Read: 9 April 2017

I read moderately these past few weeks, a bit less than I usually do, but that’s mostly because of vacations and long work days. I also focused on short story collections and magazines, which take up a lot of time.

9 April 2017

Neuromancer by William Gibson. This is one of my favorite books so when I came across the $1.99 Kindle price I grabbed the digital version for a reread. Written in 1983, Neuromancer.jpgNeuromancer and I are the same age and I wanted to see if it still held up now that I have gotten a bit older. Aside from some edgylordy descriptions and 80’s style fatalism, the novel reads like something written today. Crisp, well written, and full of great scenery and action. It’s even more impressive once you take into account that half of the crap in the book that seems cliche was actually first created by Gibson. Cyberpunk is one of my favorite sub-genres and this novel was the original cyberpunk piece.

Suldrun’s Garden (Lyonesse #1) by Jack Vance. Another novel from 1983, Jack Vance’s first part of the Lyonesse trilogy is fantastic. A melancholy and remorseful fantasy novel, unlike anything popular today, reminiscent of pre-Tolkien fantasy with magic and fairies suldrunsgardenboth marvelous and sinister. This novel was so good I read the whole thing in one sitting, and now I’m waiting for a good day to do the same for the sequel. If you want to read fantasy different than the gritty hyper-realistic stuff out right now or the overwrought high fantasy of the 80s and 90s, give this one a try. You won’t be disappointed.

Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It by John Ferling. A fantastic overview of the American WhirlwindRevolution in the context of the times. This book puts a lot of focus on the cultural aspect of the Revolution and the events that led up to hostilities. It goes into significant detail, covering the major battles and even a few of the lesser known engagements. A fantastic read about a historical period that gets burdened with romanticized accounts due to it being covered mostly in the early years of one’s education.  I have a new found love for 17th and 18th-century history, specifically focused on the Colonies so this scratched that itch. I have a history of the French and Indian War and one focused on Colonial Spies waiting on my Kindle right now.

That’s about it for the past few weeks. I’m about to start Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister and then go through some histories. Then I think I might return to Robin Hobb for Liveship Traders.

Appendix N

My love of fantasy didn’t start with the venerable pipe smoking Hobbit so loved by many. No, my love was forged in the dankest dungeons. Tested by hideous beasts and malevolent creatures; Mind Flayers, Beholders, and Displacer Beasts. The adventure of Sword and Sorcery was where my imagination flourished. Barbarians, Sorceresses, Thieves, and Assassins, adventuring through hostile jungles and exotic cities excited me.

Returning to Fantasy as an adult I found it lacking, a barren wasteland of boring faux literary pretentiousness. Magazines filled with story after story of pointless naval gazing or countless re-imaging of fairy tale classics. I almost gave up on the whole genre, dwelling in the world of mystery and thrillers for entertainment.
Then I came across several blogs discussing The Pulp Revolution and Appendix N. I wasn’t alone in my dislike of modern Fantasy and Sci-Fi. Not only did I find others that felt the same, I found a new movement to break away from the stale pseudo-lit cancer that has gripped Fantasy and Science Fiction with its Lich-like hands.

So, I am excited to read this book. Use it as a starting point to re-read some old classics and find stuff from the past. I hope that going back to the origins of the type of Fantasy I love will help me focus my own writing and allow me to contribute towards an adventurous revival in the 21st century.

 

APPENDIX N: A LITERARY HISTORY OF DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is a detailed and comprehensive investigation of the various works of science fiction and fantasy that game designer Gary Gygax declared to be the primary influences on his seminal role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. It is a deep intellectual dive into the literature of science fiction’s […]

via JUST RELEASED: Appendix N by Jeffro Johnson — Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog

Baen Books is Awesome

This afternoon on my way back from a PT session I decided to check the postal annex to see if my wife and I had any mail. The usually jolly people assigned to the mail room did not seem pleased with me or my giant extra heavy surprise box waiting for me.

 

I completely forgot that a few months ago on Larry Correia’s page,  I had a conversation with the Baen Facebook account about having a bunch of junior Sailors out here in Japan that would totally read the kind of stuff they published.

