Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Xombies Apocalypse Blues by Walter Greatshell

Xombies: Apocalypse Blues
I'm not a huge fan of zombie books or flicks, but the price was right on a couple of books by Greatshell, so I figured I'd pick them up and give them a try. The premise of Xombies is that the government has inadvertently released a virus into the environment that turns women, primarily, into blue-skinned ravening monsters. Nearly all of the women on the North American continent succumb immediately, while the men can only be infected by being attacked by one of the xombies.

The protagonist of the story is Lulu, who is spared being infected by a rare medical condition which has prevented her menses. She has lived alone with her nutty mother for some time, and when her mother turns into a xombie, she joins with a man who may or may not be her father trying to escape to someplace where the monsters have not overwhelmed the rest of the populace. He is a retired naval officer, and they make their way to a shipyard on the east coast where he has some old friends and bully their way onto a nuclear submarine that is transporting whatever military technology the government believes must not be lost.

The story really didn't do much for me, and broke no new ground in the field, as far as I could tell. If you're a zombie fan and can get it cheap, go ahead. Otherwise, give it a pass.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Cats Paint by Heather Busch and Burton Silver

Why Cats Paint: A Theory of Feline AestheticsThis is a book for all you cat lovers out there. Just chock-full of pictures of catty cuteness. There's not a whole lot of narrative to this book, but it will give you a few hours of amusement, anyway.

What the text-based portion of this work really has, though, is a wonderfully fascetious take on the world of art criticism. If you've ever been around at one of those pretentious gallery showings where the critics and art lovers spend their time trying to out-jargon one another, you'll "get it."

For example:
"The first thing one notices about Tiger's work is its unusual complexity. His multiplicity of colors, intricacy  of line and constant variation of stroke angle to create texture result in paintings with a density of image unique among contemporary cat artists."


"Smokey has the ability to not only imbue his bucolic forms with elements of  'The Romantic' but also, more importantly, to maintain their dignity."

Priceless. Keep this one on your coffee table next to the Klee and Gaugin.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter AlphaMonster Hunter Alpha is the third in the series from Correia, and he shifts his protagonist point of view from that of Owen Pitt to that of Earl Harbinger, alpha dog of MHI and lone alpha werewolf. The story is interlaced with excerpts from his journal, eventually tying the two storylines together quite nicely. Earl has fought in every major conflict the U.S. has been involved with from WWI to Vietnam, and was granted his PUFF exemption (not subject to open season under federal bounty as a werewolf) for his work in the shadow wars of the jungles of Southeast Asia.

A rogue alpha werewolf has unearthed a powerful talisman that amplifies lycanthropic and other powers in an abandoned mineshaft in Copper Lake, Michigan. One of Earl's old contacts from black ops lets him know that Earl's old enemy, a Russian werewolf named Nikolai is in the area, and Earl heads out on his own to handle the problem. Agent Stark from the government's MCB is also on the case, though he's decided to get a piece of the PUFF bounty on the werewolf for himself by contracting the work out to an upstart group of monster hunters, Briarwood, who are mostly a barrel of bad apples. When all these groups converge on the town, things get crazy in a hurry.

One of the effects of the amulet is that when a werewolf who is bound to the alpha bites a human, that human turns were very rapidly, within hours or days, rather than the usual turn at the first full moon. When bitten townspeople start to turn into blood-crazed monsters, the trouble really gets rolling. However, since this is rural wooded Michigan, and not New York City, the natives pack a lot more firepower and are willing and able to defend their home from the forces of evil. The survivors pack into the local high school gym, which is built like a bomb shelter - it has one in the basement - and prepare for an Alamo style last stand.

In the meantime, Earl is hunting the alpha, Nikolai is hunting Earl, whom he believes killed his mate, Stark is hunting the alpha, the guys from Briarwood are hunting all three werewolves, and the alpha has his own plans to deal with whomever comes out on top. There's a plucky female deputy sheriff, Heather Kerkonnen, right in the middle of events, whose grandfather turns out to be the one who stole the amulet from an uber-werewolf called Koschei, and hid it at the bottom of the mine before he died. None of the other hunters from MHI show up in this book, but Earl seems to be quite capable of handling pretty much anything on his own.

This one really rocks the action, and sets up further adventures in the story arc.

Friday, August 26, 2011

A Touch of Frost by Jennifer Estep

Touch of Frost (Mythos Academy)
This is the first book in a new young adult series by Estep, who has had great success with her Elemental Assassin series for (more or less) adults, called Mythos Academy. Gwen Frost is a new student at the Mythos Academy, where the descendents of the heroes of old, such as the Valkyries and Spartans, send their spoiled, rich children to be educated, trained in the tradition of fighting against evil. Gwen's family are Gypsies, and she had to leave her "normal" school when her mother died in a car accident, to attend with others who have either magical or martial talents (Hogwarts, U.S.A?).

There seems to be some tie-in with the Elemental Assassin series, as this novel takes place near Ashland, where Gin Blanco and her friends live, and there's even some mention of The Pork Pit, Gin's BBQ joint. Gwen has no friends at the school, and is shunned by most of the students there, for her lack of social standing, and her obvious poverty. She has an ability to find lost items, and get flashes of psychic impressions from objects that she touches, and as the novel begins she is using her talent, for pay, to find a lost charm bracelet for one of the popular kids.

When there is a murder in the Mythos Academy library, where Gwen works, and she is a witness to the event, she begins to use her talent, and a touch of natural nosiness and sneakiness, to investigate the affair on her own. She acquires a few unlikely allies among the students, and the more dangerous things get, the more stubbornly she pokes and prods at things.

