Finished "Last Argument of Kings" by Joe Aberrcrombie - the final book in his First Law trilogy.
This was a series that got better with each book and this third one is excellent. All the characters and plots are drawn together and it never feels contrived. The plot is good - it won't astound you but there's enough decent world building in it. What's far more interesting is the visceral tone of it - Abercrombie has a way of making the world seem far more real than many fantasy series. He doesn't shirk from the violence of characters in both the real terms and their thoughts.
It's characters though that are the strongest point. It's cheap to just label them as "shades of grey" - rather he's created some real, believable people. They've got fears, hate, love, dark and good thoughts. The character of Glokta, the torturer caught up in events, is particularly interesting - bitter, self-loathing, prone to all acts of violence to keep himself alive and yet , somehow, you can still feel sympathy for the crippled body.
There's a very satisfying final battle and Abercrombie refuses to come up with a pat ending (and, of course, leaving scope to return to the world). One of the best and most satisfying conclusions to a fantasy series I've ever read.
Finished "Matter" by Iain M. Banks, a sci-fi novel set in his Culture universe.
This one is a little bit of a disappointment by the standards of other Culture novels. It's down a lot to the pacing, something that I noticed many other reviews picked up on. This in turn is down to the setup of the story - it starts off as a sort of fantasy novel, where a king is cruelly betrayed and the son must flee to avenge the death. The sci-fi comes in because this fantasy world is one of many nested worlds contained with a giant Shellworld, one which a variety of the galaxies big players are involved with (including the Culture and, as their agents, Special Circumstances).
The ShellWorld is an interesting idea but the problem is there isn't quite enough plot here for the novel's length. This means that there's a pacing issue in the middle, where one of the characters travels across the Galaxy, meeting different cultures in order to get to the point. It's good to see more of the galaxy fleshed out, and meet the Culture's peers from other races, but it doesn't always gel well. Other plot strands also slow down and some of the characters undergo more unwelcome changes.
Towards the end, for the last hundred pages or so, the pacing picks up a lot and the ideas flow much quicker. The finale is suitable adrenaline pumping and the epilogue is neatly done. I felt though that, if more prudently edited, the novel could have had a much tighter focus and been something that was very good rather than just decent.
Finished "Crack'd Pot Trail", the fourth Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novella.
I think this was perhaps the weakest of the series so far. For a start it hardly features the two necromancers or even Emancipor Reese, instead focusing on a poet travelling with a large party of (somewhat) diverse characters on their trail. The party is struggling for food and so, through the tale, the various poets regale the party with tales in order not to become the next meal...
Like the other novels in this series, there is some high enjoyable twisted black humour. Less enticing is the narrator's perchance for long-winded sentences. Now that's something that's crept into Erikson's work as he's progressed, but it seems more prevalent here - there's some quite torturous sentences to unravel. Often it's worth the reward to get the neat imagery but it can slow down the flow at times. The author does, again, go off on tangents - you're either used to this now or not. Some are interesting (his social commentary on writers as artists) but at times it's a bit long-winded.
The characters are fairly standard Erikson archetypes - in that there's layered motivations but not too much emotional depth and of course you know not to get too attached...
The presentation of the book is nice but the colour plate illustrations were perhaps too dark and hard to discern.
I enjoyed it overall but perhaps not as much as I had hoped. I know he's capable of better so hopefully his next work, the conclusion of the Malazan Books of the Fallen, will be better.
Finished Raymond E. Feist's "Wrath of a Mad God", Book 3 in the Darkwar Saga.
Events from the saga come to a head here. For longer-term fans there's also a lot of references to different series over time with characters returning and their arcs finishing (along with some annoying factual errors). Without going into spoiler-territory, there are some very big events in this book - so much so that they're almost lost amidst each other towards the end.
Some of these events feel very "deus-ex machina" and there's a bit of ret-conning going on I think. It means that the plot is a mixture of exciting and frustrating, depending on how willing you are to believe Feist had a master plan or not.
As to the actual writing of the book... Firstly, like with the previous instalment, there are far too many typos. It's not just misspellings but words used incorrectly. I don't think there was much in the way of proof reading or, for that matter, editing. At times Feist re-uses the same phrases and descriptions mere sentences apart - something any editor would have zoned in on. I'm not sure if the deadlines are tight or not but it does detract from the story.
