Review ~ The Violent Century

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

The Violent Century cover

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

A bold experiment has mutated a small fraction of humanity. Nations race to harness the gifted, putting them to increasingly dark ends. At the dawn of global war, flashy American superheroes square off against sinister Germans and dissolute Russians. Increasingly depraved scientists conduct despicable research in the name of victory

British agents Fogg and Oblivion, recalled to the Retirement Bureau, have kept a treacherous secret for over forty years. But all heroes must choose when to join the fray, and to whom their allegiance is owed—even for just one perfect summer’s day. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been a fan of Lavie Tidhar’s writings, especially his Century Station stories. The Violent Century is not one of those…

What Worked
There is a small, poignant human story at the heart of this tale of superheroes and superhero-sized espionage. Unfortunately…

What Didn’t Work
The story was buried under a layer of style and structure that kept the characters at a distance.

Instead of quotation marks, dialog is sometimes set off with em dashes and is sometimes subsumed into the surrounding paragraph. The result made all the characters seem flat, like I was overhearing this story through a bad telephone connection or watching it through a screen door. I was too removed to care about the characters.

The narrative is jumbled through places and times. This could work, giving it a woven together feel, but sometimes the time digressions didn’t lead very far. Chapters felt like prologues and vignettes; it was only in the longer chapters that I ever got into a good rhythm with Fogg and Oblivion.

Overall
I don’t mind doing a little work when I read, especially when the subject matter is something that has been done, like superheroes. But reading The Violent Century was arduous. I kept hoping Tidhar would let the readers into the story, but that never happened.

Original Publishing info: Tachyon Publications, July 23, 2019
My Copy: Kindle and ePub ARCs, NetGalley
Genre: science fiction

Review ~ Fevre Dream

Cover via Goodreads

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare…and mankind’s most impossible dream.

Here is the spellbinding tale of a vampire’s quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman’s dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I had heard several times that George R. R. Martin’s vampire novel was quite good. The back cover blurb of my edition is a quote by Harlan Ellison.

In 1990 or so, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire showed up on my mom’s bookshelf via the Science Fiction Book of the Month Club. I have a feeling that it was a “forgot to turn it down” book because my mom didn’t (until then) read horror. We both read it and we both went a bit nuts for it and vampires. We read all of Anne Rice’s books, Fred Saberhagen’s Dracula books (and of course Dracula), just about everything Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote, Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night, John Steakley’s Vampire$, and so many others. But George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream was no where to be found at our mall’s Walden Books or our public library.

What Worked
Martin does a good job putting a spin on vampire mythology and presenting a vampire who is trying to have a choice in his destiny without being utterly emo about it. Abner Marsh is our outsider-looking-in on this culture/species. He’s crusty and jaded and doesn’t ask too many questions, at least at first. It is his inevitable curiosity that causes him to ultimately care about Julian as well as Fevre Dream.

I really enjoyed the setting. Setting is one of those factors that can make or break a book for me. Reading this in 2019 means I’m experiencing it in the shadow of Interview of the Vampire with its wisteria-clad New Orleans. Fevre Dream is set somewhat in New Orleans, but more up and down the Mississippi River and especially on the riverboat itself. There is also a lot of talk about food. Abner March likes to eat. I can relate and I not-surprisingly appreciated all the food details.

I read part of this book in mass market paperback, but listened to most of it in audio book form. It was read Ron Donachie, who I wasn’t very familiar with, but has been in everything. He does a great job.

What Didn’t Work
There were a couple of really talky parts. I don’t believe that showing is always better than telling, but oof. Past the mid-point of the novel there is section where a good deal of time goes by. Between what Abner did during this time period and his subsequent catch-up with Joshua, there is a very large passage of summing up. I get that it’s necessary, but it’s kind of dry.

While I didn’t have a problem with this, readers might want to be aware that race is a bit of an issue and these are the 1850s. The N-word is used quite liberally, as certain characters would use it. Also, if you have any qualms about child-endangerment, one of the most graphic scenes includes a baby. I don’t dink Martin for this, but I understand that it’s a delicate point for many readers.

Overall
It had been a while since I’d read any vampire fiction. I’m glad Fevre Dream lived up to its reputation, and I should probably loan my mom the book.