So, as I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of young adult fiction. This one has all the usual elements for success: a social misfit heroine, bullies and braggarts, teen cliques and adults who refuse to tell Gwen everything she wants to know when she wants to know it. I'm sure it will be enjoyed by the Twilight and Harry Potter crowd, though it's not my cup of tea. Estep is a great writer, who will surely keep the quality high and the action interesting throughout the rest of the series.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

NPR's Top 100 - Annotated

I couldn't resist posting this,  the "100 Best SF/Fantasy Books" based on a poll of NPR listeners. The meme that's going about its to bold the ones you've read.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
3. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card - and everything else he's ever written.
4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert
5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin
- only the first 2.5 before becoming horribly depressed.
6. 1984, by George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov 9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan - only the first seven or eight before becoming horribly bored.
13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson
15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein - and everything else he wrote.
18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss - Just the first one, so far
19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick
22. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand, by Stephen King
26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
28. Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein
35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne
38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys
39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells
40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings
42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White
48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact, by Carl Sagan
51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons
52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z, by Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson - sad to say, yes
59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote In God’s Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind
63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist
67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks - only the first book, I found it hopelessly derivative
68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard
69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne
73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man’s War, by John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke
77. The Kushiel’s Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks
84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart
85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher
87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn
89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan
90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock - this is where the library began
91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony
100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

Ghost Story (Dresden Files, No. 13)
I have been waiting a long time to find out what happened to Harry Dresden after the stunning finale to Changes. I picked it up for my Nook the day it came out, and managed to hold off a couple of days before reading it, but it kept me awake a couple of nights on a recent vacation, and was all I'd hoped it would be - maybe more. At the end of the last book, Dresden has been shot and killed, his body falling into the chill waters of Lake Michigan.

As Ghost Story opens, Dresden is literally in Limbo, his final destination hasn't yet been determined. He meets with some entities - maybe angelic, maybe just supernatural bureaucrats - one of whom is the ghost of Karen Murphy's Dad, and offered the opportunity to investigate his own murder, as a ghost. On the flip side, if he doesn't find his killer, several people whom Harry loves will die, so it's not much of a choice. Hey, it's called Ghost Story, right? Most of the people he knows aren't able to interact with ghosts without a little help, so his first stop is at the home of Mortimer Lundquist, ectomancer, whom he hopes to recruit or shame into helping him. Morty's house is guarded by the shade of a revolutionary war soldier, Captain Sir Stuart Winchester, and Harry has a hard time convincing Stuart of his bona fides so he can talk to Morty in the first place.

After Morty is finally convinced that it's truly Harry's ghost, and not some inimical impostor, they must meet with Karen Murphy, formerly of the Chicago PD's supernatural crimes investigation unit (she was thrown out for her role in Harry's takedown of the Red Court vampires), and with Molly, Harry's former apprentice. Karen and Molly are both pretty torn up about Harry's death, for what appear to be obvious and similar reasons. They take some convincing, as well, but eventually get on board with the investigation.

Along the way, Harry does a lot of guilt-tripping about his role in Susan's death, and the ramifications of his having done whatever it took to rescue his daughter from the Red Court, which has caused a power imbalance in Chicago, with all the nasty players competing for unprotected territory. One of the somewhat small-time bad guys is a wizard who controls a small gang of teenagers (like Fagan's boys) whom he sends to attack Karen's house, spraying the neighborhood with automatic weapons fire. Not totally unexpectedly, Harry develops a soft spot for one of the kids, who is actually able to hear Harry's disembodied voice, and decides he must rescue the group from their "master."

There's also an extremely powerful necromancer-type who is gathering multitudes of ghosts and sending them to attack Morty, for some odd reason. After several failed attempts, where Harry and Stuart join forces, the evil minions finally succeed in breaking through the defenses, and abduct the ectomancer. So, to further delay solving his murder, Harry has to undertake a rescue mission as well.

Molly seems to have gone a touch crazy after Harry's death, adopting the persona of the Rag Lady, a shadowy figure known for killing minor villains, and leaving them with a strip of cloth (from the shredded clothing Harry wore in the battle against the Red Court) in their mouths. Karen, as a former LEO, has a big problem with this, but she isn't certain that Molly is to blame. Harry believes that he failed to prepare Molly adequately for the event of his demise, and tracks her down for some lengthy conversations.

Ghost Story moves right along, with plenty of action, and a ton of surprises. When I came to the point of the big reveal - Who Killed Harry? - I was absolutely floored. I'd suspected pieces of the puzzle, but had no idea what really happened that day. Great stuff, and it looks like we'll see more Dresden Files stories in the future.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unshapely Things by Mark Del Franco

Unshapely Things (Connor Grey, Book 1)
I'd never run  across Mr. Del Franco before this, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised to add another interesting author to my library. Unshapely Things (comes from a Yeats poem) is mostly about Connor Grey, a druid living in Boston a generation or two after The Convergence, when the fey and faeries, dwarves and trolls somehow were pushed into the mundane world. Connor was a very talented young man, and was working his way up through the ranks of he Ward Guild, a paranormal FBI of sorts, staffed by druids, mostly, when an encounter with an ecoterrorist left his mind blasted, and him unable to work more than the simplest of spells.

After his medical retirement - the Guild still maintains the wards on his apartment and pays him a small stipend - he joined forces with Leo Murdock, one of Boston's finest, who usually ends up investigating crimes in Boston's worst neighborhoods, such as the Weird. Murdock calls Grey in when there appears to be a supernatural component. As the story begins, the duo are investigating a series of murders that have a ritualistic element; the victims hearts have been taken. Despite his best research efforts, Connor is unable to find out about any magic rituals that use human hearts, and is unable to convince any of his old coworkers in the Guild that the murders are first.

When the latest victim turns out to have powerful relatives, though, the Guild investigators sweep in and take the case away from the mundane police, and Connor is not supposed to be involved any further. It would be a short story if he didn't have a problem with authority. He and Leo continue to work the case, quietly, and eventually he finds out that a ritual will indeed take place, opening the gate for darker powers than the fey to enter this world.