So Baen being awesome decided to send me a huge box of their books to pass out to everybody out here. Lots of great stuff, Correia, Bujold, Weber, Ringo, Anderson, Lackey, Weber, and many others.

Honestly, Baen really blew me away. It was really nice getting to give all these Sailors, who love sci-fi, comics, fantasy, etc. some great books for Christmas.

Thank you, Baen, and Merry Christmas from Japan.

 

Book Reviews: I’m over it.

boring

After giving it some thought I have decided to quit writing book reviews on here. I’m just not into them. I spend too much time thinking about what to write and how to put it down. Time that I should spend writing. So no more single post book reviews.

First of all, I don’t want to be a critic. I have no desire to review ARC’s or discuss books from an objective standpoint. I only read what I want and usually, quit books that annoy me right away. I also have  unique taste and tend to disagree with popular fandom.

I write fiction. My ultimate goal is to become a published author. I find it in bad taste to publically critique other writers in the same genres I write. I don’t mind saying that I didn’t like this or that, but going into detailed negative reviews rubs me the wrong way. It’s a conflict of interest that I don’t need.

Finally book report style, non-spoiler reviews are everywhere. Awesome blogs all over the damn place filled with every kind of review by people that actually like writing reviews. There is no point in me wasting time.

So instead I’m going to do posts about what I am reading and what I think about it. If I come across a fantastic book I will mention it. The whole thing will be casual.

 

The Builders by Daniel Polansky

TheBuilders

After about a year or so of hearing Daniel Polansky brought up whenever dark gritty fantasy was discussed I finally got around to reading some of his stuff. I picked up his Hugo-nominated novella, The Builders as a quick read between larger novels.

The Builders is an anthropomorphic grimdark western. A band of violent, gun-slinging, talking animals  goes on a suicidal revenge quest. It uses the standard plot of 7 Samurai and The Magnificent Seven; a leader, here a one-eyed scarred mouse named The Captain, gathers his band of violent comrades for a bloody showdown.

The Builders succeeds in fun and execution but falters in the end. The early scenes where each animal is introduced are pure fun. Bonsoir the French Stoat is the standout reminding me of Val Kilmers Doc Holiday. Unfortunately, it seems Polansky really enjoyed the idea of a violent western with anthropomorphic animals but was over it by the time finale which felt crowded and rushed.

Overall The Builders was a quick fun read well worth the time. It left me with a positive impression of Polansky’s writing; enough for me to push his other novels towards the top of my to-read list. I personally would have enjoyed these characters in a longer novel format.

I also enjoy the idea of the novella format itself. The length is ideal for a quick read over coffee and the 2.99 price point  for a polished product seems fair to me. I hope the trend of novellas being released on Amazon continues.

So if you enjoy anthropomorphic animals, gritty westerns, and a snarky written voice pick up The Builders and enjoy.

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

“To see something marvelous with your own eyes – that’s wonderful enough. But when two of you see it, two of you together, holding hands, holding each other close, knowing that you’ll both have that memory for the rest of your lives, but that each of you will only ever hold an incomplete half of it, and that it won’t ever really exist as a whole until you’re together, talking or thinking about that moment … that’s worth more than one plus one. It’s worth four, or eight, or some number so large we can’t even imagine it.”

Gollancz-08237b Reynolds House of Suns

House of Suns continues my ongoing obsession with heavy Science Fiction and happens to be my first read by Alastair Reynolds. It was a thoughtful and complex Gothic Space Opera that did not disappoint and kept me thinking about longevity, space, and time for days after I finished.

Millions of years in the future Abigail Gentian “shattered” herself into one thousand clones. Her clones “The House of Flowers” spend millions of years traveling the galaxy at sub-light speed collecting data and experience. Every two hundred thousand years they meet for a reunion in order to share memories, knowledge, and experiences.

Two Shatterlings, Campion and Purslane, secretly in love, arrive at the latest reunion to find devastation. Someone or something is exterminating the Gentian line. They are thrown into a dangerous mystery that spans across the galaxy and over thousands of years, involving sentient machines, post human civilizations, and exotic worlds.

