I loved Old Man’s War, became increasingly disillusioned as the series went on, then jumped off the Scalzi train with Redshirts, which was a great idea of a book that I just hated. Still, my residual goodwill for that first book was enough to get me to try his new space opera, and while not an instant classic like Old Man’s War, this was a thoroughly enjoyable book.
This should have been a slam dunk: an intergalactic agent fights terrorists and negotiates with aliens while accompanied by a pet shuriken at the behest of an immortal Japanese administrator working for a superintellegent AI. Furthermore it comes with an impressive pedigree, as the first of over a dozen polity novels by Neal Asher. Unfortunately it’s just kind of there, not bad, but inferior to similar books such as Altered Carbon or most of the Culture novels.
The problem with Among Thieves is that it is two great novels fighting against each other to make one merely good book. Drothe is a classic lovable rogue; he’s an information dealer with interesting relatives, a homicidal best friend, and a bit of an attitude. The parts of the story where he interacts with his informants, navigates the obligations of the kin (fantasy mob), and tries to avoid being knifed are amongst the best examples of a fantasy underworld I’ve seen. At the same time, the high fantasy story of an empire ruled by a triumvirate of serially reincarnating emperors who are becoming erratic and beginning to hate each other hold endless promise.
In the current climate it is very easy to focus on the big picture of the Handmaid’s tale: a take over of the US by religious fanatics leads to the wholesale oppression of women. This would however, be a disservice to what is an incredibly personal tale. At its heart, this is a book about what happens when you treat people as things, and what people in that position will do to survive. By focusing the story down to one person, the misogyny in the Handmaid’s tale expands beyond its setting to stand in for the depredations leveled against women in the past, present, and most distressingly, the future.
Bertie’s acquaintance Gussie is down on his relationship, and Bertie is worried if it falls through his bachelorhood may be imperiled. His friend Coldmeat is worried that another man will get between him and the love of his life and emplores Bertie to help. Coldmeat’s sister, Corky, can get men to do what she wants, but can’t get the man who loves her to stand up for her, and is dragging Bertie out to the country to help out her uncle, the Vicar, with his show. Over the course of the book, identities will be confused, engagements made and broken, and farce will ensue.
When I read the Bloodline Feud, I thought it was a high concept masterpiece, by the time I got to the last volume of the Merchant Princes, I couldn’t finish it, and returned the first book of the new series in the same world, Empire Games, unread to the library.
Borderline is an absolutely brilliant book about mental illness. Millie, our protagonist, suffers from borderline personality disorder, and Baker finds a delicate balance between showing and telling. This draws the reader into a character who knows why they do the things they do, but are only sometimes able to stop themselves. The details and the asides are so real, from mindfulness lessons to therapy, that I was unsurprised to see the author had personal familiarity with such conditions.
I did not like the last laundry book, the Annihilation Score. The previous laundry files entries were an ungodly hybrid of espionage, Cthulhu, and bureaucracy; a series where a character was as likely to save the world from tentacled horrors as be disciplined for not filling out leave forms correctly. The last book was a logical continuation, but swapped the espionage for super-heroics, and in doing so, lost some of its scrappy charm.
This collection of stories is best described as horror based magical realism of poor and working class America (except for The Crevasse, which is a straight up riff on the Mountains of Madness). Most of the plots involve people crushed by poverty or living on the edge of it, encountering something supernatural, usually a monster, that throws into relief the fact that their lives were already horrific, and being terrorised, killed, or even just encountering the supernatural doesn’t change that appreciably. Not all the stories are hopeless, but that’s usually the way to bet.
This fits into the most interesting category of book for me, well crafted, interesting, deep, and entirely not to my tastes. This is a good collection of stories, and I did not like it.
Recommended for people who think magical realism would be better if it was more depressing.