A nice touch, I thought, was that De Franco uses Connor's disability and his attempts to regain his powers through studying about "essence" to take care of the necessary exposition on the nature of the magic system in place in the world of the Convergence. He also does a good job of developing the supporting cast, such as Murdock, Keeva, a power hungry former coworker, Meryl, a sarcastic research assistant, and Joe, a flit (like a male version of Tinkerbell), all with good back stories, and even families, in some cases.

Lots of twists and turns and blind corners and dead ends in this preternatural procedural. Fun dialog, fresh characters, and a sympathetic hero make De Franco well worth watching.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Madhouse by Rob Thurman

Madhouse (Cal Leandros, Book 3)
This is the third installment in the Cal Leandros series. Niko and Cal have allied with Promise the vampire in a preternatural detective agency, which manages to pay the bills for them, although Promise would be happy to play sugar momma to Niko. While handling a kidnapping case, they run across a number of bodies strung up in trees, which are not related to the original problem. A day or so later, Promise takes them to meet a Valkerie who works in the Metropolitan Museum, where the remains of a noted serial killer, Sawney Beane, have somehow escaped the exhibit space. It is feared that Beane has been resurrected and that he will begin a new killing spree. As Beane was known for hanging his victims from the ceiling of his cave, Niko and Cal realize that this case may tie into their previous one, as well.

It turns out that Beane is not your average killer, but is actually Red Cap, a supernatural being that draws power from bloodshed. He recruits or mesmerizes a huge number of revenants, and they join with him as he begins to terrorize Chicago. In the middle of all this, someone or some ones are attempting to assassinate their friend, Robin the hob, and they find themselves mired in that mess, too.

Cal is still avoiding the seer, George, as he fears that their love, if consummated, could breed another Auphe bastard. She refuses to look into their future together to see if it's truly a risk or not. So, instead of dealing with his problem, he begins an affair with a werewolf. Makes perfect sense, right? I'm sure George will be back in another adventure.

Dark, but witty and a good twisted tale.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Marcher by Chris Beckett

Marcher is a parallel universes, or parallel Earths at least, story that has some interesting ideas, but unfortunately goes nowhere very new with them. The story takes place in England, at a place called Thurston Meadows Estate, where the unproductive members of society are kept isolated from the productive ones, given living quarters, sustenance and entertainment. Very few ever rise above their circumstances and leave this gilded ghetto.

Charles Bowen is an immigration officer, who began his career with the mundane task of working with your usual immigrants to Great Britain, like the Pakistanis and Somalis and so forth, but when a different type of illegal alien begins to show up, he moves to a new team, dedicated to catching those people from other timelines that use Slip, a mind and universe-altering drug, that moves them from a parallel world into the one he is sworn to guard.

Charles begins, however, to relate more strongly to the shifters than to his own coworkers and friends, and ultimately engages in some very risky behavior.

One interesting quote, from one of the social workers, Cyril, at his retirement party, speaking to the residents of Thurston Meadows :

"All you lot would be gathered together, that was the plan, and given a special status. All all us lot would work with you and help you organize your lives; social services and health and police and everyone, all working together as a team. We would sort out your problems and get you back into the economy again...And suddenly one day it came to me! We're supposed to keep on battling but we're not supposed to win because the government actually needs you lot to be out of work. That's how they keep some discipline in the labor force."

Gives one pause, doesn't it?

Beckett crafts a well-told tale, but if you've been reading SF as long as I have, you'll not find any new slant on things, most likely.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Revolt in 2100 by Robert A. Heinlein

Revolt in 2100Revolt in 2100 is another collection of stories set in Heinlein's Future History series. The first and longest story is set in the time of the Prophet's theocracy. John Lyle is a West Point graduate, granted the special honor of being assigned to the Angels of the Lord, responsible for guarding the Temple. He is from the back woods, and extremely naive, which lands him in trouble when he finds himself falling in love with one of the Temple Virgins, Sister Judith. The Virgins only remain so in name, after they are called to "serve" the current Prophet once.

John is taken under the wing of Zebediah Jones, another one of Heinlein's wise avuncular characters, and gets his eyes opened to what really goes on in the world of power and politics, even among the Faithful. When they decide that Judith must be saved from "a fate worse than death (it rarely is)", they become involved in the Cabal, a resistance organization which sprang from the Masonic Lodges when the first Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder, declared his vision to be the only true religion and seized all political power in the U.S. The Cabal has been working for years to build an organization to overthrow the repressive state, and John and Judith's innocent love affair provides the trigger for the revolution to start.

Once again, Heinlein is given a bully pulpit to preach his own brand of political libertarianism through the mouths of Zeb and the Cabal leaders. It's a pretty good story. I only wish Heinlein had written a longer one that followed John Lyle's future a little farther.

The second story, Coventry, takes place after the Prophet is overthrown, and when all of the citizens of the U.S. live at peace and harmony with each other. If they don't, they can either be cured of their antisocial tendencies by psychological reprogramming or sent to Coventry, a rugged isolated area where rugged individualists have carved out their own dystopia. This is the story of one man who elects to keep his mind intact, and take exile as his lot, but who ends up cured of his madness after all. Sort of a treatise on crime and punishment, in the usual Heinlein fashion.

The final story, Misfit, gives us a look back at the humble beginnings of Andrew Jackson "Slipstick" Libby, Lazarus Long's companion in the misadventures of Methuselah's Children. Andy has his first job on a construction crew on an asteroid far from Earth. His natural genius for mathematics, denied any outlet in the rural countryside, suddenly comes in very handy, when he learns about demolition, construction and orbital ballistics. Fun filler material for fans, but nothing truly startling.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Monster Hunter Vendetta by Larry Correia

Monster Hunter VendettaMonster Hunter Vendetta is the sequel to Monster Hunter International, and once again stars our friend, Owen Z. Pitt, in a swashbuckling adventure. Owen and the rest of his MHI team are in Mexico on spring break, but it's not for Girls Gone Wild fun; they're taking care of a chupacabra infestation. When they finish the job and return to the hotel, though, a massive invasion of zombies interrupts their rest, and Owen finds himself knocked out, then arrested by a zealous Mexican police after he kills a policeman who has risen as a zombie.