Thankfully there's a very good pace to it all and, with the events described above, I was never left bored and kept wanting to move on. After it all, it felt a bit like a dessert - nice, kind of bad for you and not ultimately that satisfying as a meal. Recommended for Feist fans but not his best work either.
Finished "Permutation City" by Greg Egan.
This is a book dealing with virtual reality but in a very detailed and carefully considered manner. People have Copies of themselves within these universes, allowing Egan to ponder questions as to whether the Copies are equal to the originals and what exactly is consciousness. As the novel progresses, these questions are delved into further - if you can edit your virtual self (after all it's only software algorithms) are you still the same person?
The ability to explore such concepts are some of the biggest reasons I love science fiction and Egan is excellent at presenting scenarios to investigate them. Admittedly some of the theories in here pushed my brain and were almost on the verge of absurdity and yet not possible to refute.
Less satisfying are the characters here, who are fairly one dimensional and more mediums for the concepts. The plot also can can jump about the place a bit and the end is a little bit too neat.
Overall it's another worthy book. It's not always easy (Egan is very hard sci-fi) but worth reading for showing again the range of questions science fiction enables you to explore.
Finished "The Blood Knight" by Greg Keyes, the third book in his "Kingdom of Thorn and Bone" series.
Like the other two instalments it moves along nicely, although the pacing is a little bit off here, starting a little bit slowly.
Characterisation is strong, particularly with Anne whose transition to her regal role is very well done.
Also good is the use of language as a plot - Keyes obviously spent a bit of time with linguistics and it adds a depth of history to the world.
There's enough left for a good final instalment which I hope will measure up to the first three.
Finished "The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge" by ... Vernor Vinge! It's a collection of - wait for it - Vernor Vinge's short stories, spanning about three decades. (As an aside, I was reading these stories concurrent to the novel "The Blood Knight". I don't read that fast...).
These stories date very well. One of the oldest, for example, quite accurately predicts the CGI "Lord of the Rings". Others explore giant networked PCs and Vinge's belief in a singularity. There's a nice variety in them as well, although naturally there's a variance in quality (for example didn't care for "The Peddler's Apprentice" at all but loved "The Babbler").
More than enough here to make me read more Vernor Vinge (just as well too, as I already had picked up another of his books!).
i see you're big into Stephen King and other fantasy/sci-fi books as well. i kinda agree with your review of Under the Dome. ending was kinda anti-climatic, but a good read overall.
do you have any other authors you like in the fantasy/sci-fi genre? i've a good few king books to read yet but i find it hard to get into a different author. any recommendations?
Finished "Kraken" by China Miellville (well finished it awhile back).
I enjoyed this, as I usually do with China's work. The plot is fairly straight forward - an revered preserved Kraken is stolen by cultists who hope to use it lead London towards an Armageddon.
China's take on it is to show a London with a bizarre underside to it - full of odd cultists worshipping odd deities. It's a London where the ocean is worshipped and where someone can build a sonic screw-driver. It's replete with references, including nerd pop-culture including talking about building working phasers and sonic screw-drivers.
It also has China's prose, his wonderful use of language. There are so many evocative turns of phrase. China also makes up words (or dredges ones up that have been cast from dictionaries due to disuse). In the hands of many it would drag down the story but here it just adds to the mystery of the other London (in many ways a more adult version of his "UnLunDun".)
It's far more insane and pulse rushing than his previous "The City and the City", both equally strong works. "Clive Barker on acid" was a good description I read. Not as fine as "The Scar" but an excellent read from Mr. New Weird.
Finished "Lisey's Story" by Stephen King.
Primarily this a novel about grief as Lisey Landon copes with working through the memories of her dead husband as well as coping with her troubled sister. A lot of this then involves flashbacks to her past (and indeed flashbacks within those) as she unlocks memories she had repressed.
The fantastical element comes from her husband's past and his family's dark secrets. It's an important element but, as with much of King's work, it's most important as to how it affects the characters.
