Saturday, March 31, 2012

Read-Along: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Part 4

This is the fourth post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful Reviews, and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion ofThe Lies of Locke Lamora and are therefore full of spoilers!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

Today's section is from Chapter 9 to "Orchids and Assassins".  A lot happened during this section that completely changed the nature of the story.  I can't wait to see how Lynch pulls everything together in the last 5th of the story!

1.            In the chapter “A Curious Tale for Countess 
Amberglass” we learn of the tradition of the night 
tea in Camorr. I found that not so much fantastical 
as realistic – how about you?

I think that the tradition makes a lot of sense. The nobles seem to be constantly worried about “losing face”, and it seems that keeping all your worries bottled up inside could get incredibly stressful.  I imagine less people would be coming for night tea, if they actually knew the truth about that kindly old lady.  Thinking she has ways to contact the Midnighters is one thing, the truth is a whole other barrel of fish. 

Also, I just read Redhead’s responses, and now realize this question might be referring to the quirkiness of having tea in the middle of the night.  That apparently seemed totally normal to me, because it didn’t even occur to me that it might be considered fantastical.

2.      When Jean meets with what will become the Wicked Sisters for
the first time, the meeting is described very much like how people
feel when they find their true work or home. Agree? Disagree? Some of

That’s never really happened to me, or anyone I know, so it’s hard to say.  I’ve always moved around a lot, so people who talk about “true” homes confuse me.  I feel like my true home is where my family lives.  They could move anywhere, and suddenly I’d have a new true home.  Work is more or less the same.  I love my work, most of the time.  High energy particle physics can be really exciting, but also really frustrating.  However, I don’t feel any deep visceral connection to my analysis code.  I may well just “not get it”, but I saw the encounter as the author defining Jean’s character class.

3.      Salt devils. Bug. Jean. The description is intense. Do you
find that description a help in visualizing the scene? Do you find
yourself wishing the description was occasionally – well – a little
less descriptive?

It definitely helped in visualizing the scene. There has been nothing so far that has made me wish for less detail.  There is a line of gory past which I can’t handle, but The Lies of Locke Lamora has not yet crossed it.  I felt very sorry for Locke, though.  For a while, it seemed that his only options were to drown in horse piss or be eaten by a giant spider.

4.      This section has so much action in it, it’s hard to find a
place to pause. But…but.. oh, Locke. Oh, Jean. On their return to the
House of Perelandro, their world is turned upside down. Did you see it

I can’t honestly say I saw this particular turn of events coming.  As most of us mentioned in the last set of questions, the death of Nazca made it clear that no one (except perhaps Locke) is immune from getting killed in this story.  I suspected Bug or the twins might die, but I did not expect both, and I did not expect it to happen exactly this way.  I was also surprised by Locke’s reaction.  I can’t say it wasn’t justice, but I think that was the first time Locke has deliberately killed someone. 

5.      Tavrin Callas’s service to the House of Aza Guilla is recalled
at an opportune moment, and may have something to do with saving a
life or three. Do you believe Chains knew what he set in motion? Why
or why not?

I don’t think he anticipated this exact turn of events, either.  In a general sense, I think he knew what he was setting in motion.  I believe that the whole point of learning the traditions of all twelve priesthoods was so that they could pass as a priest of any religion at need.  I think Jean and Locke are lucky that they had such an intelligent and thorough mentor.  On that note, Jean’s apprenticeship with the death goddess was incredibly creepy.  I fully support his timing in getting the hell out of that temple deathtrap.

6.      As Locke and Jean prepare for Capa Raza, Dona Vorchenza’s
remark that the Thorn of Camorr has never been violent – only greedy
and resorting to trickery – comes to mind again. Will this pattern

If one believes Locke, then it will not.  Locke is out for blood.  However, I don’t think he really has the temperament of a murderer.  I think he will probably kill the people who deserve it (like Capa Raza), but I highly doubt he will actually kill all of Capa Raza’s underlings.  I think trickery and cleverness will continue to be his main resource, but I don’t think he’ll shy away from violence as he has in the past. 