Owen is rescued from the police, finally, by agents from the Monster Control Bureau, who don't particularly like him very well, but are forced by circumstances into keeping him alive. There's a necromancer in the woodpile, and he's the one responsible for creating the zombie infestation, and has other nefarious designs to open a portal to allow the Old Ones (nasty critters out of Lovecraftian mythology) into our world, to darken and dominate it. Owen has once again ended up as the Chosen One who can stop the plot and keep Earth from being occupied.

Later on, Ray and Susan Shackleford (Owen's vampire in-laws) show up to propose an alliance and issue a warning about the strange mark that their daughter, Julie, wears on her neck. Owen is not swayed by their arguments, though they grab him and somehow infuse him with a shard of the potent artifact from the previous adventure, which seems to give him the power, now, to read people's memories, if they are pertinent to the current challenge - handy, that.

A great passage:

Agent Herzog says, "We kneecap enough of these assholes and cut off enough thumbs, somebody will talk. They always do."

"...who were you with before being recruited by the Monster Control Bureau?"

"Internal Revenue Service."

That there's just some funny stuff, I don't care who you are.

Correia introduces us to a house full of gnome gangbangers, who'd really rather bust a cap on Owen than help him, but they owe Earl Harbinger a favor or two. We finally get the scoop on Agent Franks, and how he's able to kick Owen's tail every time they have a confrontation. The bad guys decide it would be a good idea...NOT... to threaten Owen's family, so we finally get to meet his famous brother, Mosh, and his parents. Rather an odd way to introduce his fiancee, Julie, but it works.

Lots of great revelations about Monster Hunter history, plenty of gore and grue, and it actually manages to hold up to the standard set in the first book. The third book is being released next week, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to get it downloaded as soon as possible.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein

Podkayne of Mars
Podkayne of Mars is just a cute little young adult story about a teenaged girl who gets caught up in events a bit beyond her control and understanding, very similar to Red Planet. Podkayne (named after a hero of Martian history) wants to be a space pilot someday when she grows up. Her parents are very accomplished professionals who have unexpectedly been burdened with three extra babies due to a mistake at the creche just as they are about to take her and her brother, Clark, on a family vacation to Earth, and she is horribly disappointed when the trip is cancelled.

But Podkayne's Uncle, Tom (Heinlein was obviously having some fun with this name, as Tom is a black man of Maori descent), a Senator at large from Mars, saves the day when he browbeats the creche administrators into providing an all-expense-paid trip for himself and the two teens to Venus and Earth. But Tom has another purpose in making the trip; he has been named ambassador plenipotentiary to the solar system council meeting that's soon to take place on Earth, and he hopes to throw his political opponents off the scent by disguising his trip as a pleasure jaunt with his young relatives.

Podkayne is an attractive young thing, and she soon has the crew of the ship wrapped around her little finger, conning them into showing her all around the control room and teaching her differential equations used in astrogation. She has her pick of the young officers to dance with, and makes some friends among the passengers, as well, though she soon finds out that some of them are two-faced - harboring prejudices about Martians, who are the descendents of convicts used for forced labor on Mars.

The political forces opposing Tom's mission are not totally flummoxed by his ploy, and one faction uses his nephew, Clark, to smuggle a bomb on board the ship. Clark is a bit smarter than the average adolescent, however, and realizes something is wrong with the picture, so he disassembles (dissembles, too) and disarms the bomb, tucking it away for future use, perhaps. When the trio arrive on Venus, they are entertained by the planet's governor, and his son becomes quite entranced with Podkayne, squiring her about the planet in style.

Their fun is spoiled when another one of the factions abducts first Clark, then Tom, then Poddy, and they are forced to use all their wits to escape intact. Unfortunately, the story stops at Venus, so we don't get to experience Earth with Poddy. I wonder if Heinlein had intended to finish the story in a sequel?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Lotus Eaters by Tom Kratman

The Lotus Eaters: N/AThe Lotus Eaters picks up the story of Patrick Carrera on Terra Nova not long after the events of Carnifex. Carrera has lapsed into a drunken, depressed state after the war in Pashtia, where one of his final acts was to detonate a nuclear weapon in a city of a million people, killing many innocents along with the terrorists he was targeting. No one seems to be able to break him out of his funk, until Jimenez and McNamara convince him that he must return to command to rid their country of its foreign occupiers. Of course, Carrera has a plan, and he begins to gather his forces to achieve his objectives.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, acting Admiral Wallenstein is expecting to be either prosecuted and cashiered for her role in the UN forces' debacle on Terra Nova, or be promoted to full Admiral and made a Class 1 citizen. It turns out to be the latter, and Wallenstein also has a plan, which will restore the space navy forces around Terra Nova to full functionality and allow her to keep the Terra Novans from ever posing a threat to Earth. Despite her determination to do the right thing for the UN, she displays a kinder, gentler side at times, and we are left to hope that maybe she and Carrera need not butt heads, but can cooperate again at some point in time, for the betterment of the human race's future.

Kratman does some neat things with transitions in this book, where he linguistically links the end of one chapter with the beginning of the next.
For example:
"The two guards, joined immediately by two others who had stood alert at the boy's door, followed.

Caridad Crus followed her husband..."

"Martin was, perhaps, overly ambitious.

The program is ambitious..."

These types of transitions occur fairly frequently and soften the effects of the large number of "jumps" between points of view in the novel. I'm sure there's a technical term for them, but Literature 101 was 35 years ago for me, and I've long forgotten it.

Another great thing is the interludes between major sections of the book, which are ostensibly written by Jorge y Marqueli Mendoza, in the Historia y Filosofia Moral. Is this a tribute of sorts to the course labled History and Moral Philosophy that citizens in Heinlein's Starship Troopers are required to take in high school? We never really get to see the contents of that course, except in dialogs between teacher and students, so I think Kratman does a pretty good job of putting together a consistent moral philosophy that fulfills our long-awaited dreams here.