I loved this book. It shares a mournful atmosphere with other Science Fiction novels such as Hyperion and Dune. A sort of new-Gothic Space Opera that touches on the concept of humanity in a post-Earth far future Galaxy. A fantastic novel and a great introduction to Reynolds. If you enjoy high concept Space Opera pick this one up.

 

A Barbarian Book Update

reading

I’m sitting here, petting my vicious dog, enjoying a nice cup of Earl Gray, and reading book two in Robin Hobbs Farseer Trilogy. You can feast your worthless eyes on the finished review for book one in the series Assassins Apprentice a few posts below. I decided to post in the middle of my reading to share how much I love this series. Every chapter I finish inches this series closer and closer to the top of my favorite Fantasy mountain. It’s a dark, brooding, complex, character driven plot that bounces from exciting action to contemplative heartbreak. Trust me, you want to read it along with me.

Most importantly the first book in the series is on sale in the Kindle store for $1.99 and the whole trilogy is on sale for 13 bucks. Click on the picture and buy it!

In other news trolling through r/fantasy I came across a link advertising Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself for $1.99. This is supposed to be one of the founding novels in the Grimdark sub-genre and one I have been wanting to read for awhile. I couldn’t resit the $1.99 price and the fact that it’s about some sort of badass barbarian and crippled torturer. As soon as I finish The Farseer Trilogy I will divert myself into the world of Logan Ninefingers and Inquisitor Glokta. So just like above, if you are in need of a read both of these books are really cheap right now.

 

This has been my good deed for the month, enjoy.

The Three Musketeers and Modern Fantasy

The Three Musketeers and Modern Fantasy

three_musketeers_02

Taking a break from my traditional fare of Fantasy and Science Fiction I decided to jump in and read through Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. For some reason I overlooked this novel in the past probably thinking that the plot was already spoiled due to all the spoofs and movies etc. I can’t even begin to describe how surprised I was when the book blew me away. Not only is it one of the best action adventures I have read but sets the bar so high for other books that I thought were original yet are surpassed by this fantastic piece of literature written 171 years ago. If you have not read this masterpiece do yourself a favor and pick it up, you will not be disappointed.

For readers of Fantasy one of the genre givens is that Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is often the blueprint and baseline for all modern fantasy. Through Tolkien fantasy is also affected by his influences being Germanic and Anglo-Saxon mythology. Heroic characters, Epic world shattering battles, dark evil powers, elves, orcs, trolls, and dragons. But a lot of modern fantasy breaks from that mold and dwells in a perpetual gray zone. The hero’s are often hard to differentiate from the villains, the scale is often smaller, and the setting often grimmer. Dark epics such as GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire and Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire have only superficial elements in common with the heroic fantasy of Tolkien.

With the history of fantasy in mind I read The Three Musketeers and realized that for a book written 171 years ago it read like a piece of modern fantasy. At it’s core and thematically it has more in common with modern dark fantasy than LotR does. Reading it I could not stop thinking that if there was one or two semi-magical elements you could easily shelf the adventures of d’Artagnan next to Jalan Kendeth and Tyrion Lannister.

The Heroes or Anti-Heroes

Bunch of drunken rakes.

Bunch of drunken womanizing rakes.

The four Musketeers(yes there are actually four, it make sense once you read the book), would easily fit on the pages of current fantasy, the darker the better. Our main hero the young d’Artagnan starts off the novel as your typical poor farm boy out to join the King’s Musketeers and make a name for himself. That’s where the similarity ends tho because our d’Artagnan is an arrogant entitled jerk. He picks fights with everybody that looks at him wrong, beats his servant, tricks women into sleeping with him, and spends his days drinking and partying with his buddies. He’s not the hero the movies portray him as.

Athos, the oldest of the Musketeers is your typical wounded dark soldier. A dark sophisticated man with a hidden mysterious past who spends his days drinking his sorrows away and flying into violent rages. Athos is such a moody jerk that he forbids his servant from speaking, forcing him to only communicate by using hand gestures.

