Saturday, July 25, 2009
In the Rachel Morgan series's second volume--The Good, the Bad, and the Undead--Kim Harrison throws out so much of the first impressions readers get from major characters in the first novel, Dead Witch Walking. That was the most impressive and unexpected detour in the series so far. In fact, it seems like nearly every character from the first book flips colors in some major way. If you're expecting spoilers from me regarding these major character changes, you should know better.
The story starts out about six months or so after the end of the first novel. Rachel is still doing her runner detective work alongside Jenks the pixie and Ivy the vampire, living inside of an old church. Rachel has her boyfriend, Nick, whom she found in the rat fights down in the Hollows. Life is pretty good until someone starts killing leyline witches. Even though Rachel isn't a leyline witch, it isn't long before she's hired on the job--and not just by one person, either.
TGTBATU, to abbreviate the title, is a huge step in the right direction for the series, as it explores deeper story arc plots that will probably extend the duration of the series (whereas the first book was introductory in nature, with not a lot of to-be-continued plot points, although the first book sets the foundation for many events used in book two).
The highlight of the series, though, is definitely Rachel Morgan herself. Sassy. Witty. Lands on her feet. One heck of a temper. One good looker. Who could ask for more in their local neighborhood witch detective?
The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, by Kim Harrison. 2005. HarperCollins. 464 pp. $7.99 (PB).
Books in the Rachel Morgan Series:
1. Dead Witch Walking
2. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
3. Every Which Way But Dead
4. A Fistful of Charms
5. For a Few Demons More
6. The Outlaw Demon Wails
7. White Witch, Black Curse
Friday, July 17, 2009
Fat Charlie Nancy led a quiet life in England until he found out his dad was a god and that he had a brother he never knew about who inherited his dad's mischievous powers. When he invites his brother, Spider, to come to town for a reunion of sorts, Fat Charlie finds himself tangled in a web from which he can hardly extricate himself.
Neil Gaiman's humor is paramount to the story, and he pins down such humorous characters throughout the narrative, starting with Anansi himself and going to Fat Charlie, Rosie's mother, Graham Coates, Spider, Daisy, the old ladies from Florida, and a complete set of minor characters who add flavor to the punch. While thickly British humor throughout much of it, the humor is lasting and fresh, not relying on cheap tricks but rather the content itself: the pantheon of mischievous animal gods and their dealings with the main characters. I realized partway through the reading that each character has an affinity in his or her actions and thoughts to one of the animal gods. Gaiman's humor is multilayered and deeply intelligent, offering instantaneously satisfying humor along with ironic, dramatic, and thematic humor that extends well beyond one page. One example is Mr. Graham Coates's use of platitudes and cliches, which almost entirely consume his speech patterns, and including his favorite made-up word: absitively.
I'd recommend the book to anyone looking for a good laugh with some interesting speculative narrative thrown into the works.
Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. HarperCollins. 2005. 416 pp. $7.99 (PB).
Saturday, July 11, 2009
Perhaps it's not a coincidence that the cover of Prey, by Michael Crichton, is so similar to that of Jurassic Park. They are, after all, the same form of cautionary tale warning mankind to keep his horse before the cart, so to speak. Crichton has reemphasized in Prey his belief that when complex situations involving potentially adaptive and intelligent life are introduced into a system (ecosystem, large island park, etc.), no matter how smart humans think they are in "controlling" these creatures, nature and chaos will win in the end.
In Prey, Crichton introduces protagonist Jack Forman, an unemployed software who used to work with artificial intelligence, particularly with creating group consciousness in software programs. He soon finds out that his wife, a psychologist and CEO, and her company have been involved in nanotechnology studies, trying not only to create artificial intelligence but also artificial life. Forman gets brought in to help try to fix the situation (just as the paleontologists are brought to Jurassic Park to try to stop the dinosaurs from eating all the people). He soon realizes what a massive problem they have with these escaped nanites, which have started to swarm and kill living creatures. The story becomes more intense and is full of twists and turns that are rather uncharacteristic of Crichton's other works, which are usually more straightforward (Congo, Jurassic Park, Great Train Robbery, etc.)
Prey is what it is: a techno thriller with Crichton's usual good storytelling, interspersed with large expositions on artificial life research and software development in general (not unlike his similar exposition in Congo on computer programming, etc.). The exposition isn't killer to the story--Crichton still has one solid plot and conflict--but there are points where you'd love to take a scalpel to the studies of pred-prey software development.
Crichton's characters in Prey tend to most of them be tough and somewhat hard. There's a plot reason for that (which I won't disclose here), but at times it makes some of the secondary characters seem cut from the same mold.
Prey is creepy because the nanites come across as a more realistic jump in technology than the cloning of dinosaurs, making the immediacy of a similar threat in the future more threatening to the reader. I'd recommend it to anyone who's looking for a good techno thriller with a heavy dose of Crichton.
On a final note, I was so very sad to hear of Michael Crichton's death during the November 2008 election. He's been an inspiring author, filmmaker, and thinker to me and I hope to see the bookshelves of the world populated by books as equally good as Mr. Crichton's.
Prey, by Michael Crichton. 2002. HarperCollins. 528 pp. $9.99 (PB reprint).
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The final book in the Abhorsen (Sabriel) series continues Garth Nix's necromantic tale of the Abhorsen-in-waiting Lirael, the young prince Sammeth, and the various other characters of the Old Kingdom who are fighting to keep the Destroyer from being reawoken to wreak havoc upon the world.
The book begins with a shocking event (no spoiler to come), something typical of Nix's let-come-what-may attitude about his characters and plot: no one is sacrosanct or excepted from the harsh realities of a world lorded over at times by the grasping hands of the undead. In this natural style, Nix reminds me of George R. R. Martin, always willing to let the natural thing happen, even if it displeases readers immensely.
Another thing Nix does well yet again in this concluding novel is keeping his characters' voices so absolutely identifiable and unique. The cat Mogget and the Disreputable Dog, for example, both "creatures of the charter," keep very identifiable voices--both very fitting for their respective animal form. The cat is whiny and independent-sounding, while the Disreputable Dog is authoritative, brash, and no-nonsense (did I mention loyal?) in his interactions.
The story spends a lot of time focusing on Sammeth and Nicholas getting over their weaknesses and inabilities, while Lirael is strong and stallwart to the end. Nix, throughout the entire series, has enabled women to be the ultimate heroes, pidgeon-holing the men of the novels into support roles only. This is refreshing, and Nix does it convincingly. The world takes on the tone of Isaiah, that women shall rule and deliver.
Abhorsen leaves no stop unpulled, and the climax and resolution of this unique and enjoyable series frees the people of the Old World from the miasma of corruption that had permeated their lives. It's a highly commendable story.
Abhorsen, by Garth Nix. HarperCollins. 2004. $7.99 (PB). 528 pp.