An excerpt,

"...there are things that are real, things that are true. A mother's love for her child, or a husband's for his child and his wife; these are almost always real. That honor, integrity, and courage are the only things one truly owns is true. The penalty a people ultimately pays for submitting to fraud is real. That political power grows from the barrel of a gun is true. The concrete of a bunker and the steel of a cannon; those are real."

"Reason cannot tell the typical voter that he should not grant himself X largesse from the fisc when the penalty will not be paid until Y generation, a century down the road. That necessary restraint comes from an emotional commitment to future generations, and to the culture, values, and traditions of the society of which the voter is a part. Indeed, once the practice of robbing the fisc is well established, reason must lead the voter to 'get mine, before it's all gone.'"

Crap, this is just too timely, in the midst of the debt ceiling debate in the U.S. Congress.

Kratman has included an enormous amount of detail in this one about the recruiting, equipping and mobilizing of an effective fighting force. There's not as much actual combat as in previous installments, but just enough to whet our appetites for the next book in the series.

There are tons more of these.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein

Orphans of the Sky (Future History, Vol. 5)

Orphans of the Sky is another one of the young adult novels by Heinlein. In this one, he explores what might happen when the crew of a vast starship, headed to Far Centauri, is decimated by a mutiny, and the survivors end up spending generations on the ship, while knowledge of their journey gradually gets shifted to the status of legends. It loosely fits into Heinlein's Future History series.

The central character is a teen named Hugh Hoyland, who likes to explore the remote decks of the ship with his friends. One day he climbs to a place where he is captured by a group of Muties - possibly descendents of the original mutinists or merely just mutants born after the ship's shielding began to fail. He becomes a servant to Jim-Joe, the two-headed leader of the band, and begins to expand his horizons by reading books Jim-Joe has rescued, not available where Hugh comes from, and then his world view is totally torn apart when Jim-Joe takes him to the Control Room, where he sees the stars for the first time.

The passengers on the ship have come to regard the ship as the whole of their universe, and regard the Trip as merely a metaphorical religious journey, not a literal one with a destination on a new planet. People who disagree with the Captain and his Scientists are summarily executed and fed into the mass converters. It's against this ignorance that Hugh realizes he must fight and attempt to win converts to help him find a way for the ship to complete its journey, and land on a new world.

This novel isn't particularly inspired, but it does contain some insights and metaphors about small, insular communities.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Strong Arm Tactics by Jody Lynn Nye

The Wolfe Pack #1 Strong-Arm Tactics (Bk. 1)
Jody Lynn Nye has written some really fun and funny science fiction and fantasy over the years. I especially enjoyed her Mythology 101 series, and her short story collection, Don't Forget Your Spacesuit, Dear. That said, Strong Arm Tactics is merely readable, but breaks no new ground in the field; it's vaguely reminiscent of the Phule's Company series by Robert Lynn Asprin. Hey, same middle name! What's up with that?

This is the first book in The Wolfe Pack (not Packe?) series, and tells the story of Lt. Daivid Wolfe, scion of one of the Families (think future Cosa Nostra), who has eschewed his inheritance to make a career for himself in the Space Navy. We don't get any backstory on this - it may be in one of Nye's short stories - but he somehow disgraced himself in his previous billet, and ends up being assigned to command The Cockroaches, a bunch of screw-ups and misfits who are generally only sent in to assignments where the going is so rough that ordinary units aren't nonessential enough to send.

This story is of a classic type, in that it's been told over and over again, in so many different media. I'm afraid Nye doesn't bring a whole lot of "new" to the tale. The only thing that I found original is that the Cockroaches, when sent to procure an important piece of technology from an inventor patterned on Walt Disney, end up using all of the androids (tho some are technically non human-formed, so not really androids) in his theme park to battle with the bad guys, a group of rebels called the Surges (insurgents).

Of course, Wolfe must earn the respect of his ragtag rabble, endure the slings and arrows of other naval units' disrespect, and save the day against impossible odds. True to form, not many surprises here. I still might pick up the next book in the series, for one of those long winter nights. Nye is a good writer, and maybe things will get more interesting in later installments.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Killers Within by Michael Shnayerson

The Killers Within: The Deadly Rise Of Drug-Resistant Bacteria
My mother gave me a bunch of books a couple of weeks ago, and this was the first one I picked out of the stack. It's probably not the easiest, quickest read of the bunch, but the subject was fascinating, and the author tries to give us a little humanizing background on each of the biologists, doctors and researchers mentioined in the stories.

One of the most common ways that bacteria become resistant to antibiotics occurs when patients are given antibiotics for some sort of infection, and then, when they get to feeling better, they stop taking the antibiotic before it has had sufficient time to kill all of the bacteria in their system. Those bacteria which are left are the ones with some sort of natural resistance to that particular medicine, and will pass on their resistance to all of their descendents. Those bugs can then be passed on to other people over time, and the next time that antibiotic is used to combat them, it will not be as effective.

Bacteria, according to conventional wisdom, can easily be killed by various topical agents, like bleach, or by boiling infected clothing in water. Unfortunately for convention, some bacteria form hard little capsules called spores that can go dormant for long periods of time. These spores can survive for twenty years or more, and even up to two hours in boiling water. When conditions are right, they can reactivate and infect new hosts.

Drug companies spend enormous amounts of money promoting their new formulations. "With most kinds of new drugs, a huge marketing campaign might do no medical harm. With antibiotics, it was, perversely, the worst possible way to go. The more a new antibiotic was used, the more quickly bacteria managed, by mutation or importing a gene, to develop a resistance mechanism to it." I hadn't realized that different types of bacteria were able to swap genes back and forth, so that they all have a stock of potentially useful weapons to use in their war for survival.