Porthos is the big foolish buffoon of the crew. A self centered man who loves fine food, fine wine, fine clothing, and fine women. His sole purpose in life is to weasel his way into older and richer women’s money so he could live comfortably without effort.

Aramis is the group hypocrite. All he talks about is giving up the warrior lifestyle and becoming a man of the church but secretly he is having affairs with noble women. He goes so far as to get into duels with anybody that even suggests he might be having the affairs, even when presented with proof.

The most striking thing I noticed when reading this novel was the fact that unlike the movies that portray them as heroes the Musketeers are quite a serious bunch of assholes. Yes they go on and on about honor and courage but they are far from your shining knights serving the king out of duty, they are a bunch of drunken adventurers doing it for gold and women. They thematically fit more into a modern crime movie about gangsters then your typical heroic portrayals they have been given. Not only that but a lot of the actions they take during the plot of the novel can be seen as treason or downright betrayal of duty to their King and France.

The Villains.

richelieu

The Three Musketeers has two of the greatest villains that set the bar high for their modern successors. The first being the Cardinal Richelieu a real historical figure that is the mastermind behind the events going on in the novel. Richelieu is the power behind the throne running the war against Protestant rebels and Protestant England because the King of France is a worthless childish wimp. Richelieu has spies and agents throughout Europe and has so much power that he can order assassinations and kidnappings on a whim. Reading the novel I could easily see him as an inspiration for characters such as Tywin Lannister, strong, driven men who lead from behind the throne.

OG evil

OG evil

The show stealing, best character award of the novel goes to Milady de Winter, the original badass court seductress and assassin. She’s the Cardinals number one Spy and the darkest character in the novel. She’s a evil bitter woman, twisted on the inside by greed, revenge, and envy. Shes so well written as a conniving seductress that after being in her point of view for several chapters you begin to sympathize with her only to be kicked in the teeth a few pages later when she does something batshit evil. Cersei Lannister has nothing on Milady who would make a perfect companion for Littlefinger.

The Plot

The novel is set in 17th century France during the Siege of La Rochelle. Protestant rebels are surrounded by the Kings Catholic army led by Cardinal Richelieu as the English led by the Duke of Buckingham are preparing to come to their aid. The plot of the novel centers on a clandestine affair between Queen Ann of France and the Duke of Buckingham. Cardinal Richelieu is determined to expose the affair to the King and use it as leverage in the war against England. The novel focuses on our heroes, Musketeers in the service of the king, who get involved in a tangled web of intrigue and romance between the powerful figures behind the scenes in both France and England. Lots of duels are fought, lots of women are won and romanced, and lots of wine is drank.

In closing I highly recommend this classic piece of literature. If you haven’t read it and you enjoy bad ass adventure you will not be disappointed if you chose to follow d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis around. I also think that a lot of modern fantasy should look at adventure novels like The Three Musketeers for inspiration. The intrigue, wit, focus on fantastic pacing, and action of Dumas’ masterpiece should be a baseline in all modern fantasy. A lot of current work should supplement the obsessive world building of Tolkien by implementing more Dumas style action and adventure.

P.S On the Importance of Translation.

If you decide to read the Three Musketeers please get the proper and modern translation. The best out there is the 2006 version translated by Richard Pevear. Other versions of the book, like the free kindle version are based on the original Victorian English translation and due to Victorian sensibilities downplay a lot of the sexual innuendo between the characters. Do yourself a favor and go for the best version.

The Broken Empire Trilogy

The Broken Empire Trilogy

Broken Empire

After finishing A Dance With Dragons I took a bit of a detour through some lighter urban fantasy and sci-fi to counterbalance all my dark fantasy reading. Mind cleared of AsoIF I picked up Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. The first novel in The Broken Empire Trilogy that follows the brutal and violent rise to power of Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, heir to Ancrath and self proclaimed contender for Emperor of the Broken Empire. I finished the first book and immediately went on to read part two and three. Because I read the whole trilogy as one book I will cover all three with one review.