7.      Does Locke Lamora or the Thorn of Camorr enter Meraggio’s
Countinghouse that day? Is there a difference?

I think that was pure Locke Lamora.  The Thorn of Camorr plans his games    months in advance, and carefully weighs every possibility. Locke Lamora runs in with no planning and relies on charisma and quick-thinking.  Locke Lamora’s schemes also tend to end up with much more collateral damage (poor Benjavier!).

Other Notes:

On another note, I am a little disappointed with how the Grey King mystery was resolved.  His identity and goals were something of a let down. However, with the mysterious plague ship hanging around and all, I don’t think we have the full picture of his intentions yet.

Also, with all the deaths, I believe the only main characters remaining from the beginning of the book are Locke, Jean, and the Salvaras.  It’s a little hard to get worked up about major characters that are only now entering the story (Capa Raza, Dona Vorchenza, etc.).

Lastly, Locke’s Salvara game is stressing me out!  He and Jean are so desperate, and they’re going to such lengths to kick the game back into motion.  But it’s a trap!  I am wondering at this point if Locke will get caught, and then end up helping the nobles against Capa Raza.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Review: God's War by Kameron Hurley

God’s War by Kameron Hurley
Published :  Night Shade Books, 2011
Series : Book 1 of the Bel Dame Apocrypha
Awards Nominated : Nebula Award

The Book :

“Nyx had already been to hell. One prayer more or less wouldn t make any difference...

On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there's one thing everybody agrees on—There's not a chance in hell of ending it.

Nyx is a former government assassin who makes a living cutting off heads for cash. But when a dubious deal between her government and an alien gene pirate goes bad, Nyx's ugly past makes her the top pick for a covert recovery. The head they want her to bring home could end the war--but at what price?  The world is about to find out.”

This is Kameron Hurley’s first novel, and I mostly picked it up due to the Nebula nomination.  I didn’t realize beforehand that God’s War is the first of a trilogy, but I think it also works well as a self-contained story.  The second novel, Infidel, is already published, and the third is in progress.

My Thoughts:

God’s War is yet another novel that tosses the reader into a complex world with little explanation.  While this made the beginning a little confusing, I felt that there was enough information distributed along the way to eventually build a fairly comprehensive understanding of the toxic, dangerous world of Umayma.  Umayma is a far-future world that was colonized by humans many years in the past.  In an interesting twist, the advanced technology of the story is entirely dependent on bugs, and on the “magicians” who have the ability to program them.  The magicians, in addition to human ‘shifters’ who can transform into animals, are not really explained in God’s War, but it is implied that there is some origination story buried in the history of Umayma. The environment, distinctive technology, and the disparate ideologies of the colonist nations combine to make the world a truly fascinating place.

Though several other colonist nations are briefly described, God’s War focuses mostly on the oldest and most powerful, Nasheen and Chenja.  These two nations follow different interpretations of an Islam-based religion, and have been embroiled in war with one another for centuries.  Though they arguably follow the same religion, the two nations are wildly different in terms of culture and societal structure.  The never-ending war effectively results in a government-sanctioned slaughter of men, who often either die at the front or are killed for deserting.  The sharp gender disparity is addressed very differently in Nasheen than it is in Chenja, and I enjoyed seeing the different takes on how societal gender roles and popular views of sexuality might shift under these stresses.

The characters of God’s War seem very simple at first, but they are developed throughout the novel.  The story focuses on the former bel-dame Nyx (a Nasheenian government assassin tasked with executing deserters), her mediocre Chenjan magician Rhys, and the rest of her bounty-hunting crew. Nyx and her team are all fairly competent, but none of them are the best at what they do.  I felt like the team’s fallibility added to the tension of the novel, since they are often out of their depth and not at all guaranteed success.  Rhys and Nyx are the viewpoint characters for most of the novel, and, as a result, they are by far the most fully developed. Other members of Nyx’s team show up briefly as viewpoint characters later in the novel, giving them some much-needed depth.  The sudden switch to minor characters’ viewpoints felt a little clumsy, but I’m not sure how else Hurley could have given insight into characters that are so necessarily stoic and paranoid.

I loved Nyx as a protagonist, but I can see where many people might not.  She’s not exactly a sympathetic character—from another point of view, she could easily be the villain.  However, Nyx suffers from no delusions of moral superiority, and she typically considers her wellbeing and that of others with a certain cold practicality. Nyx is a very dangerous woman to be around, both due to the enemies she’s made and her own tendencies towards violence.  All the same, she’s certainly not emotionless, and events often affect her more deeply than she can adequately communicate. As a reader who loves seriously flawed heroines who encounter real failure and guilt, Nyx was a perfect fit for me.