Original Publishing info: Poseidon Press, 1982
My Copy: Mass market paperback (Pocket Books 1983), Book Mooch & Audio (Penguin Random House Audio 2012), Greater Phoenix Digital Library
Genre: horror

Mini Reviews, Vol. 16 ~ Audio Edition

Trust Me, I'm Lying cover Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday

DNF. I listened to maybe an hour and a half of Trust Me, I’m Lying. The first 60 minutes were interesting and a little sickening as Holiday describes how he (and others) create buzz, hype, and news stories out of virtually nothing. But then, the stories/explanations of how and why got repetitive. The audio book was recorded by Holiday. While the quality wasn’t bad, there was a lack of pauses at what would be section/chapter headings in a book; it all ran together.

Accidental Thief cover Accidental Thief by C.J. Davis & Jamie Davis

DNF too. I wanted to check out the phenomenon of LitRPG, which if you are like me old and out of touch aren’t familiar is a narrative with heavy RPG conventions including things like character stats. First, maybe this works better in non-audio format. Listening to the main character check his stats over and over again (“Name: Hal Dix. Class: Rogue. Level: 2. Attributes. Brawn: 8. Wisdom: 8. Luck: 18+5. Speed: 10+1. Looks: 18. Health 16/16. Skills… “) was not scintillating. Second, the tropes that are used are especially and purposefully (?) not unique. The protagonist is a boring guy stuck in a office job (with nice wife and young child) who is sucked into a mysterious game where he framed for a murder and ends up fighting spiders in the sewer with a mysterious stranger who is obviously a girl. Apparently, the challenges will become increasingly more difficult. But I’d rather spend my time playing an RPG rather than reading/listening to one.

Tesla cover Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

Not a DNF! I read about half of this book and listened to about half of it. I had previously read W. Bernard Carlson’s Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age which emphasized where Tesla’s innovations fit within the technologies of the time. Cheney’s  book takes a much more personal look at Tesla, without being overly sensational or speculative. There is still science, but also things like letter excerpts from friends and colleagues that give a more human aspect to Tesla.


All the Details: 2019 Nonfiction Reading Challenge

Review ~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Cover via Goodreads

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I watched the Netflix distributed film version of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society a while back. When I found out that the book was written in epistolary form, I was curious how the story would be pulled off in letter/diary form.

Turns out, the novel version is quite different from the film version.

What Worked…with the Film
I have to admit that there are occasions when I think the film version of a book is better than the book itself. This is one of those occasions. The screenplay writers (Kevin Hood, Don Roos, and Tom Bezucha) keep key elements from the novel, but give the narrative some mystery: who is Elizabeth McKenna and where is she now? In the book, those questions are answered rather quickly. The third point of  Juliet and Dawsey’s the romantic triangle  is provided by a completely different character who is dropped from the film altogether. In the film, Juliet also has some misgivings about the slightly mercenary nature her task. As an outsider to Guernsey, should she be the one telling their stories? This provides the character of Juliet with a more realistic level of uncertainty about the situation. Juliet of the book rarely seems completely uncertain of anything. She is maybe too perfect.

Overall
If any World War II narrative can be a pleasant way to pass the time, it’s this one.

Publishing info, first printing:  Dial Press, 2008
My Copy: Kindle/Overdrive in-browser, Tempe Overdrive library
Genre: historical fiction

The film is directed by Mike Newell, starring Lily James and
Michiel Huisman.

Mini Reviews, Vol. 15

The Wedding Date cover The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

I don’t read a lot of romances, but I will probably have some romantic elements in the story I’m writing. Hence, I’m going to make an effort to read a few. I picked The Wedding Date because it was available and it sounded fun. And it was! Pro: Alexa’s growth as a character wasn’t directly linked to her relationship with Drew. Con: The ending was very tidy. But I’ll allow it.

The Cure for Dreaming cover The Cure for Dreaming by Cat Winters

For some reason I thought this was book was going to be a heavier romance than it was. Due to its mesmerism plot, it had come up on my radar anyway. All in all, The Cure for Dreaming was okay. The protagonists were fairly young, which is a minus for me, but there were a few fairly scary bits.

Black Klansman cover Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime by Ron Stallworth

And now for something completely different… I became interested in Ron Stallworth’s story due to the current coverage that the movie is getting. Stallworth was the first black police officer in Colorado Springs in 1972 and spearheaded an information gathering task force investigating the local Ku Klux Klan in 1978. In an era when background checks were not easily done, Stallworth placed three officers in the Klan and had personal contact over the phone with Klan members, including speaking with (and ending up as personal security for) David Duke. The writing is occasionally repetitive, but it’s a pretty amazing story.

