quite simply, is to publish the best in brand new genre fiction – SF, F and WTF?!

Traditional SF and fantasy has been ploughing an entertaining furrow for many decades, but to our way of thinking much of it is missing a trick. To the new generations of readers reared on Dr Who and Battlestar Galactica, graphic novels and Gears of War 2, old school can mean staid, stuck in a rut. “Crossover” is increasingly the way forward and you’ll find plenty of it here, without batting an eyelid. New heroes and new settings, or maybe just reinventing the wheel, we’re not fussed – if there’s an energy in a book that gets us jumping up and down, we’re all over it.

(Complete information here: Angry Robot)

I'm reading a couple of their books (reviews will follow soon) and I LIKE what they're talking about here. Genre buzztalking aside, I like weird books (Tim Powers writing about beer and King Arther, China Mieville's Moths from hell, and so on) and Angry Robot seems to have a good grasp of not only WEIRD, but well written weird, and this pleases me.

Now, it looks like some big things are afoot over there. Again, in their own words:

Following an acclaimed first year of publishing, the revolutionary science fiction imprint Angry Robot Books has parted company with HarperCollins UK. It will now run as an independent publishing imprint, with the full backing of niche publishing experts, Osprey Publishing.

(See the full press release here: Angry Robot)

What does that mean? I have NO IDEA. Is it good? Is it bad? Will it help them? I guess that remains to be seen. But from the initial look I've taken at their catalog, I really REALLY hope they keep up what they've been doing.

And, in addition, I have gone and joined the Angry Robot Army!

I like the books, and they seem to want them reviewed, so I'll be reviewing them as I read more. So keep an eye out!
Click Here to read the rest.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Things to remember: May, 2010

It's been a dizzy month.

I'm such a creature of habit. Whenever any part of my daily routine changes I have trouble with everything else. So this month, with all the vacations and the work rearrangement and the twisted scheduling, was completely trashed as far as regular old life goes. It wasn't bad, not at all, but it sure wasn't normal...

Blogging, writing, all those little valuable things that I used to give up my time, went by the wayside. I just sat around on my downtime, watching back-episodes of "Fringe" and playing PS3. good there.

I have been reading some good stuff. I finished the first book of the George R. R. Martin series I mentioned earlier, liked it and am now well into the middle of the next. I'm beginning to get the's some very compelling character and world building.

I also read some good old free books on Gutenberg, and did a whole lot of nothing during the Golden week holiday.

We went to my wife's grandmother's house for a ceremony (her house is also a Buddhist temple, and she is the priest). It's refreshing, going there, because it reinforces the idea that Grandmas are the same everywhere--she always sends food home with us, and makes sure that we have sweets to eat and is, generally, grandmotherly.

May has started off slow, but soon it should be all kinds of busy.

And that's my beginning of May.
Click Here to read the rest.