The Prince of Thorns

“The way to break the cycle is to kill every single one of the bastards that fucked you over. Every last one of them. Kill them all. Kill their mother, kill their brothers, kill their children, kill their dog.”

Prince of Thorns follows the exploits of 14 year old Prince Jorg Ancrath, self exiled and leading a group of blood thirsty bandits raping and looting their way across a war torn countryside. Several years earlier Jorg was riding in a royal carriage with his mother and younger brother when soldiers sent by his uncle ambushed them. Jorg managed to escape by being trapped and hidden in copse of briar thorns from were he witness the brutal murder of his mother and brother. After his rescue he becomes disillusioned and bitter at his fathers uncaring reaction and swearing to avenge his mother and brother he leaves his home with a group of escaped bandits. Prince of Thorns narrative bounces between the present where Jorg has become the leader of the band and the past where he recollects the path that led him towards his final revenge and his overreaching ambition for the throne. Sprinkle in a Necromancer or two, some mutants, and a few evil dream witches and you have a kick to the teeth kind of novel.

A fantastically brutal 1st person narrative and great setting take this novel to an outstanding level. Jorg Ancrath according to Mark Lawrence is based on Alex from A Clockwork Orange(a side effect of knowing this while reading is that Jorg is forever Malcolm McDowell in my mind) and just like Alex he’s a thoroughly selfish and unapologetic sociopath. Jorg is consumed by revenge and the desire for power, he wants to fill the void in his life left by the murder of his family by rising to the top and ruling above all. He murders, steals, and causes the deaths of thousands in his quest for power and he does it all unapologetic and without remorse. The strongest point of the novel, and the series as a whole, does not lie in the individual events or adventures but in the inner thoughts of a man with nothing to lose and the overwhelming obsession for ultimate power. Pretty much Jorg is Batman if instead of deciding to fight crime after his parents were murdered he decided to kill every criminal in Gotham and take over as the ultimate crime lord.

I also want to reserve a special mention to the setting. The Broken Empire takes place in Europe but over a thousand years from now in a post nuclear holocaust world that has reverted to a medieval cultural and technological level. It’s easily one of my favorite settings and holds some of the best surprises in the series so I will leave most of it out of this review.

King of Thorns

Several years have passed since Prince of Thorns and we return to King(yeah, hes a now a King) Jorg on his wedding day. Unfortunately Orrin of Arrow has brought an army ten times the size of Jorg’s with the intention of destroying Jorg and unifying the Empire under his leadership. Prince Arrow is everything Jorg isn’t, attractive, just, intelligent, fair, and loved by the people and should rightfully become the Emperor. Of course Jorg wont stand for any of that nonsense, unfortunately for him besides being grossly outnumbered he is haunted by the ghost of a dead child and part of his memories are locked away in a magic box.

Part two of the trilogy once again uses a time split narrative between the present battle with the Prince of Arrow and Jorg recollecting his adventures and travels after the events of the first book. The present narrative is a bloody battle, where Jorg is outnumbered and on the brink of defeat. The other narrative follows his exploration through the world in search of knowledge to help him attain the goal of Emperor. Book two reveals a lot more of the world as Jorg travels to his Grandfathers castle, the Viking North, and through a undead infested swamp where he encounters my favorite character Chella. The two narratives play into each other and split off into a third involving some tucked away memories. Safe to say that the complex format pays off and connects all the lose ends and delivers a cool ending.

Emperor of Thorns

The final part of Jorg’s story finds our hero a few years older and now King of seven kingdoms, traveling with his pregnant wife(the fantastic character Maina) and his closest allies towards Congression to put in his bid for Emperor. Jorg has to pull out all the stops to deal with the murderous nobles and the disgusting church of Roma all scheming each others downfall. Making matters worse the agents of the Dead King are leading an army of undead towards the gathering.

Just like the previous books Emperor of Thorns employes a split narrative flashback. Here we have Jorg recalling his travels to Afrique taking him through radiation wasted deserts and pitting him against cunning mathmagicians intent on controlling him. The chapters devoted to these flashbacks reveal sa lot more of the secrets of Jorg’s world. This book also offers a new convention, chapters devoted to the point of view of Chella, a necromancer leading the army of the Dead King. Her chapters are the highlight of this book in my opinion and allow the reader to see Jorg from a different perspective.

