Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ex Libris: September Books

And for something new (i.e. I'm actually early coming out with this), here's a list of books I read last month.

It's the End of the World (and I Feel Fine)

Reading Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives is damn fun, combining secret agents, idiotic bureaucracies, technical support geekery, and Lovecraftian monsters. How can one not love this book? In this case, computer expert Bob Howard must deal with evils both unimaginable and inescapable-- respectively, a demon from an alternate universe and Howard's accounting boss-- to save reality. Of course, there were times when I thought a lot of sleight-of-hand deux ex machina was happening when the protagonist took out his personal organizer. But what the heck, it was in good fun and there were times when I had a good laugh over this.

Yes, this is a definite recommendation from me.

Walk on the Wild Side

On the other hand, James Rollins's Amazonia was an unscheduled read for me, thanks to an aunt who lent me the book. Blame it on my penchant for action-adventure novels reminiscent of Haggard or Lovecraft, i.e. an expedition ventures into unknown territory and meets with unbelievable dangers. In this one, a mysterious tribe in the Amazon may hold the key to medical regeneration; unfortunately, it may also be the source of a plague that's spreading across the world and killing children and the elderly. A combined military and scientific expedition must go deep into the jungle to find out. However, despite the rather grand opening and intriguing set-up, the mystery revealed and the finale wasn't as interesting.

This one is good for an easy read on a tired evening, when your mind is cooling down and you really don't want to think anymore. (On a side note, Rollins is the adventure-novel pen name of a prolific writer also known as fantasy writer James Clemens. Talk about the words gushing from the pen.)

Seven Seas of Rhye

At first glance, Chris Roberson's Paragea: A Planetary Romance is a fantastic homage to the pulpish forebears of the genre. Reminiscent of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, this is the story of a Russian cosmonaut, Leena, who is catapulted into the strange world of Paragea where she meets another world-traveler, Englishman Hiernonymous Bonaventure, as well as his friend, the jaguar-man Prince Balam. Leena seeks a way back home and both of her companions agree to help her. However, despite the group's wondrous adventures, the book has an episodic narrative which becomes a bit tedious in the telling. Ironically, I can't fault Roberson with this since Brackett's Eric John Stark books suffer the same flaw. (Does Burroughs follow the same template in his books? Must check.)

Still, this is a solid effort and Roberson comes up with really great ideas that I'm willing to shell out money for his other books.

Black Hole Sun

Coming from andrew eldritch's high praise for this book, Ramsey Campbell's Midnight Sun was, alas, a little hard for me to go through. Despite the very fine prose, I had some problems with Campbell's pacing as he elaborated (sometimes to the point of fixation) too much on the 'cold' wintry menace shadowing the characters of this book. Maybe it's because I'm not used to the traditional atmospheric horror. Likewise, I thought the turnover near the climax was a bit too abrupt (engendering a "huh?!" moment for me). Still, I did find comfort in Campbell's characterization and setting and figured this maybe a one-off among his other books.

At the very least, I have his short story collection to savor in the future.

More than Words

In the short story category, I had a better time with the John Klima-edited Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories as compared to Salon Fantastique I read the previous month. This despite the fact that I had a lot of problems with some of the stories. The theme for this collection was the use of the winning words from the Scripps National Spelling Bee in individual stories. Unfortunately-- and this was my impression, mind-- I thought the story had to center around the said word. Some stories, like Daniel Abraham's "The Cambist and Lord Iron", Hal Duncan's "The Chiaroscurist" and Anna Tambour's "Pococurante" made effective use of the word as part of their story. Others either only used the word as ephemeral to the story or even in a trivial form: Michael Moorcock's "A Portrait of Ivory" was good but its word 'insouciant' was only peppered throughout his tale (which made me think of a bell ringing somewhere when it was used), Michelle Richmond's "Logorrhea" had a character suffering from a kind of verbiage sickness but the story really didn't focus on her.

Otherwise, like any collection, the stories here were mixed: some so-so, some good, some bad. (For some examples, check out my previous post.)

Go West

Lastly, Tim Pratt's The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl is a weird tale of a girl working in a coffeehouse that seems to the locus of a universal strangeness and who is trying to stop a force of chaos out to destroy California. Pratt's strongest suit here are the quirky characters each with their own idiosncracies (like a weird friend you like to hang out with). Storywise, it feels a bit empty, like a building that's really a fake prop or set design with nothing behind the facade. Maybe because of the rather simplistic tone to the 'art copies life and vice-versa' message to it? Still, this is the first novel for Pratt, well-known for his short fiction, so some hitches are allowed for their first try.

And really, as I mentioned before, Wild Western mythos-type stories are the only American mythos I like anyway.


Eldritch00 said...

While I'm not one to believe that we all must share the same tastes and opinions, I must still confess that I hope you enjoyed the Stross and the Campbell as much as I did. I'd like to hear your take on the Pratt, too, which is something I've been meaning to buy myself.

banzai cat said...

Well, I had some problems with the Campbell, I loved the Stross (which is good since I'm not much for his SF and his fantasy didn't hit the right notes for me).

Pratt, on the other hand, has lots of potential, which is why I'm willing to follow his writings. :-)

Don said...

I'm still on Singularity Sky but I'm loving every bit of it.
Also read "Elector" from the Accelerando sequence and damn, it's a hard read. Maybe I should be getting all the stories since it's available for download online.

banzai cat said...

maybe it's just me but Stross' story ideas really don't grab me as say Reynolds or Morgan or even Grimwood.

Don said...

Well, yeah Stross' ideas are kind of heard to digest unlike Reynolds' etc. But hey, maybe you prefer sf-noir than hard-sf (oh wait, is Atrocity Archives sf-noir?)

I still have you 9Tail Fox BTW, sorry you have to wait long :D

banzai cat said...

not a problem :-) i got you a copy of dean's kite of stars so we can do an exchange if that's okay with you.

Don said...

yes. sure sure. :D

looking forward to reading Brigada btw looks really interesting. I sense Jeff VanderMeer's squid fanaticism has something to do with it, ne? Lol.

banzai cat said...

well, I did send a previous version to his pirate antho. waste not, want not! ;-)