February 10, 2005

Book Reviews 2005 (3-8)

A phlethora of small book reviews this time around, as I got to do a fair amount of reading on my trip to, around, and back from NYC and its environs.

The Heretic Kings, by Paul Kearney
The Wild Machines, The Book of Ash Part 3, by Mary Gentle
The Burning City, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert Heinlein
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, by Robert Feynman
Tinker, by Wen Spencer

The Heretic Kings (The Monarchies of God, Book 2)by Paul Kearney

The Heretic Kings continues the story began in Hawkswood Voyage, set in an alternate, magic-using universe which feels a lot like early Renaissance Europe and its environs. Voyages of exploration into the West, conflicts between religious factions, the threat of a similar rival religious warrior nation on the borders...you have seen much of this story before.

Kearney throws a few new wrinkles into the mix, with revelations that hint that the founder of the religion embraced by the Kingdoms may have more in common with their common foe than is comfortable to accept. Captain Hawkwood does indeed explore a Western Continent, and discovers a horrid secret awaiting him there. Other subplots hang in the book as well.

Its not as effective as the first book. Until the book switched to the story of Hawkwood, to be frank, I was somewhat disappointed. Even that brings the book only up to average. I am not entirely certain I want to continue to read the series, I am not engaged *that* much with it. And this book is no place to start the series, either, even given a prologue of events.

Overall, though, my gamer friends will understand when I say that the book feels a lot like 7th Sea Fanfic.

Not Recommended

The Wild Machines: : The Book Of Ash, #3 (Book of Ash) by Mary Gentle

This is the third in the inexplicably quartered story of Ash (it was published in one volume in Britain and perhaps would be better read that way). Her story picks up somewhat later than the ending of the second book, we learn in flashback and story telling how Ash escapes the Wild Machines at the end of the second book, and just why she is journeying toward a Dijon under siege from the Visigoths.

Gentle writes military SF/Fantasy far better than the Kearney before, you can really feel the scholarship and detail in Ash's mercenary band. There are even touches of subtle humor, here and there. The end goes somewhat weird and apotheotic, but I hope that things will be resolved in the fourth volume. I like the story of this world that was--or was it? enough to read the last in the series.

Recommended, but do buy and read all the books, or get a hold of the British unified edition

The Burning City by Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven.

The Niven-Pournelle team has written some memorable books. The Mote in God's Eye (and to a lesser extent its sequel). Footfall. Lucifer's Hammer. Inferno.

The Burning City is a far weaker sister to all of them. Set in the Magic Goes Away 12000 BC universe of Niven, it takes place in an ancient Los Angeles (Tep's Town) with a hit-over-the-head number of parallels to modern day LA and its ills. Lordkin roam taking what they want from a terrified populace, the government seems content to let the Lordkin do as they will, all fear and dislike the greedy and avaracious Toronexti, addictive and dangerous powders which the main character sells to enrich himself for a while. You get the picture.

While there is a fair amount of imaginative elements in place, the book feels too much like a constricted attempt to make political points. Worse,a fair chunk of the plot feels too much ripped off from a prior Niven novel, Destiny's Road.

I don't have a burning desire to read the forthcoming sequel. I'd far rather read the better novels these gentlemen have already written.

Not Recommended.

To Sail Beyond the Sunset by Robert Heinlein

Heinlein's last novel, TSBTS is the story of Lazarus Long's mother, Maureen Johnson, a memoir of her life from the turn of the 20th century until its end. The framing device is her entrapment in a rather nasty alternate world based off the work of Nehemiah Scudder.

TSBTS is a capstone book and is best appreciated and enjoyed after reading a lot of Heinlein. Many of your old friends are here, or mentioned, or even get sly references. (Dr. Ridpath, for instance, is a reference to a Heinlein short story). Being such, I don't recommend it for anyone except those who have read a decent chunk of Heinlein. There is plenty of sex in the book, and quibbles and arguments about what incest really is, and the story really is Maureen's memoir. I enjoyed it, having read a good percentage of Heinlein's oeuvre, but I recognize that its not everyone's cup of tea. But if you want a sense of where Lazarus gets a lot of his personality and doggedness, this is the place to do it.

Recommended, for those who have read and enjoyed Heinlein.

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman is indeed a curious character, one of those Depression era boys who grew up in New York and got curious about science, and stuck to it. In addition, his iconclastic viewpoint and his relentless curiosity led the late Dr. Feynman on many adventures, some of which he tells in these pages. Playing in a battle of the bands in Brazil, cracking safes while at Los Alamos, and other exploits are lovingly recalled in these pages. The narrative jumps around quite a bit in time, this is more a series of vignettes rather than a true, stoild autobiography.

Dr. Feynman embodied the dictum "Think for yourself, and Question Authority", taking that to extremes which are absurd only because so many people are comfortably conformist. Feynman has written more books about his adventures, as well as his beloved physics, and I am adding some of them to my wishlist.

If you haven't already, I Highly Recommend> you get to know Dr. Feynman.

Tinker by Wen Spencer.

Tinker is much of a kind with Kara Dalkey's Steel Rose--Faerie Fantasy set in the Land of Three Rivers. Tinker herself is an unusual character, a girl genius who lives in the most-of-the-month-in-faerie Pittsburgh. Irrepressible, her sense of honor and stubborness get her mixed up with adversaries in multiple dimensions.

The book is heavy on romance, more so than most novels that I pick up, and I found some aspects of it perhaps a little off putting and IMO unrealistic, but Tinker is an irresistable character. What I keyed on was the Japanese-like culture of the Elves, it was refreshing not to have standard Celtic-fantasy elves for a change. I suspect that Tinker won't work as well in Japan because they won't find the customs of the Elves alien at all.

The book is also clearly the first in a series, with so many plot threads dangling at the end. I will pick it up, too. People like my friend Deb have told me about Wen Spencer for awhile now, and I am glad I read Tinker, and will read more by Spencer. However, if you don't like a heavy dose of romance in your fantasy, this might not be your cup of tea. (I suspect my male blog readers might find Tinker less palatable than my female ones, on a hunch).

Recommended, just on the verge of Highly.

Posted by Jvstin at February 10, 2005 10:16 PM