Conclusion

The Broken Empire trilogy is a fantastic read for anybody that enjoys modern dark fantasy. Hands down this series is one of the best I have read and is a serious contender for most enjoyable read this year. I highly recommend all three books.

Addendum

On top of being a big fan of the books I am also a fan of the author. Mark Lawrence seems like a great guy who always interacts with his fans on Reddit r/fantasy, twitter, and his blog. Most of all he’s earned my respect for standing up to the crazies that threw all sorts of nonsense sexism and racism claims at these books for not having “strong female” characters or too much “rape” or whatever stupidity they use to bully authors into submission to some incoherent progressive philosophy. I recommend his blogs on the topic and applaud him for having the guts to stand up to these assholes. More authors should follow in his footsteps.

P.S. The scene with Justice the dog…

The Chaplain’s War, interesting premise but fundementally flawed.

TheChaplainswar

A few days ago I finally go around to reading Brad Torgersen’s first book, The Chaplain’s War, published by Baen Books. I had a lot of expectations going into this one because it was recommended on a lot of the blogs I follow and besides being a military SciFi it promised to address religion in an interesting way. Overall I found the book a pleasant read, with a very interesting premise, but fundamentally flawed in it’s overall execution.

The Chaplain’s War starts with our main character Harrison Barlow, a Chaplain’s Assistant(a MOS in the Army, the equal of Navy’s RP) imprisoned in an alien POW camp, along with many other humans, located on a barren alien planet called Purgatory. Barlow and the rest of the humans are the last survivors of a Earth military counterattack on the Mantes, a violent alien species bent on exterminating human life. Accepting his fate he devotes his time to maintaining a non denominational chapel open to all who wish to use it for prayer or self reflection. His chapel attracts the attention of a Mante overseer, a Professor, who wishes to study the concept of faith and religion, ideas alien to the Mantes. Barlow and the Professor become friends, and their relationship eventually spurs on a temporary truce between the two species. Unfortunately both sides have militant sides that sabotage the peace potentially leading to the extermination of Humankind and it’s up to Barlow to fix the situation and restore peace.

The book bounces between the present where Barlow is interacting with the Mantes and both sides are on the brink of total war and the past, where you get a detailed history of Barlow joining the Fleet, going through bootcamp, training, becoming a Chaplain’s Assistant, and ending up a prisoner on Purgatory. The first major flaw of the novel lie in these flashback chapters. They are detailed boring cliché bootcamp chapters. We get the typical join the military against his parents wishes, the scary bootcamp drill sergeants, the rivalry with the street smart kid, showing leadership and emotional potential. The military fiction equivalent of the farmboy in his village. The main problem is not the narrative but the fact that it drags on for several repetitive chapters, as an active duty service member I found real bootcamp dull so I don’t need to read five chapters of standing in formation. Sadly these useless chapters take you away from the interesting happenings on Purgatory and make the whole novel choppy and uneven.

Putting the bootcamp adventures aside, the real failure of the novel lies in its main topic, religion. The Chaplain’s War takes place 190 years in the future yet Barlow’s version of Christianity remains identical to early 21st century moderate conservatism. Not only is the portrayal of Christianity uninspired but Mormonism, Islam, and the other religions mentioned are static and unchanged from what they are in our present world. SciFi is all about speculation yet Barlow’s future culture and religion is identical to ours. A lot changes in 190 years. 190 years ago the United States was a new country, Mormonism was first created, and slavery was going strong. Religions drastically change throughout the centuries. A modern day Christian used to prayer groups and acoustic guitar camps would not understand or even comprehend the religious fervor of the Reformation or the world of the Medieval Christian. To portray religion unchanging in a future where Earth has FTL capabilities and has made contact with alien life is just absurd and the greatest disappointment in this book. I came in expecting a fascinating look at religion and faith in a SciFi setting, instead I got chapters of boring bootcamp imitating Starship Troopers.