Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kevin Hearne "Trapped" (Del Rey, 2012)

Trapped is the fifth book of Hearne’s Iron Druid series.  Twelve years have passed since the events of Tricked.  Atticus is close to completing the training and initiation of Granuaile when their plans are interrupted by debts and vendettas.  I won’t go into specifics in order to avoid spoilers, but they travel to various gods’ realms and have to overcome a wide variety of enemies.  

If you’ve been keeping up with the series, you’ll find all your favorite elements here:  a fast moving plot, with plenty of action; hilarious banter with Atticus and Oberon; inventive characterizations of various deities and mythological figures.  As Atticus faces various challenges and enemies, we realize that each situation is a result of his earlier actions.  This was perhaps the most impressive part to me:  Hearne’s tight plotting extended across multiple books, paying off here.

A more recent development, and most welcome, is the emergence of Granuaile as a more well-rounded character.  In Trapped, she seems to come into her own, and is portrayed with quite a bit of agency.  This works against the common trope of the assistant or love interest who is essentially one dimensional, there to enable exposition or admiration of the protagonist’s strengths.

If you are new to the Iron Druid series, I would not recommend starting here.  So many plot elements depend on action from the previous books that you would be best served by starting at the beginning.  For readers familiar with the series, Trapped shows that the Iron Druid series continues to improve.  I’m excited to find out what adventures Atticus, Granuaile, and Oberon have next.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

"It's Christmas, Carol!" (2012)

This year's Christmas Carol watch has already begun.  Mrs Burgoo & I started the season with this new production from Hallmark.

It's Christmas, Carol! is a standard gender inversion of the tale.  (These seem to be growing in popularity.)  Carol, Emmanuelle Vaugier (The Morrigan from Lost Girl) is a cynical profit minded publisher (Scrooge).  She is visited by the ghost of the firm's previous owner, Eve (Carrie Fisher).  Eve takes her around, shows her scenes from her own life & that of her employees in order to change her ways. 

By Hallmark standards, this one is a winner.  The production values & acting were all far above their normal offering.  There were even a few knowing references to "Queer Eye" & "Star Wars" that poked a bit of fun at their stunt casting.  However, it is still a Hallmark movie, so don't expect great things.  For a film about people in the publishing industry, there were a lot of grammar & vocabulary issues with the script.

A few odd changes from the standard story:  Marley (Fisher) was a great person.  She isn't brought back to show Scrooge (Vaugier) how she's suffered, but rather more as a spirit guide.  I was a bit reminded of It's a Wonderful Life

There's also a large emphasis on Scrooge's failed relationship.  It seems that the meaning of Christmas is not giving, but rather being in a relationship.  That's more than a bit creepy, & furthers the theory that Hallmark's movies are for lonely women.

Also missing:  Tiny Tim.  While one of Scrooge's employees did have children, neither were sickly or particularly involved in the story.

Overall, a solid "C" on the production. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stop It With the Confederacy Already!

Over the past few days you may have seen a chart that looks something like this:

It’s normally accompanied by some variety of LOLRACIST.

This argument (and I feel like I’m being generous by considering it as such) is less than insightful at best, and downright offensive at worst.

Yes, there is a correspondence to Southern states and support of Republicans.  This is due to the GOP’s Southern Strategy.  This has been acknowledged as a pernicious and persistent political strategy since the 1960s.  It’s generally accepted as part of modern American political analysis.  So thanks for the penetrating insight.

Is there a point to be made from this graphic?  Well there is the implicit, if not explicit, assertion that Southerners are racist.  Let’s be honest:  in contemporary America, references to the Confederacy are liberal dogwhistles for racism and oppression. It’s the American history equivalent of Godwinization.

I’m not going to go into an examination of racism and oppression in other areas of the country, but I will point you to a couple of quick links just to put a bit of this in perspective.  Here’s the Indiana Klan.  Also you can look at some interesting facts about NYC or  Los Angeles.  None of us have clean hands here, people.

There’s more than a bit of irony in the fact that Democratic voters, who have lambasted the GOP for excluding so many, are reveling in a rhetorical device that does nothing more than force a whole region of their country into “otherness”.  If the problem with the other guys is that they aren’t inclusive, then why try to create further divisions?  Why not attempt some sort of reconciliation?  Of course that may require empathy, which is a whole lot more difficult.