The novel though is a little long in places. It could have been pruned more (something King even talks about in the afterword). Lisey can grate at times and her husband, Scott, actually (to me) seems kinda irritating at times. Other bits though are done very well - the grief, Scott's horrific childhood, etc. It's not his strongest work but it feels among his most personal.
You seem to have a similar taste to msyelf! Not sure if you read it, but you should check out the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Its a lot of books and a lot of pages but well worth the read.
Finished "Hilldiggers" by Neal Asher.
I was a little bit disappointed with this one. One of my favourite things about Asher is his crazy inventiveness with alien life, which was only really peripheral here. Instead it's primarily about a civil war conflict between manipulated siblings whose real motives are very obvious from early on. These characters are not very interesting - even if it's never Asher's strong point (as he admits), they generally get carried away in a fast plot, which is largely absent here. Even the Polity aspect is distant, making it feel disconnected from his other novels (and not in a good way).
It's not a bad novel, but it's never a good one either. Definitely weaker than his Agent Cormac and Spatterjay series.
I've read the first and second chronicles and working on the final one Good fantasy, even if it doesn't move at as fast a pace as many modern series do.
Finished "The Gathering Storm" by Brendan Sanderson and Robert Jordan, the 12th book in "The Wheel of Time".
As I was growing weary of the series, I didn't really have concerns about a new writer taking it over (even though I was unfamiliar with his works). I was right not too because Sanderson has done a good job. In fact it's the best book in the series since "Lord of Chaos" (Book 6).
What's good is that Sanderson picks up the pace. Things happen. They're important things too. Primarily it's focusing on two characters - Rand and Egwene and there's some excellent characterisation here. It's entirely consistent with how Jordan wrote them but pushes them in interesting directions.
The prose is also leaner. Yes, the book is 750+ pages and at times it slows down a little. Sanderson though doesn't, for example, spend excessive time detailing the clothes people are wearing. Nynaeve barely tugs her braid. In fact she's the best written she's been in ages - again more emotion creeps in here. There's even time for a rather sweet love story.
I didn't like everything here. Some characters annoy me and the arrogance of the Aes Sedai still grates (which, of course, it's somewhat meant to). There's enough goodness though to restore my faith in the series. I ploughed through the final half of the book much more quickly than previous volumes. That says enough.
Forgot that I recently finished "Fragile Things", a collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman.
This is my first introduction to Gaiman in the written form (although I've read some of the Sandman series). There's quite an eclectic mix here - there's a number of poems, there's stories commissioned for album sleeves, as well as a number of award-winning pieces.
Gaiman has an good fantastical style - it's quite unique. His stories are primarily set in our world, but the underside of it - in the secret clubs and small country houses where strange things happen. Among the most inventive here was the excellent "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire" and the smart "A Study in Emerald" (which is a great Holmes / Cthulu mashup). There's some there that are slight and weak as well and others are too brief to be of any substance. Nonetheless it did make me want to read more of his work (which is as well as I have "The Graveyard Book" on my bookshelf).
Finished "Shadow Gate" by Kate Elliott, the second book in her Crossroads trilogy.
It's a worthy sequel to the first instalment. The milieu is interesting here as it looks to the East for inspiration, rather than the typical Western setting for fantasy novels. This provides a rich setting for the story and Elliott is very good at getting her characters into the mindset of their era and place. Too many fantasy authors give their characters a 21st century mindset but Elliott is not afraid to have her main protagonists believe in their culture's value, even if it includes concepts like slavery. It really helps add depth to the novel.
The characters themselves are well drawn, and feel very natural. There's no requirement for demi-gods or mysterious mages. Even the cadre of Guardians, who have strong magical powers, feel like they're regular power who've been gifted (which is itself an important plot element). It's also got some of the strongest female characters in a fantasy series.
The plot itself is good as the events from the first book - detailing an army slowly invading a land - are expanded on as well as mysteries explained. There's not a massive amount of action set pieces but there's some very memorable ones - Elliot describes some of the most disturbing scenes and actions I've ever come across in a fantasy novel. Thanks for that Kate.
Two-thirds of the way in and I've really enjoyed the series. More tightly written and original than her "Crown of Stars" septology, I look forward to seeing how it concludes.