I loved the world and the characters, but the basic plot is a pretty typical bloody action story.  This is one of the most violent novels I’ve read in quite a while, full of combat, murder, dismemberment, and even torture.  Between the violence, the substance abuse, the language, and the references to sex, it’s a pretty R-rated novel.  The story begins with a very long introductory segment for Rhys and Nyx, after which it jumps ahead several years to the bounty hunt that comprises most of the novel.  The actual stakes of the hunt aren’t really clear until the end, so it’s difficult to really feel invested in the team’s success or failure to catch their prey.  More than the hunt, I was fascinated by the resulting character interactions and acknowledgements of Nyx’s mistakes, flaws and past crimes through encounters with people from her past and present.

My Rating: 4/5

After reading God’s War, I’m pretty eager to read more of Hurley’s work.  The basic plot is a pretty typical, very bloody action story—Nyx and her team are chasing a dangerous bounty, trying to stay one step ahead of other dangerous interested parties—but the world building and the characters really made the story work for me. However, Nyx is not a particularly good person or sympathetic character, and I’m sure reader reactions to her will vary wildly.  I found the strange technology and various societies of Umayma fascinating, and I enjoyed the engagement with how society shapes views of gender and sexuality.  I loved how deeply flawed and imperfectly skilled the characters were, and how real the possibility of failure was in their lives. I’m looking forward to seeing how Hurley will expand on this world in her future novels!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Read-Along: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Part 3

This is the third post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful Reviews, and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion ofThe Lies of Locke Lamora and are therefore full of spoilers!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

Today I'm focusing on the segment between Chapter 5 through the Interlude called "The Half Crown War".  This one's a little late, thanks to a busy Saturday and the fact that I seemed to have a lot to say this week.  A lot of the following is wild speculation, so all of you people who've read the book can feel free to mock me in the comments! :)

1. This section is where we finally get to sneak a peek at the magic in The Gentleman Bastards books.  From what we read, what are your initial impressions of the magic Lynch is using?  Is there any way that Locke and Company would be able to get around the Bondsmage's powers?

In a way I like the magic that Lynch is using, but I dislike its lack of limits.  Because the Bondsmagi are so secretive, we know nothing about the rules of the magic system or exactly what it makes one capable of doing.  I know there was that discussion of how bondsmagic doesn’t block bruises or punches, but I think that’s dubious information at best.

At this point, I would say that, without outside help, Locke’s group has no way around the Bondsmage’s power.  This is mostly just because they don’t really know anything about the limitations of the Bondsmage's magic.  Locke knows a lot about how people perceive and interact with Bondsmages, but he knows essentially nothing about their power, save that it is considerable.  However, the one obvious way both the Capa and Locke could have gotten around the Falconer’s powers is to hire a Bondsmage of their own.  They’re both rich enough, so it’s beyond me why this never seems to have occurred to either of them.  

2. Not a question, but an area for rampant speculation: If you want to take a stab at who you think the Grey King might be, feel free to do it here.

I really don’t know.  Before Nazca died, I thought it might have been Capa Barsavi, but I don’t know if I could believe he would kill his own daughter.  I have a few theories based on wild speculation, though.

Perhaps Nazca is the Grey King!  In that case, she’s now faked her own death twice, though I have no idea how she would have faked her corpse.  Maybe she wants to take control of her father’s criminal underworld, but she knows she won’t be able to do so by normal means.  This is all an elaborate plot to take her father’s place.  If she knew about Locke’s activities as the Thorn of Camorr, she may well have decided he deserved execution, thus setting him up the way she did.

For my second wild theory, perhaps Father Chains is the Grey King, and he didn’t really die!  We don’t really know anything about his death at this point, so maybe it was all mummery.  Maybe he’s been behind the scenes all this time, orchestrating his takeover of Camorr. Obviously he knows all about Locke’s activities, and perhaps his ‘sewing up’ of the Gentlemen Bastards is yet another test, in order to see if the Bastards are capable of dominating the city.

