Quick Review of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


You need a certain languid frame of mind to appreciate Craig Johnson’s first Longmire novel. The language is exquisite and Johnson captures the atmosphere and personality of small-town Wyoming. This was clearly a labor of love for the author. On the other had, to read this book you can’t have anywhere to be. The pacing is glacial. Halfway through the book Longmire doesn’t have any solid suspects and doesn’t seem to mind much. Johnson spends so much time building in background to every character and situation that not much manages to happen. Sure, it’s wonderfully colored and the relationships between the characters show a depth that the current Netflix incarnation of the series can’t hope to reach. I just wish it moved along a little more quickly.



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Quick Review of Sixteen Ways to Defend A Walled City

I wish K. J. Parker could make up his mind as to whether this story is fantasy or a pseudo-history. His story features a not-quite Roman empire and the wrong-race engineer who saves the city from his [SPOILER] best friend. Yeah, all of that. As stories go, it was fine. Orhan, Colonel of Engineers, narrates the history of his defense of The City, which is Not-Rome. He’s a great character and a great unreliable narrator.

My gripe is that the author injects his 21st Century “new atheism” late in the story as an aside, lambasting the “freak cult who believes the king of the Gods sent his eldest son down to earth to die for the sins of the people.” Again, Parker needs to decide what kind of story he’s writing. Even for snarky Orhan, the diatribe was out of place and probably out of character.

Parker is a good author, but the odd screed just pulled me out of the story.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37946419-sixteen-ways-to-defend-a-walled-city

Quick Review of Alastair Reynolds’ The Prefect

The Prefect by Alastair Reynolds

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


When Alastair Reynolds is on, his work is amazing. He is an undisputed master of hard science fiction. Unfortunately he was not on for this one. The Prefect–the name of the book was changed from Aurora Rising–is mind-numbingly tedious. Changing the name didn’t help. From the beginning of this story, he introduces unappealing characters that I find it hard to care about. Tom Dreyfus is a pseudo-cop involved in rooting out voter fraud, bad AIs, augmented humans, and other future-y stuff. Bad things happen, who cares.

In his Revelation Space future history universe, Reynolds has created a sweeping epic spanning millions of years. The problem is that each of the stories is a snippet and there’s no coherent arc unifying the vastness. He’s published stories covering events happening in the next few hundred years, then some several million years in the future, back a few millenia, and so forth. He addresses some interesting and even amazing concepts in a nebulous setting with bland, lifeless characters. I want to like it all, but it just doesn’t come together for me.



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Quick Review of Orson Scott Card’s A War of Gifts

War of Gifts takes us back to the Battle School during the time that Ender Wiggin was with Rat Army. Ender isn’t the protagonist–WoG doesn’t really have a consistent protagonist. The point of view switches from Zeck, an outsider Christian fundamentalist, to Dink Meeker, to Ender. Ender is a gratuitous afterthought and he serves no purpose that Dink couldn’t have fulfilled. The story revolves around a minor crisis on the station caused by Dink giving another boy a Christmas present. If the author had let Dink resolve the issue it would have fleshed out his character. Instead, Ender is given the task. Ender ex machina.

Check out this book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/552987.A_War_of_Gifts

Thoughts on Tactics: How History Affects Fiction and Makes It Believable

Not long ago, this author discovered the above picture, which discusses some fans’ thoughts on how the Fellowship of the Ring might have simply flown to Mordor to dispose of the One Ring rather than “take the long way around.” As the commenter explains, this would have been a bad idea narratively because the entire […]

Thoughts on Tactics: How History Affects Fiction and Makes It Believable

Making Monsters

Amarok
Illustration by Indigohx

What makes a good monster? The estimable Sam Knight presented a great workshop on crafting monsters at Pikes Peak Writers Conference this weekend. Sam likens monsters to villains, with each having varying degrees of monstrousness and villainy. I’m not so sure. We’ve been told forever that the villain/antagonist must have some redeeming qualities “to be relatable.” In that sense, the villain is more akin to the protagonist than to the monster.

Yet the best monsters (think the Cloverfield monster, the Jaws shark, Hitchcock’s birds, Tremors’ graboids, Alien face-huggers, etc.) were anything but relatable. They are a force of nature and not to be reasoned with.

That said, there are rules. Sam was clear to say that all monsters have secrets. They have an origin we may or may not know. And monsters have to scare the living snot out of you. Making monsters relatable diminishes the mystery and scare factor. Cute monsters are no monsters at all.