The best things in life are free. Right?
Well, that’s what they say atleast. We need some empirical proof before we can say definitively one way or the other. Otherwise we’re like anti-vaxxers going around all willie-nillie spitting in the noble eye of science.
There’s only one eye I spit in… death. And fear. And evil clowns (Which is an oxymoron ’cause all clowns are evil). Okay, I guess I’m a spitter. But never mind that.
So before we get to the book reviews down below, we’re gonna test the theory “The Best Things In Life Are Free”: I’m gonna give you the chance to win a FREE copy of Time Heist.
Dianne from Tome Tender has been very gracious in hosting and promoting said giveaway. Seriously, Dianne’s energy from promotion is staggering (thank you so much for all your hard-work, D). How can you win a copy of Time Heist, you ask? Easy, click HERE and sign-up. There is practically no spilled blood involved. Great, huh?
Alright, enough of the shameless self-promoting, let’s get to the Books of the Week!
1) Dhalgren – Samuel R. Delaney (For those who like flowery writing, vague plot, and explicit sex scenes)
Dhalgren is on a bunch of top-100 lists and as such I felt compelled to give it a read. As a writer I think it’s necessary to be well versed in the classics, which often gets me into books that I would otherwise avoid like the plague. Dhalgren is one of these books.
Let’s start by pointing out the things that make Dhalgren an interesting read. The writing is beautiful. It’s atmospheric and convoluted in a way that gets your mind working. At times it goes too far and becomes what I would lovingly refer to as “purply prose”. Some people dig that, but as a whole, I’m not one of those people.
Pretty writing is pretty, but there’s got to be substance otherwise you’re just eating literary cotton candy getting cavities without getting full.
Dhalgren is set in a mysterious post-apocalyptic world/city that is mysterious because Delaney intentionally makes it so. Too little information is revealed, and when it is it’s done so in such a way as to be vague and possibly wrong. What I mean by this is that often something is revealed only to be overturned a few short pages later.
It’s creating mystery and intrigue by saying “Ooh, look, the sky is red… or is it?” Dun Dun Dun.
That’s not mysterious or intriguing, it’s just annoying. Add into that the fact that the main character has severe memory problems and you get a really ho-hum adventure.
So how do you spice up a ho-hum adventure? That’s right, you sprinkle in a healthy dose of sex, the spice of life (or is that paprika? Hm… I’m not culinarily (<– yes, that’s a word) inclined).
In the first 100 pages of the book we get three very explicit sex scenes that gallop through the broad spectrum of sexual orientations. Now, these aren’t short scenes either. So, if that’s your thing, good on you, you’re probably gonna dig this book. But gratuitous sex scenes hold no substance. Initially there is a shock value as the author explores sexual orientations that, at the time of its writing, would have been considered fringe, but this is 2015 and it’s not cutting edge, or intriguing, or honestly, very interesting.
Unfortunately, Dhalgren didn’t live up to the hype for me. It’s a lot of sex and trite mystery wrapped in pretty writing. But my opinion isn’t so unique as it turns out. Dhalgren, as I later discovered, is one of those books that people either LOVE like chocolate covered bunnies, or HATE like chocolate covered things that people hate. <— not sure where I was going with that.
Oh, also, Dhalgren is over 800 pages long, so get comfy.
2) Fool Moon (Book 2 of the Dresden Files)- Jim Butcher (For those who like snarky detective wizard mysteries)
Fool Moon picks up about six months after book one, Storm Front, and deals with a cadre of werewolves/werewolf wannabees. Jim Butcher has done an interesting thing with this series by setting up a “monster of the week” type narrative. In the first book of the series we were dealing with rogue wizards exploding people’s hearts. This time we get the full range of werewolves. That’s not to say there isn’t an overarching narrative (there is), but at this point in the series it’s so early that nothing firm has really been set into the motion. At this point in the story we’re still dealing with world-building, which is cool ’cause Jim Butcher has definitely created a unique take on magic in his little world.
I don’t have much to say about this book, overall it was good and entertaining. There is a ton of action in this episode, which, at times, borders on too much. But hey, I like action so I won’t knock it too hard for that.
One of the things that really bothered me about this book had nothing to do with the book itself, but rather in how I consumed it, which is to say I listened to it as an audio-book. The narrator, James Marsten? (That may or may not be the guys name), has a reading style that really bothered me. He breaths and gulps and swallows so goddamn much, and he does it right into the mic. It’s all for theatrical effect but fuckity-chicken nuggets it is annoying!