2.5 (since 2 wasn't really a question) Anyone see the Nazca thing coming? Anyone? Do you think there are more crazy turns like this in store for the book? Would you like to speculate about them here? (yes, yes you would)

I did not see that coming at all.  I mean, she had a clear role in the story, there was going to be some drama with her and Locke… I was completely blindsided.  Furthermore, she was the only major female character in the story, so I naively I assumed that would lend her some immunity.   At this point, I’m expecting the worst.  Maybe Locke will die, and the rest of the trilogy will be about Jean?  Seriously, I think that Locke is pretty much the only character who is “safe” now.  As for speculation, I think the Duke will be the next to go.  If I'm going to guess, I'll guess big.

3. When Locke says "Nice bird, arsehole," I lose it. EVERY TIME. And not just because I have the UK version of the book and the word arsehole is funnier than asshole. Have there been any other places in the books so far where you found yourself laughing out loud, or giggling like a crazy person on the subway?

I laughed there, definitely.  I loved the juxtaposition of the dry section about how important it was to show proper respect to the Bondsmagi and Locke’s complete irreverence.  I think this was done especially well, because Locke did face many consequences for his flippant attitude.  If he hadn’t been hurt and tortured for it, the whole exchange would have just made the Bondsmage look weak. I know there have been other things that made me laugh, but I can’t think of any particular examples.

4. By the end of this reading section, have your opinions changed about how clever the Bastards are? Do you still feel like they're "cleverer than all the rest?" Or have they been decidedly outplayed by the Grey King and his Bondsmage?

I still think they’re “cleverer than all the rest”.  They have been clearly outplayed by the Grey King and the Bondsmage, but I don’t think that was a result of lack of cleverness.  That was a result of the Bondsmage’s raw power and willingness to use it.  I think that if Locke and Company can learn more about the Bondsmage’s magic and its actual limitations, they can certainly outplay the Grey King. 

However, there is one thing about the situation that confuses me.  Why on Earth didn’t the Gentlemen Bastards just hire their own Bondsmage, once they knew what they were up against?  It’s not like they can’t afford it.  They have over 40,000 crowns just lying in a pile.  Capa Barsavi, in his paranoia, should have considered this as well.

5. I imagine that you've probably read ahead, since this was a huge cliffhanger of an ending for the "present" storyline, but I'll ask this anyway: Where do you see the story going from here, now that the Grey King is thought to be dead?

Well, for one thing, I think the last Interlude was clearly a reference to the fact that Jean is going to save Locke before he drowns in horse piss.  I’m curious as to whether the man who “tipped off” Capa Barsavi was the Grey King, or whether it was just someone in his employ.  I don’t trust the information about the Bondsmage’s power, since it was obviously a set-up to get Locke killed.  I’m not sure why he wanted to fake his own death, though.  Why build up a reputation just to fake your death?

The only answer so far that makes sense is that the Grey King is targeting a noble, perhaps even the Duke.  If he were targeting any of the Right Folk, there would be no need to lull them into a false sense of security.   He clearly has all of them outmatched.  The only benefit I can see for him in faking his own death would be to keep the rich and powerful (such as Duke Nicovante) from taking him seriously and hiring an army of Bondsmagi. 

6. What do you think of the characters Scott Lynch has given us so far? Are they believable? Real? Fleshed out? If not, what are they lacking?

I like the characters quite a bit so far.  I appreciate the back-development he’s giving us for various characters (even poor dead Tesso!) through the interludes.  They seem, at least to me, real and fleshed out.

7. Now that you've seen how clever Chains is about his "apprenticeships," why do you think he's doing all of this? Does he have an endgame in sight? Is there a goal he wants them to achieve, or is it something more emotional like revenge?