If you’re actually interested in why the Democratic narrative doesn’t seem to be attractive to Southern men, then I would recommend this article at Salon.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Steven Erikson “The Forge of Darkness” (Tor Books, 2012)

The Forge of Darkness is the first book in the Kharkanas Trilogy.  It is a prequel trilogy, taking place hundreds of thousands of years before the immense Malazan Books of the Fallen.  Its focus will be the splintering of the Tiste people—what happened and why.

Structurally, this seems to be a real change from how Erikson wrote all of the MBoF.  In that series, even though there were continuing storylines, each book seemed to be more self-contained, with climaxes built into each volume.  So, for example, we got the Chain of Dogs story, which climaxed and had resolution within a single volume, although there were characters and storylines which continued into subsequent volumes.  The Forge of Darkness, however, is structured more like the first volume in a traditional fantasy series.  When it climaxes, it is rather a setup for the next volume in the series.  There is no resolution to the storylines found here; this is buildup to the larger storyline. 

In many other ways, this is a typical Steven Erikson novel.  There is a massive pool of characters, with revolving POVs from many of them.  Even though it is set hundreds of thousands of years before the MBoF, there’s already lots of hazy backstory that we learn about through rumor and speculation.  Characters are prone to rumination and philosophizing.  

Many familiar characters appear here:  Gothos, Draconus, Anomander Rake, Silchas Ruin, just to name a few.  No, we don’t get POVs from any of these high level characters.  That duty falls to numerous other friends, relations, vassals, etc who live and act around these familiar names.
If you’ve made your way through all 10 books of The Malazan Books of the Fallen, then absolutely you’ll want to read this.  Most likely you are someone engaged with the complexities of Erikson’s world, and you are used to some of its more difficult aspects.  There are so many under explained portions of his creation that there is more than enough room for prequels without falling into the many usual traps of that sort of thing.

If you are new to the Malazan world, should you start here?  That probably would not be my recommendation.  The Forge of Darkness is no less complex than any of the Malazan books which have preceded it.   Without the perspectives of the Malazan soldiers, Erikson’s writing is more opaque than is perhaps usual.  His Tiste perspectives given in this book are more detached, and archaic in their speech and manner.  It’s an unusual choice, and one that makes it more difficult for new readers than the more modern manner of his Malazans.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Lee Collins “The Dead of Winter” (Angry Robot, 2012)

1880s Leadville, Colorado:  Monster hunters come to a mining town to eliminate a threat.  They find more monsters than they expect, and also find out secrets about themselves.

It’s difficult to summarize the plot of The Dead of Winter without leaping directly into spoiler territory.  I think that’s a tribute to the tight plotting that Collins has done here.  It’s a relatively small story, but one with serious ramifications for our protagonist.

Your enjoyment of The Dead of Winter will depend heavily on how you react to Cora Oglesby, the protagonist.  She reminded me more than a bit of Calamity Jane from Deadwood:  hard drinking, argumentative, struggling to be a woman in very nontraditional roles.  While she’s clearly a flawed protagonist, she’s not one without a moral center, or one that is not sympathetic.

The world building in The Dead of Winter is rather limited, but that is in keeping with the relatively small scale of the story itself.    We don’t know much of the larger world, of the history of the monsters, or any sort of backstory for them.  Fortunately we are spared the “but monster X is just a legend” conversation.  There’s a bit of disbelief, but it seems to relate more to the proximity of the monster rather than their existence per se.  The comparison I would make is this:  if someone were to tell me that alligators were in my local park, I wouldn’t be quick to believe them.  Not because I don’t believe that alligators exist, but rather because I don’t think that they would be in that location.  

But what about the monsters?  You can rest easily, they’re not “sparkly”, and they aren’t just misunderstood.  They’re predators of humans, who need to be put down.  Collins reaches back to Native American mythology and Gothic literature to set the parameters for these killers.  

Aside from some awkwardness early on, The Dead of Winter is remarkably tight and confident for a first novel.  Collins has a great sense of what works, and focuses on his strengths.  Apparently it is the first book in a projected series.  I’m looking forward to reading Cora’s further adventures and finding out more about this world.