The other problem I had with his narration was the fact that he didn’t really have the material mastered. He stumbled through, putting in awkward pauses as though sentences had ended prematurely. Then he would add in the rest of the sentence almost as an after-thought. It was so distracting and annoying that I listened to the book at 2x speed which made it sound like a coked up Smurf was reading the book to me, but hey, that was preferred to his otherwise grating performance.
/End Rant. *Drops Mic and Moonwalks Off Stage*
*Moonwalks Back Onto Stage.* Oh, yeah. We’re not done here.
3) Moxy Land – Lauren Beukes (For those who like cutting edge, crisp cyber-punk, with an awesome narrative voice)
I’d been wanting to read this for awhile because the cover art looked nifty, but the reviews on Amazon weren’t terribly stellar so I was hesitant. One of Beukes newer books, Broken Monsters, however, has been garnering a ton of really great press recently, so I figured what probably happened is that Beukes has writing chops out the wazoo, but there was a fundamental flaw in the plot of this particular story.
I love dissecting stories and seeing what worked and what didn’t, so I hopped into Moxy Land after rustling it up for next to zero money’s on Amazon. Cheap is good. I like cheap.
As I suspected the writing for Moxy Land was fantastic. Beukes took an incredibly difficult narrative style (alternating first person points of view every other chapter) and made it work pretty darn well. It’s rare to see alternating first person points of view because what tends to happen is that the characters all become a blur. They all start sounding alike and acting alike. Bad news where compelling narrative is involved.
But Lauren somehow makes it work. Each of her 4 point of view characters is distinct enough to remain engaging. That alone is impressive and speaks to her impressive writing chops.
Moxy Land doesn’t rest on the strength of the writing, however. The world building is superb. It’s gritty and multi-layered with a depth that shows Beukes really knows what she’s talking about.
What I’m about to say next might upset some people ‘ cause I’m sure I won’t word it correctly and it’ll bring a shit-storm of hate in its wake. I’m prepared for that, but I’ll tread carefully.
The best Science Fiction/Fantasy women authors recently have been garnering a lot of attention for their unique and progressive takes on gender roles and sexual orientations and the cultural effects of those two dynamics on future societies: think Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, or Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.
Don’t get me wrong, these are very important ideas with much fertile soil to be tilled. I think the genre as a whole is only strengthened by these types of works. But, my problem with these plot devices is that they become the entire plot. Sure, there is a story taking place underneath it all, but it’s being blurred over.
When people talk about Mirror Empire they talk about the unique matriarchal societies. When people talk about Ancillary Justice, they talk about the fact that Leckie only uses the feminine pronoun. What gets lost in all the hullaballoo is the story itself.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to be a story guy. (Which, let me point out for those wondering, both of those books have great stories, but nobody ever talks about them. Only the gender issues.)
Now, back to Moxy Land and Lauren Beukes, who is one of new favorite sci-fi women authors precisely because she doesn’t let her story get bogged down by those facets of modern Sci-Fi which are quickly becoming tropes. There are compelling sexual orientations throughout the story, but they are flavoring which add a touch of realism, and not the point of the story itself.
The problem with Moxy Land, however, is that the story moves really slowly. Things are happening, but with so many point of view characters, it’s hard getting a feeling of urgency or forward progress. So the story kind of limps along until finishing with an anti-climatic fizzle. Oh, well. I chalk that up to Beukes being a newer author at the time of Moxy Land’s writing. I suspect she’s improved drastically in this area in her newer books which I’m eagerly looking forward too.
Pick up something by Lauren Beukes, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
4) A Wrinkle In Time – Madeleine L’Engle (For those who like old school, classic pre-teen sci-fi)
Sad that it took 30 years for me to get around to reading this, but it did. I think I would’ve really liked this, had I read it when I was 14. This is one of those ultra-classics of Sci-Fi that I felt partly naked for not having read.
I’ll try not to judge it too harshly because it is a product of it’s time and I am not really it’s intended audience anymore. It’s a good book and I can see why it’s important to the genre as a whole. The writing is bland for the most part. The dialogue hokey. The plot can be distilled to “Love conquers all”, or “Individualism over conformity.” Take your pick.
This wasn’t my cup-of-tea, but hey, I’m more a coffee guy anyhow.
Oh, yeah. Here’s your cat photo of the week!