I still don't know if I believe he had any goal at all.  Based on the fact that you questioners keep bringing it up, though, I’m guessing he did J.  Maybe his endgame was taking over Camorr entirely, from both the Capa and the Duke?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith
Published: NewCon Press, 2011
Awards Nominated: British Science Fiction Association Award, British Fantasy Society Award

The Book:

Hellequin, last of the HawkEye military elite, is desperate to escape the legacy of Soul Food, the miraculous plant food that leeched the soil, destroyed his family, and instigated a bloody civil war. For a man awaiting the inevitable madness brought on by his enforced biomorph implant, there’s only one choice. Run away with the circus…

Drifting above a poisoned landscape, Cyber Circus and her exotic acrobats and bioengineered freaks bring a welcome splash of colour into folk’s drab lives. None more so than escaped courtesan turned-dancer Desirous Nim. When Nim’s freedom and her very life are threatened, Hellequin is forced to fight again. But, even united, will the weird troupe and their strange skills be enough to save Nim and keep their home aloft? That’s assuming, of course, that Zan City’s Blood Worms, mute stowaways, or the swarms don’t manage to bring them down first…

Welcome to the greatest show on Sore Earth!

The book also features: “Black Sunday” – a free-standing but associated novelette. A tale of desperation, incorporating drought, science, giant burrowing machines, rural magic, racial tension and sensuality in the 1930s Kansas dustbowl.”

This title caught my eye after it was nominated for the BSFA award, and I saw it was available as an inexpensive e-book release.  (I recently went on a possibly ill-advised spending spree on physical books, so I’m trying to read through what I have before I buy any more.)  Cyber Circus is Kim Lakin-Smith’s second novel, the first being Tourniquet.

My Thoughts:

Cyber Circus begins with a lot of action and little explanation.  In fact, there are some things about the world that are left deliberately unclear throughout the novel.  For instance, I was never completely sure how or even if the Sore Earth is related to the 1930s US dustbowl.  It seems like a completely fantastical setting, with various exotic species (Sirinese, Jeridians, Showmaniese, Hoppers…) and bioengineered creatures (the Scuttlers, Pig Heart, Hellequin, Nim…). However, the presence of some familiar livestock animals and goods hint towards a connection to our Earth.  It’s also unclear whether Cyber Circus was aiming for science fiction, fantasy, or something in between.  On one hand, Hellequin’s Hawkeye machinery, Desirous Nim’s epidermal lighting, and Pig Heart’s grafted animal parts appear to be the result of advanced technology.  On the other hand, there’s an entire subplot about a mysterious female stowaway that seems to be based in magic.  The setting of Cyber Circus has a lot of intriguing elements, but I never felt like I had enough information to get much of a sense of the world as a whole.

The story did a little too much head-hopping for my taste, switching between the viewpoints of many different characters.  For me, this constant switching had the effect of making all of the characters feel secondary.   Each of the inhabitants of the circus had an interesting shtick, as one might expect, but I never really felt like I grew to know or care about them.  Each of them also had an unspeakably tragic past, and the continuing stream of ‘tortured pasts’ eventually began to feel a little over-the-top.  I appreciated the idea of a band of severely mistreated misfits helping each other survive in a damaged world, but there’s a point past which excessive fictional tragedy just starts seeming a little trite.

In conjunction with piling on the tragedy, Cyber Circus also has a lot of sex and violence.  Several of the characters pasts involve forced bioengineering, the murder of their loved ones, and/or rape.  However, though there are many references to rape, I appreciated that the only sex scenes explicitly described are consensual.  Even so, these scenes sometimes seemed a little gratuitous with respect to plot and characterization.  The many, lengthy, bloody action sequences were difficult for me to get into, since I didn’t feel much of a connection to the characters.  The violence often seemed a bit like an action video game—the point was to be entertainingly flashy.

The plot itself is relatively simple.  Desirous Nim, a beautiful woman who was forced into prostitution, had escaped to the circus.  The story began some amount of time later, when they ran across her former pimp, D’Angelus.  He became obsessed with the idea of getting her back, and the basic plot became the story of the circus fleeing the pimp.  I was not really sold by D’Angelus’s motives.  I can accept that he felt a desire to reclaim a potentially profitable prostitute, but he seemed to have been doing fine financially after losing her.  Therefore, it never really made sense to me how he flung himself and his subordinates after the circus with all the subtlety and lack of self-preservation of D&D goblins.  There are some interesting subplots going on between the circus characters throughout the chase, but for me everything was overshadowed by the poorly supported actions of the villain.    

The novella at the end, “Black Sunday”, shows the entirety of the novel in a different context by elaborating on the origins of a particularly enigmatic character in the novel.  I kind of wished that the information provided in “Black Sunday” could have been incorporated into the novel somehow, since it would have given context for that character’s behavior and provided very interesting hints about the nature of the world of Sore Earth.   