Another contributing factor to the increase in bacteriological resistances has been the widespread use of antibiotics as growth enhancers in poultry, swine and cattle. Small amounts of antibiotics in their feed have increased the animals' growth, but people who work with the animals, from those who raise them, to those who slaughter them, are then exposed to those antibiotics and the bacteria in the animals, and resistances have been shown to cross species barriers to humans, with often tragic results.

The author paints a chilling picture of the future, when antibiotic resistant bacteria continue to increase their numbers and types. It's been happening since the introduction of antibiotics in the 20th century, and researchers are frantically trying to stay ahead in the arms race. Read at your own risk - of peace of mind.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

Dead Reckoning (Sookie Stackhouse, Book 11)I waited quite a while for this one to show up at the library. I believe I was 63rd on the request list. As always, Sookie is just trying to get along with everyone, working at Merlotte's bar, when someone decides to throw a Molotov cocktail through the window. She suspects it's a were of some sort, from observing the speed with which the missile was thrown, but no clues are readily available, and it goes into the hopper of mysteries to be solved.

Business has been slow at her friend, Sam's bar, and eventually we find out that a major cause of this is a new bar that's been opened up by Eric's nemesis, Victor, not too far away. Victor has also opened up a bar to compete with Fangtasia, and Eric's business is also feeling the pinch. Pam has a human lover who is dying of leukemia, and Victor, as regent of Louisiana is denying her permission to bring the woman over, so she won't die the final death. There's also some nasty little secret that Pam knows about Eric, and he is forcing her to remain silent about it with Sookie.

Sookie's faerie roommates, Claude and Dermot, are up to capers of their own, as well, which they aren't particularly forthcoming. Sookie discovers a letter from her grandmother in a secret compartment of an antique desk which reveals some secrets about her faerie blood. The remaining Van Pelt sister, who has a vendetta against Sookie, has gotten out of jail, and probably wants to kill her.

There's a ton of little threads here that Harris manages to tie together pretty well by the end, but there's really nothing all that exciting in this 11th installment. You might say that Sookie is "growing up", and geting a little more calloused to the violence going on around her, but I feel like the author has let her drift a little out of character, perhaps.

There's one scene where, after a bloody battle between the forces of good and evil, Eric is feeling, shall we say, "invigorated" by the bloodshed, and decides he wants to suck on Sookie's neck. Sookie is disgusted by the carnage, and tells him "No", but he grabs her and says "I will drink", and slurps away to his heart's content. This seems like a form of rape, to me, and I would think she should be more indignant about the whole deal, but she just lets it go. Even in a consensual bloodsucking relationship, doesn't No mean No?

Not top-notch, unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Echo by Jack McDevitt

Echo (Alex Benedict)
Alex Benedict and Chase Kolpath, his trusty pilot and sidekick, are back in a new adventure...of sorts. The duo is contacted by a woman who wants to get rid of a gravestone-shaped artifact that's been kicking around as a lawn ornament for years, and which bears mysterious glyphs. When they go to her estate to pick it up, someone else has already been there and made off with the object. Alex and Chase start tracking down the people who have taken it, and also dig into the origins of the tablet.

It turns out to have belonged to a famous but disappointed fellow, long dead, Somerset Tuttle who spent his life searching for extraterrestrials other than the Mutes. Why anyone would suddenly develop an interest in the hunk of rock is the heart of the mystery. Chase and Alex discover that the "abductor" was a friend of the Tuttle's, Rachel, who used to work as a pilot for a sightseeing company, but who has since quit her job and devoted her life to helping orphaned children.

Unfortunately, the story drags on and on, slowly plodding its way to the final solution, which wasn't all that surprising, given that the clues are all there early in the book. One could optimistically say that all of the extraneous material was there in order to flesh out various characters and background in the Benedict universe, but I think McDevitt had a short story to tell, and used a novel to tell it. Not his best work, in my opinion.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

The Moon Is a Harsh MistressWritten in the mid-60s, just before the U.S. successfully launched a Moon mission, Heinlein's book seems now overly optimistic about colonizing space. The Moon, "Luna", has been used as a penal colony, similar to the way Australia was used, and after about 100 years, there are many citizens of Luna who have never been criminals, per se, but who are still living under the thumb of the Warden and the Authority of Earth.

Manuel "Manny" Davis (did Heinlein intentionally recycle surnames, or was he just being lazy?) is one of these, an ice driller turned computerman when he lost his left arm in a laser accident. He is the only person trusted to work on the main computer in the Warden's complex, as he can generally get it working properly when no one else is able to. His secret is that he has recognized that at some point, the computer has become self-aware, and he treats it as a person, and named it Mycroft "Mike" after Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother. Mike has developed a primitive sense of humor, and occasionally plays practical jokes on the humans. Manny meets with Mike when he does odd things, and convinces him that they are either not funny or "funny once," so he shouldn't do them again.

Manny inadvertently attends a meeting of a cabal of rebels in Luna City one afternoon, and when the Warden's goons attempt to break it up, a riot results in the death of the goons, a few casualties among the Loonies, and Manny becoming part of the conspiracy to free Luna. He befriends Wyoming Knott, an agent provocateur from Hong Kong Luna, and hides her from the authorities. He also introduces her to Mike, and when he includes Professor Bernardo de la Paz in the computer's circle of friends, the revolution really gets under weigh. Mike's capabilities give them the advantage that they need to make the odds of success no worse than 10 to 1, against.

A quote about one of the qualities of a good teacher:

"I liked Prof (de la Paz). He would teach anything. Wouldn't matter that he knew nothing about it; if pupil wanted it, he would smile and set a price, locate materials, stay a few lessons ahead. Or barely even, if he found it tough."

Interesting, too, that Heinlein recycles a plot idea here. We have a computer named Mike who wants to learn how to be human, or to understand humans better. In Stranger in a Strange Land, we get a human raised by Martians who needs to learn how to be human.

Gawd, I'm such an old patriotic softie. When the Loonies meet to draft their Declaration of Independence from Earth, and sign their names to it, "pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor", I got all weepy.

