The Book Thread - December 2016

I whipped through Babylon’s Ashes, the sixth book in Jame SA Corey’s Expanse series. As with most of my reading, I “read” the audiobook version.

Honestly, it’s tough for me to actually write out my feelings on these books. For whatever reason, the old-school 70’s “hard” sci-fi vibe just resonates with me. I love that there’s no artificial gravity and that people’s bones decay if they don’t execute rigorous exercise routines. I love that the battles take place over the course of tens of hours, but that the “action” is resolved in a few seconds of too-fast-for-humans destruction. And this book is chock-full of nerdy stuff like that.

At its core, this is a war story novel, with lots of space combat or the actions leading up to space combat. Like most of the other novels in the series, it’s written in a collection of POV chapters from lots of people… but probably more viewpoints than in most of the other books. This means that not a lot of the “main” characters get to grow too much since they jump around so often, but we do get some returning characters that get some decent fleshing-out.

There are some weak spots: there are at least two distinct threads in the book that didn’t seem to have any immediate payoff or… really any reason for existing. The book could have excised both POVs entirely and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference one way or the other… or better yet, used those page-counts towards expanding on another story. One of the two seemed like an excuse to re-introduce a previous minor character just so as to have an “everyman” wartime viewpoint. Which is fine, but when that thread ended without actually having any material impact on the story, it kind of felt out of place.

But that’s mostly trivial. I had a great time with the book and was disappointed when it ended. The resolution of the book, while leaving a number of threads dangling, could have been a good close to the series… though I am happy enough that it doesn’t seem to be the case.

All in all, another good entry into the series. If you’ve read the other five Expanse novels, chances are you’re going to read this one no matter what I say, but you won’t be sorry when you do.

Audiobook notes - this is narrated by Jefferson Mays, who did most of the others in the series so far, and he does his usual great job.

Finished Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear. Book #1 in the Eternal Sky trilogy. I doubt I’ll read the rest of the series.

I liked most of the worldbuilding. At its best (and I mean this in the best possible way) it felt like an interesting setting for a D&D campaign. In particular I found the ways magic worked and the effect of the different pantheons on the world to be interesting. I had a hard time caring for the characters most of the time, though. The character I found most intriguing near the end of the book was one of the horses (!). I am only half-kidding.

To summarize: the book describes how a group of people find themselved in a party, heading somewhere to do something. While reading I found myself thinking “get on with it” too many times during various exposition, description or action sequences. I got the impression that the book mainly serves to set events in motion rather than telling an interesting story to introduce the world and characters. I assume these events will be resolved in the rest of the trilogy, but I find myself not caring enough to read further.

Edit; I feel like I am coming off overly harsh in my description here. I mean, the book isn’t bad or terrible. The good stuff (the setting and some of the characters ar times) was really interesting and enjoyable, but during the second half of the book it just felt like it was missing… something, anything! to tie it together and make me care.

Now, onwards to The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

Reading Nemesis, the 4th or 5th Harry Hole crime novel.

Finished this today and thumbs up. I don’t think I wrote about the first book when I read it. In short, I enjoyed it but it felt like the book really didn’t start until 2/3 in. Despite the book having a good sense of progression, it took a while for it to really get interesting.

The Magician King was wholly made from the same stuff as the last third of the first book. Funny, interesting and well paced. Going to bump the final book up in the read queue.

The final magicians book is good because the main character finally grows up in it.

While on vacation I finished up the remainder of the to-date Traitor Son Cycle, and enjoyed it very much. Lots of cunning plans, big medieval battles with magic, dire foes, and interesting hints about the mythology and origins of the world. Alas, book five isn’t out yet as far as I can tell.

So in the meantime I read Warren Ellis’ serial novella Normal, about futurists who have gone mad looking into the future and have retreated to a place called Normal Head, a secure facility in the Pacific Northwestern wilderness, to receive treatment. And about the solving of a mystery therein. Lots of interesting ideas (many terrifying), plenty of humor, and a decent mystery.

Also finished the last book of Chuck Wendig’s Heartland trilogy, The Harvest, a pretty solid if not completely spectacular end to the story. Plot threads resolved, bad guys defeated (more or less), sort of a happy ending but not a little bittersweet.

Now working on Cathrynne Valente’s Radiance, which is a novel about movies…but movies where the big hub of all the major studios is Earth’s moon, and humanity has colonized the whole solar system by the start of the 20th century via cannon-fired capsules ala Verne, planets and moons full of alien life and strange conditions the way we once imagined. The movies are all in black and white, though, and mostly silent, because Edison holds the patents to both color and sound and charges very dearly for them when allowed at all. It’s very strange and beautifully told, but because it varies between descriptions of in-setting films both private and public and articles, interviews, and so on and it’s circling the main events of the story it’s a bit difficult to nail down at the moment.