My Rating: 2.5/5

The Sore Earth of Cyber Circus is a grim world, with strange technology and animals, several different species (or races?), and a deeply damaged earth.  However, I didn’t ever feel like I got enough pieces of the Sore Earth puzzle to get a real understanding of the place. Each of the poor souls in the Cyber Circus had their own distinct, extremely tragedy-laden histories, but the frequent point-of-view changes made me feel distanced from them.  This distance left me feeling a little uninterested in the many, lengthy action sequences throughout the story.  I was also a little disappointed in the simplicity of the overarching plot and the unexplained mania of the villain.  The novella included at the end provides an interesting new context with which to view the book, but I couldn’t help wishing that some of that information could have been incorporated in the story of the novel itself.    

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Read-Along: The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch, Part 2

This is the second post for my participation in a read-along of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful Reviews, and the Little Red Reviewer.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion ofThe Lies of Locke Lamora and are therefore full of spoilers!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

Today I'm focusing on the segment from Chapter 3 to the Interlude "The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse".  The story is getting rapidly more complicated.  What appeared at first to be a simple story of con artistry now involves a mysterious, possibly supernatural murderer known as the Gray King, and the awkwardness of an organized crime boss instructing Locke to court his daughter.  I can't wait to read next week's section, to see how all of this develops! 

Now for the discussion questions:

1   1) Do you think Locke can pull off his scheme of playing a Midnighter who is working with Don Salvara to capture the Thorn of Camorr? I mean, he is now playing two roles in this game - and thank goodness for that costume room the Gentlemen Bastards have!

He’s pulling it off so far, but I don’t know how the Gray King and the issues with Capa Barsavi, who believes Locke is a simple thief, will affect the game.  It does seem a perfect con; his ‘Midnighter’ character can vanish at any time, and Don Salvara has no way of ever seeking him out.  I think that his involvement with Capa Barsavi is going to become a serious complication in an already complicated game.

2) Are you digging the detail the author has put into the alcoholic drinks in this story?

Definitely.  Mixing drinks has always seemed fun to me—sort of a mixture of chemistry and cooking—and the descriptions make me want to buy some ingredients and try to recreate them all.  I don’t know if I’d want to drink them, though.  The ginger scald sounds dreadful.

3) Who is this mysterious lady Gentlemen Bastard Sabetha and what does she mean to Locke?

It seems like Sabetha is Locke’s ex-lover.  From Locke’s childhood, we’ve been told she was crazy and arrogant, and she had been sent somewhere to learn a lesson.  It was also implied that she was pretty. From Locke’s adulthood, we know that they had some kind of relationship, and that it ended very badly.  We also know that she’s ‘the only one in Locke’s heart’.  I hope we eventually get to meet this Sabetha, who seems capable of affecting the story even while absent!

4) Are you as creeped out over the use of Wraithstone to create Gentled animals as I am?

Yes, I think that is the creepiest supernatural element so far in the story.  Something similar to ‘Wraithstone’ shows up often in fantasy stories (like the Dementor’s Kiss in Harry Potter, or the Tranquil in Dragon Age), but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying.  I think this kind of thing may show up so often in fiction because the loss of ‘self’ is such a deep-seated human fear.  It’s only used on animals in Camorr, but that does not make it any less disturbing to me.

5) I got a kick out of child Locke's first meeting with Capa Barsavi and his daughter Nazca, which was shortly followed up in the story by Barsavi granting adult Locke permission to court his daughter! Where do you think that will lead? Can you see these two together?

I could definitely see those two together.  I kind of want it to happen.  However, I don't think Nazca and Locke will end up married.  My guess is that he’ll stay too hung up on Sabetha, and she will continue to be uninterested in him romantically.  They’ll come up with some elaborate plan to get him out of it.  All I can come up with so far involves Nazca pretending to ‘cheat’ on Locke.  It would have to be Nazca, because I’m pretty sure there would be serious consequences if Locke did anything to slight Capa Barsavi’s daughter.

6) Capa Barsavi is freaked out over rumors of The Gray King and, in fact, us readers are privy to a gruesome torture scene. The Gray King is knocking garristas off left and right. What do you think that means?