A good quote on government:

"What I fear most are affirmative actions of sober and well-intentioned men, granting to government powers to do something that appears to need doing."

The usual Heinlein themes of adult novels continue here, various flavors of polygamy, religious relativism, and a political philosophy of rational anarchy. This one's definitely part of the canon of scripture a la RAH.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hit List by Laurell K. Hamilton

Hit List (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter, Book 20)
Hit List is the latest (is it 19 or 20?) in the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. I have to say that I enjoyed this one a bit more than recent books in the series, as it actually managed to go over 100 pages before the first, and only, sex scene. There was way more old-fashioned monster hunting action here, as well as some great scenes with Edward, Anita's old bounty hunter friend, and Olaf and Bernardo Spotted Horse get drafted in the last half of the book, as well.

There has been a series of preternatural murders around the country that Edward and Anita are called in to investigate, and they reluctantly come to the conclusion that the ancient, mysterious and deadly organization called The Harlequin are behind them, instigated by the MOther of All Darkness, who wants to possess Anita's body, so she can bring on another reign of terror on the world. The Harlequin are meaner, tougher and faster than most vampires and weres around today, and it's obviously going to be touch and go for Anita and Edward to catch and kill them before they catch and capture Anita.

So, Hamilton falls back on some of her old standard schtick in a few places. There's the obligatory pissing contest with the federal marshall in charge of the Seattle area, Raborne. There's the very very strange sexual tension between Anita and Olaf, the obsessive serial killer who wants to "date" her - if you call torturing her and wallowing in her blood a date. Hamilton brings out the fact that Anita is healing far faster than ordinary humans, due to her pan-were infections, which makes for an interesting setup, I think, to just how much torture she'll be able to recover from when Olaf finally gets his hands on her one day.

Perhaps there's a bit of subtle propaganda about how we treat people with infectious diseases, such as AIDS, when one of the other female federal marshalls is attacked and infected with the wolf strain, and Anita encourages her, sets her family straight, and hooks her up with the Furry Coalition for further counseling. Maybe there's even some thoughts about how minorities discriminate against other minorities within their own group who are different in some way, as reflected in the were-lions' treatment of Ethan, who has the strains of four different colors of lion in his bloodlines.

One of the downsides to this book was that it spent a lot of time building up the conflict, then, in my opinion, resolved the whole mess in about twenty pages towards the end. Seemed just a touch anticlimactic to me. Not that there's usually any shortage of climaxes around Anita Blake. With any luck at all, Hamilton is getting back to the type of story she used to tell in the early novels. I suggest that those of you who have become disillusioned with her work give this one a try, and perhaps it will encourage her to write more of these, and less paranormal romance.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I Will Fear no Evil by Robert A. Heinlein

I Will Fear No Evil
I will Fear no Evil is another one of the later novels by Heinlein, written in 1970, after his breakout success with Stranger in a Strange Land. It perhaps is an indicator of the
quality he was to turn out for the rest of his life which, in my opinion, was not nearly as good, in general, as his earlier works.

Enter the character of Johann Sebastian Bach Smith, grouchy old multimillionaire, who is so similar to many of Heinlein's cranky old man characters in his later books that I very nearly suspect a conspiracy. Smith's angelic yet spunky secretary, Eunice Branca, and a sharp Jewis lawyer, Jake Salomon, seem to be the only people closest to friends in his world. He is suffering the ravages of advanced old age, and only the life support systems of modern medicine are keeping his many relatives from swooping down like vultures to plunder his business empire.

The dialogs between Smith and Salomon and Branca sound like a rehash in flavor, tone and content, from Jubal Harshaw, Ben and Jill in Stranger, and Lazarus, Ira and Minerva in Time Enough For Love. Nothing new here, move right along folks.

Smith concocts a scheme to stay alive and outwit his heirs, having his brain transplanted into a new body. When by an amazing coincidence it turns out that Eunice has the exact rare blood type as Jonathan, and she is killed in a random mugging, her brain goes in the oubliette and Smith rides again.

However, it seems that the seat of consciousness doesn't reside alone in the brain, but in the body as well, and Smith finds Eunice's "soul" very comforting as he learns to live again in a female body. From this point on, there's not much plot action, aside from some legal wrangling by his heirs, which Jake, the newly minted "Joan Eunice", and their merry band of men of good will thwart quite handily. The bulk of the book consists of internal dialogues between Joan and Eunice, primarily about sex and sexuality, and how everyone but RAH has it all horribly wrong. This was very amusing when I first read it as a teenager, but it wears a little thin these days, when we can plainly see the results of many of his fellow travelers' libertine social attitudes.

Possibly my least favorite Heinlein novel. One probably must read it to complete the Heinlein canon, but don't rush out to buy a copy.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Naamah's Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamah's Blessing (Kushiel's Legacy)
Naamah's Blessing is the final volume in the trilogy of books about Moirin that began in
Naamah's Kiss and Naamah's Curse. Moirin and Bao, her Chi'in husband, arrive back in Terre d'Ange after their long journeys through Chi'in and Vralia, hoping perhaps to resume a quiet life in the capitol. They find that the crown prince, Thierry, has led an expedition to Terra Nova (analogous to The New World in our reality), to establish trade with the natives there, rivaling the missions of the Aragonians there. King Daniel is still grieving Jehane, who died birthing their daughter, Desiree, and doesn't spend much time with his daughter, as it brings back too many painful memories for him. He beseeches Moirin to become the girls oath-sworn protector, for the sake of Moirin's love for Jehane, for whom the girl is a near double (tho much younger, of course).

I can't recall, from the first novel in the series, whether Daniel was a weak person to
begin with or not, but he's not portrayed well here. When Thierry's expedition returns
without Thierry, reporting that he has been lost and perished in the jungles of Terra Nova,
Daniel takes his own life, leaving Moirin and Bao to deal with the ensuing chaos. One of
Daniel's chief counselors, Duc Rogier, assumes the regency, and his family begins to scheme
to betroth Desiree to his son, Tristan.