Review ~ Harmony in Light

This book was provided to me for review consideration by WordFire Press & the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America via NetGalley.

Harmony in Light

Harmony in Light by Walter H. Hunt

In 1880s Paris, a doctor encounters a statuette that can drive men mad, secret societies, and a bridge between worlds that threatens disastrous consequences. Throughout, he is assisted and opposed by historical figures such as Charlie Dickens, the son living in his late father’s shadow, a young Sigmund Freud and the ghost of the Marquis de Sade.

Why was I interested in this book?

On NetGalley, I’ve been auto-approved by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This means I can read any of the titles they are currently promoting via NetGalley without going through any approval process. It’s a bit of perk. I hadn’t reviewed anything for them in a while and Harmony in Light sounded like it might be interesting, despite my general avoidance of fiction with historical celebrities.

What did I think?

I was a little dubious going into Harmony in Light. Using historical personages in fiction is hard to get right. Often, a reader has a notion of the personage’s character and that can clash with the author’s version of that character. In this case though, I have very little opinion of Charles Dickens, Jr., Sigmund Freud, the Marquis de Sade, or Guy de Maupassant (who is also there). I didn’t even know if Dickens had children. He did, in fact, have 10 children.

Actually, Hunt errs on the other end of using historical celebrities: I’m not sure that the names and reputations they brought to the story were necessary. But perhaps I’m missing some connections. There are a lot of characters and names to keep track of.

I did enjoy the central mystery of the plot. Dr. Sauvier is a good investigator and the skeptical foil to the statuette’s weirdness and the societies of mesmerists looking to control it. Occasionally, the narrative felt a little padded out, but Hunt’s occult Paris is a diverting enough setting. I also rather liked the ending. Hunt has written some alternate history in the past, but he side-steps messing with future history here.

Other Info

Published: Nov. 26, 2018 by WordFire Press
My copy: PDF/Kindle ARC

#FrankenSlam! Review & WrapUp

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

via Goodreads

It’s been two and a half years since I read Frankenstein. I decided to give it another read this year due to the 200th anniversary of its publication.

I started out reading an edition annotated for “Scientists, Engineers, and Creators of All Kinds.” I figured it would be a nice twist—to read a novel I’d read twice before with the context of what scientists and engineers have to say about the book. Unfortunately, I misunderstood. The annotations aren’t by scientists for scientists; they are by a group of literature/philosophy/humanities people written at scientists. There was a preachy quality to the annotations that really annoyed me. Speaking as a bachelor of arts schmuck who hangs out with a lot of engineers, it’s off-the-mark to assume that people in the sciences are ignorant of ethics.

I have also come to have a problem with how Frankenstein is held up as the quintessential example of science gone wrong. There is very little science in Frankenstein. The image of Victor Frankenstein as a scientist is pretty laughable. There are very few instances where science is done alone in a vacuum. Technology is reliant on thousands of people working together. The lone mad scientist (or even the benevolent Tony Stark) might as well be a wizard casting a spell for all he or she has to do with science.

So, about midway through I switched to an edition illustrated by David Plunkert, which was much less vexing.

Illustration by David Plunkert
from Rockport Publisher’s Classics Reimagined series.

Last time I read, I was struck by how much of the book Frankenstein spends running away. This time around I found him nearly insufferable. Having read Paradise Lost just before this, I could see a parallel between the monster and Satan: both get the best lines and elicit more sympathy than the “main” character. Frankenstein is more like Adam in the late books of Paradise Lost. He has done wrong, but like a little kid he’s going to whine about it and try to dodge his responsibilities as much as possible.

#FrankenSlam! WrapUp

Jay @ Bibliophilopolis hosted the FrankenSlam! Challenge: Read Frankenstein and the three books that comprise the monster’s education. There were also other Frankenstein related activities.

Alas, I have fallen short.

I read Frankenstein and two out of three of the other books. I started Plutarch’s Lives, but I didn’t get very far.

Here are my reviews of the other two:
The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goeth
Paradise Lost John Milton

I did talk quite a bit to Eric about the whole endeavor, much to his chagrin. I also rewatched the first season of Penny Dreadful which I’m counting as an adaptation. But, I’m just short of a full FrankenSlam!