The Beast Player, by Nahoko Uehashi

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To someone well-versed in American (and more generally, Western) narrative expectations, The Beast Player is a bit of an odd duck. It is, however, a good duck.

Some of this oddness can be chalked up to the fact that Continue reading

The Nice Guys

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The tag line really shouldn’t surprise you. I certainly wasn’t surprised by the fact that the same director (Shane Black) did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I wasn’t surprised because The Nice Guys is a fundamentally similar movie: grim and irreverent, full of dark humor, with heroes who just aren’t that heroic. The intrigue our protagonists investigate is convoluted and seedy, they wind up in trouble way above their pay grade, and nobody comes up smelling like roses. Like I said, they’re very similar movies. Whatever its faults may have been, I liked Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I can say the same thing about The Nice Guys.

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Won’t Break Your Heart: Sorcery & Cecelia, by Wrede and Stevermer

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I hadn’t quite expected this to be so good.  In fact, I futzed around and failed to really start it for about four weeks (or maybe longer).  But there was some point, maybe around page 80, when I seem to have flipped a switch; suddenly all I wanted to do was finish the book.  It’s lovely and wonderful, and I would certainly recommend it to pretty much anyone who has any interest in epistolary novels, or female protagonists in post-Napoleonic Wars England, or magic, or even just fun stories.  To be clear, given how readily I’ve bounced off of other similar characters before, I had no idea how much fun they could be.

Sorcery & Cecelia (which I have learned, much to my delight, is part of a series) was written back in the 80’s as a Letter Game.  Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer decided to write letters to each other in the voice of their two respective characters, relating gossip and intrigue, and telling each other about the fabulous and exciting things which they were each getting up to.  When they’d finished their game, they looked at their collection of letters and realized that they’d basically already written a novel.  With some editing for details, continuity, and pacing, they found that they had a perfectly acceptable manuscript, and then managed to get it published.  I am exceedingly glad that they did.

Look, I don’t want to ruin any of the book for you by mentioning things.  Suffice it to say that the two main characters’ adventures and intrigues make excellent reading, and Kate and Cecilia are absolutely brilliant as heroines who must vanquish their antagonists, while carefully acting within the constraints imposed on them by society.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  It’s really quite good.

p.s. Thank you to the visitor who recommended this to me one morning in Mama Dorr’s kitchen.  I wish I could remember your name to thank you properly, especially after the excellent conversation we had about epistolary stories and your research into the subject. [Edit: The visitor was Naomi, but I appear to have misattributed the recommendation!  It was still an awesome conversation, but Thomas may have been the original source.  I might manage to get to the bottom of this.  Maybe.]

Brilliance, by Marcus Sakey

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In my case, Lee Child’s cover blurb is highly inaccurate.  Assuming that he includes himself in the group he describes, I’d guess Lee Child hasn’t read many superhero stories; he certainly should be familiar with a number of the other elements involved in Sakey‘s Brilliance.  The book is an excellent combination of superhero fiction, “spy” thriller, and semi-dystopian intrigue, and while I haven’t read many books that combine all of those elements at once, I’m certainly familiar with each of them individually.  That familiarity leaves me well positioned to appreciate the skill with which Sakey unwinds his plot.

The story is set in a world in which some people (1% of the population, more or less) are extremely capable at pattern recognition, generally focusing on a specific subset of their environment.  Our protagonist, for example, is able to read people’s immediate intent through their body language, making him fabulously good at telling where people are going to move within the next few seconds, and at telling whether or not someone believes what they are saying to be true.  This basis for superpowers is simultaneously remarkably constrained and very wide-ranging.  It doesn’t make people superhuman in immediately noticeable ways, and Sakey does an excellent job of keeping to his original concept without breaking the plausibility of the setting.

This is a fast and fun book, and an easy read.  The main character is a quintessential representation of The Man, and the story offers pulpy action goodness, with a thick helping of intrigue, implicit duplicity, and lies.  If you enjoy quick reads that deal with a moderately dystopian alternate present filled with superhumans who are indistinguishable from the rest of us, and all the problems that entails, then I suggest you pick up this book.  You may want to pick it up even if those keywords don’t set your Must Read alarms buzzing, but I’ll save any more description for after the break, where I keep all my spoilers.

Also, just to warn you, this book definitely deals with racism and the abuse of authority.  I think it does it decently, you may think differently.  I don’t think you’d mind it, Stephanie, but I also don’t know that you’d identify with the narrator at all.

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The Quiller Memorandum, by Adam Hall

Ah, pseudonyms.  Adam Hall was one of the pseudonyms used by the author Elleston Trevor (which was itself not the author’s original name).  It seems entirely appropriate to me that such an excellent spy novel should come from someone who felt so compelled to shroud and change their own identity.  If you like spy stories and intrigue, or would like to try dabbling in them for the very first time, look no further.  Quiller is a far better Cold War spy than the cinematic Mr. Bond ever was, more deeply focused on the details of spycraft, practicing intimate information war as a metaphoric knife fight where you’re never truly certain as to who holds the advantage.  Drawing blood is rarely the point of the duel, and secrets are more valuable than lives.  The Quiller Memorandum, as you might have guessed, is a very exciting book.

Does the title feel achingly familiar?  Just like something that you’ve read before?  Well…

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Crown of Slaves and Torch of Freedom, by Eric Flint and David Weber

Take one of my favorite writers and give him license to contribute to the phenomenally successful Honor Harrington series, and what do you get?  You get Eric Flint working with David Weber on the short-stories-turned-novels, Crown of Slaves and Torch of Freedom.

Do you like space opera?  How about great characters engaged in spy games and intrigue?  Or maybe true badasses going up against incredible odds?  All of them?  Good.  I’ve got some books to recommend to you.

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