Moirin has a dream/vision about Jehane, who is caught between the world of the living and
the world of the dead, who reveals to her that Thierry is still alive, and that Moirin is
the one chosen by the gods to find him and return him to Terre d'Ange. Some sleight of hand
ensues as Moirin and her unlikely allies manipulate things so that Rogier must endorse the
mission, and eventually they set sail for strange lands once more.

As we've come to expect from Carey, there are plenty of very difficult and dangerous
situations which Moirin and her crew encounter and conquer. The novel contains an
interesting take on the practice of human sacrifice, as practiced by the peoples of Central Nova. Again, Moirin and Bao's struggles and sacrifices are moving, and
many of the descriptive passages about their travels and encounters with the natives and the
wildlife are very moving.

The only downside is that this book finishes off the Moirin saga, and I'm afraid that we'll
have to come to know and love a different hero or heroine when she returns to Terre d'Ange
once more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Friday by Robert A. Heinlein

Friday falls into the category of "late" Heinlein, written in 1982. Heinlein had left his juvenile fiction behind, gained some acclaim for works like Stranger in a Strange Land, and begun to expound on his social philosophy, based a great deal on free love and plural marriages. These themes continue showing up in his stories until his passing in 1988, sometimes overpowering the story.

Friday is an Artificial Person, or Living Artifact, genetically engineered from the best of human stock to be a genius and to display physical strength and speed far greater than ordinary humans. Her fellow APs are discriminated against, and must jump through a number of bureacratic hoops before they can be regarded as human, legally, though they are often not regarded as human by just plain folks, no matter what they do. Friday works as a courier for a secret organization, run by Dr. "Kettle Belly" Baldwin, whom we encountered in Gulf, a short story in the collection, Assignment in Eternity. Just in case we don't remember, Heinlein posts a clue midway through Friday about a monument which stands in a crater on the Moon to Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Green, the heroes of Gulf.

Friday's adventures, hopping about between the Moon and the L5 stations, various nation states on Earth - the U.S. has fragmented into a handful of separate states in Heinlein's future - sets the backdrop for Heinlein to pontificate on politics, morals and society.

Some choice quotes:
"I have been assured that the typical California legislator will withdraw a bill if you can prove to her that pi can't equal three no matter how many votes make it so. But grassroots legislation ('the initiative') has no such limitation. For example three years ago a grassroots economist noticed that college graduates earned, on the average, about 30 percent more than their fellow citizens who lacked bachelor's degrees. Such an undemocratic condition is anathema to the California Dream, so, with great speed, an initiative was qualified for the next election, the measure passed, and all California high-school graduates and/or California citizens attaining eighteen years were henceforth awared bachelor's degrees."

Marks of a sick culture:

  • When the people of a country stop identifying themselves with a country and begin identifying themselves with a group. A racial group. A language. A religion.
  • The population must lose faith with the police and the courts (OJ and Casey Anthony?)
  • High taxation
  • Inflation of the currency
  • The ratio of the productive to those on the public payroll
  • Violence
  • Muggings
  • Snipers
  • Arson
  • Bombing
  • Terrorism of any sort
  • A dying culture demonstrates personal rudeness
Some days, Heinlein really nailed the future.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)
Every once in a great while, I have the pleasure of "discovering" a new and exciting author of a saga that may be destined to be a classic - at least in my library. Jacqueline Carey, with Kushiel's Dart, Robin Hobb with Assassin's Apprentice, and now Mr. Rothfuss, in the first book of the Kingkiller Chronicle. There was a lot of early buzz about this book when it first hit the stores, but I tend to distrust the media hype, so I didn't read it right away. In this case, I may have been mistaken, aside from the fact that the second book is already available, so I won't have to wait so long between adventures.

The story begins in a small roadside inn in a village the other side of Nowhere. The keeper of the inn, Kote, appears at first glance, aside from his flame-red hair, to be noone special, but we get a few hints that there may be more to him than meets the eye. Some nasty spider-like demons show up and attack people in the village, and Kote seems to know more about them and how to kill them than one would expect from the proprietor of an inn. A famed storyteller called Chronicler shows up as Kote is dealing with a group of demons on his own, out in the forest, and Kote hauls him back to the inn after he is caught in the middle of the battle. Kote has a sidekick called Bast, who turns out to be something of an elf, I believe - it's left a little vague.

As the first bit of the story plays out, Kote is revealed to be Kvothe, Kingslayer and arcanist (wizard) in hiding. Chronicler convinces Kvothe to tell his story at last, to set the record straight, and the real meat of the tale begins. Kvothe was born and raised in a troupe of traveling performers, the Ruh, and when he was in his early teens, an arcanist named Abenthy (Ben) travelled with them for quite a while, teaching Kvothe some of his arts, as well as more scholarly subjects. Ben decides to marry a woman in a small town and settle down there, and not long after that, Kvothe's entire troupe, including his parents are slaughtered by a band of legendary, evil and powerful beings called the Chandrian, whom his father had been composing a song about. Only Kvothe survives, and he is left to survive on his own in the wild for a time, until winter drives him to relocate to a city.

He learns some tough lessons in the city about survival of the fittest, and mostly gets by by begging and thieving. After a few years there, he realizes he can't go on this way, and makes his way to the city of Imre, where the University is located. The University is where Abenthy and others learned the art of being arcanists, and Kvothe takes the entrance exam there and embarks upon his studies.

Rothfuss has done a great job of creating a new world, with its own magic system, history and legends, and populated with interesting and believable characters. Kvothe's saga is fraught with both tragedy and joy, and he encounters challenge after challenge in his quest to become an arcanist. Sometimes, you can see trouble coming a mile away, even when Kvothe seems oblivious, and at others, disaster strikes from out of the blue. The descriptive writing paints a vivid portrait, without distracting from the pace of the plot(s). The book has some fun political intrigue, a puckish sense of whimsy at times, and leaves you with your mouth watering for more at its end. I'm glad I added it to the collection.