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.

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

 

“Learning is never wrong. Even learning how to kill isn’t wrong. Or right. It’s just a thing to learn, a thing I can teach you. That’s all.”  

Several days ago I found myself sitting outside my favorite San Diego coffee spot, sipping a hot beverage, and finishing the last chapters of Robin Hobbs Assassin’s Apprentice, the first in the Farseer Trilogy. The dilemma I was facing was how to disguise the fact that here I was, a barbarian, choking up with tears reading a fantasy book. I honestly can’t remember the last time a book made me so emotional. I won’t go into the details of the scene that got me for spoiler reasons but it deals with friendship of the highest order.

Even with my extremely busy schedule I manage to read a lot of books, most of them great, enjoyable pieces of fantasy or scifi. The greatest triumph and exquisitely rewarding experience is coming across a novel that blows your mind, makes me feel something beyond entertainment, makes me want to shove it in all my friends faces while yelling READ THIS NOW! Robin Hobbs Assassin’s Apprentice falls into this category. It goes on my badass shelf(digital shelf nowadays) of favorite novels next to Lord of the Rings, Dune, Hyperion, A Song of Ice and Fire, and the other masterpieces of the genre.

Assassin’s Apprentice follows the young life of a noble bastard Fitzchivalry thrust into the intrigues of court life in the Six Duchies and the peril it entails. As an illegitimate and ignored bastard Fitz gets recruited into the role of becoming the Kings secret assassin. Making matters worse the Six Duchies are being raided by mysterious Red Ships that leave nothing but devastation and despair wherever they appear. Fitz becomes the secret hand of the King, and this first book details his early education in the art of poisoning and political maneuvering.

The beauty of this novel does not lie in a grand plot but in Robin Hobbs fantastic characterization. Assassin’s Apprentice is a slow burn, a patient novel that builds up all of the characters and their relationships slowly with beautiful detail. It’s a adult book that focuses on questions about friendship, loyalty, duty, family, and even your choice of romantic partner. It’s maturity of voice reminded me of one of my other favorite books, The Curse of Chalion, by Louis McMaster Bujold. Both novels focus on character and relationship over plot and action and both novels are masterpieces of the fantasy genre in my opinion.

This novel belongs on the must read list for any serious lover of fantasy. The best part for me is that this is only book one of a long series. I get to finish typing this review and start the next book. So if you love fantasy consider this post the digital version of me shoving it in your face and yelling READ THIS NOW!

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.

Storm Front (Dresden Files #1)

stormfront

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations.

Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.

No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Above is the Yellow Pages ad put out by Mr. Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only Wizard for hire and star of the Dresden Files, a series of 15(20 planned) books by Jim Butcher detailing his exploits as a crime solving wizard living in Chicago.

In Storm Front, the first book in the series, Dresden gets called in by his police officer friend, an aggressive blonde named Karrin Murphy, to help her solve a series of brutal murders obviously caused by magic. Throw in a vengeful mob boss, sexy Latino reporter, seductive vampire madam, talking skull, a few faeries, a murderous frog demon, and you get a fantastic adventure and a great opening act to the series.

This book has been on my to-read pile for awhile now. A few of my friends with respectable taste in books strongly recommended this series so when I finally started Storm Front I had a lot of expectations for it. Safe to say it did not disappoint, I devoured it right away and ordered its sequel Fool Moon.

The book and setting remind me of playing World of Darkness rpg’s growing up. Urban Chicago where every shadow hides vampires, wizards, and a secret world of the occult and unknown. I would not be surprised if Dresden did not come right out of a Mage: The Ascension game. Storm Front totally scratched my geeky rpg WoD itch. I finally understand why some people love Twilight because Harry Dresden is now my official wish fulfillment fantasy. Who doesn’t want to be a wizard solving crimes, blasting demons with magic, and drinking beer with other supernatural creatures?

So if you are looking for a fun, quick, pulpy, read about a crime solving wizard go ahead and pick up Storm Front and join me in reading the series.

Guardians of the Galaxy and the problem with Marvel movies.

Guardians

Sunday Judy and I went on a mid-afternoon movie date and finally got the chance to catch the latest Marvel eyeplosion Guardians of the Galaxy. Directed by James Gunn and starring Chris Pratt, the ever obnoxious Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel(sort of), Dave Batista, Bradly Cooper, and a few others under a lot of makeup and CGI, the movie is based on a more obscure series of comics that date as far back as 1969.

Guardians of the Galaxy was a fantastic chicken nugget and extra-large fries kind of movie. Stupid, full of idiotic plot holes, but exceptionally fun. The first half of the movie when the characters are introduced and come together as a team is easily the best Marvel movie action so far. Quail Star-Lord a kind of Han Solo mixed with Fry from Futurama , teams up with a weird genetically engineered raccoon named Rocket, his giant inarticulate tree creature Groot, a violent buff and scarred Drax bent on revenge, and the typical warrior princess turned good Gamora. There’s a crazy McGuffin orb that contains a infinity stone that the evil bad guy, who’s kind of a Darth Vader with some face paint, wants to get so he could destroy the planet of boring people or something or other.

The plot made absolutely no sense but the movie was still awesome, guns were shot, a crazy talking Raccoon did things, a giant tree, Benicio del Toro was in there somewhere, stuff blew up some more, and everybody looked like they were having a blast. Well except for Zoe Saldana, she always has that arrogant fart sniffing face in everything she does. Overall I enjoyed myself, it actually fondly reminded me of The Fifth Element, so if you want a stupid fun summer explosion movie, go ahead and give it some eyeball attention.

Best characters in the movie.

Rocket and Groot, I could watch an entire movie about them.

Besides casting the always annoying Zoe Saldana in another boring blue/green/ whatever color alien fighty badass princess cliché and the obvious logical inconsistencies and plot holes, Guardians suffered from the same unfortunate flaw of every single Marvel movie, a complete lack of quality kickass villains. All of the Marvel movies lack decent, interesting, and scary villains. Looking back I can’t even remember the bad guy in the first Iron Man or any of the sequels. I vaguely remember Loki in Avengers teaming up with some alien robots or something. Compare the Marvel movie villans with all the amazing memorable Batman cast and my point is easily illustrated. Evil robot dude, Loki, and that other guy with the metal whips don’t hold a candle to Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, Two Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, and Mr. Freeze.

So evillll, so boring.

So evillll, so boring.

The big scary evil dude in Guardians is Roan the Accuser who wants to blow up the planet Xandar for some reason or other that I might have missed. Either way, the guy is boring, and every time he shows up the movie gets dull. The third act becomes predictable losing all  fun and energy when it turns into a giant CGI battle above space New York that is exactly like the final fight in Avengers. If Guardians lacked a villain completely and focused on the crew stealing space junk and escaping the space police for three hours it would have been an five star movie but because all the fun was anchored around a boring bad guy and an illogical plot involving yet another all-powerful orb of some sort I have to give it a good fun 3/5.