It’s unclear right now, but I think either alchemy or some other kind of magic is afoot.  The dead garrista’s guards sincerely seemed not to remember what happened the night before, so something must have been done to their memories.  If the Gray King can kill that garrista, in the middle of all his guards, I don’t think staying on their fortified ship will keep the Barsavi's any safer than they would be on the streets.

7) In the Interlude: The Boy Who Cried for a Corpse, we learn that Father Chains owes an alchemist a favor, and that favor is a fresh corpse. He sets the boys to figuring out how to provide one, and they can't 'create' the corpse themselves. How did you like Locke's solution to this conundrum?

I was surprised by the simplicity of the solution.  Acquiring the corpse was hardly a con at all; they just used a bribe.  It’s possible the bribe would not have worked if Locke had not had a sob story and a religious affiliation, but it still seemed a surprisingly easy task.  His recovery of the bribe money, however, was hilarious.  That particular scam is one that will only work while Locke’s a cute little kid, though we see an echo of it in his ‘introduction’ to Don Salvara.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Review: Bellwether by Connie Willis

Bellwether by Connie Willis
Published : Bantam Spectra, 1996
Awards Nominated : Nebula Award

The Book :

What makes something become a fad?  That’s the question Sandra Foster wants to answer through her research for HiTek Corporation.  HiTek’s bureaucratic atmosphere isn’t making her task any easier. Sandra is constantly derailed by overcomplicated paperwork, meetings, HiTek’s obsession with acquiring a prestigious grant and her supremely incompetent fad-following office assistant, Flip.

Thanks to a mis-delivered package, Sandra gets to know her fellow HiTek researcher Bennet O'Reilly, who works with monkey group behavior and chaos theory.  Sandra is initially interested in him due to his strange immunity to fads, but their acquaintanceship quickly moves towards a closer collaboration.  As their research spirals out of control, Bennet and Sandra search for the link between chaos theory, romance, fads, and a flock of sheep…” ~Allie

I’ve read a lot of Willis’ work, though this is the first book I’ve read outside of her time travel novels (Doomsday Book, Blackout/All Clear, To Say Nothing of the Dog).  Bellwether is definitely characteristic of Willis’ style, but it is also a light, silly romantic comedy.  This is also the third novel I've reviewed for the Grand Master Reading Challenge, hosted by, a fantastic website I recommend highly for any fans of speculative fiction.  

My Thoughts :

Bellwether does feature scientists, but it doesn't really seem like a science fiction story.  I can’t help but wonder if it was simply labeled that way out of habit, since most of Willis’ work is science fiction.  Bellwether is mostly a light, satirical romantic comedy about fads, scientific discoveries, and office politics.  Willis’ familiar style is present here, as she draws humor out of obnoxious side characters, miscommunication, incompetence, and all the little frustrations that crop up in everyday life. Bellwether is more in the vein of To Say Nothing of the Dog than Doomsday Book or Blackout/All Clear.  It is by far the shortest and fluffiest Connie Willis novel I’ve ever read, but it was a very pleasant, light read.
Throughout the story, Willis includes little facts about real fads and circumstances around unexpected scientific breakthroughs.  I really enjoyed these inserts, though I think this attention to historical and recent-to-publication (1990s) fads dates the book.  It happens to be just the time period to invoke nostalgia for me, but I’m not sure how well this would fly with people who aren’t in my generation.  There are a lot of ‘current’ fads introduced in the novel as well. Most of these are believably ridiculous, but some of them seem unlikely to occur in our current times. I think that it is the nature of fads to become obsolete very quickly, and the fad-focused setting causes the book to be very much a product of its time.

Aside from the fads, there was a lot of satire of office culture.  Having dealt with bureaucracy extensively, I found this satire ridiculously stressful to read.  To ‘help’ their employees’ productivity, HiTek had constant meetings and workshops, and a lot of time was spent describing their required paperwork, which was so ridiculously complicated that it actually obstructed employee progress.   Included in this satire is also one of the major ‘obnoxious characters’, the office assistant Flip.  Flip is a trendy young woman who doesn’t really do anything useful, and instead seems to damage productivity everywhere she goes.  Sandra tries to make the best of things by befriending her, but this only makes her behavior worse.  I think many people who’ve worked in an office environment have probably been stuck at some point with someone as lazy and incompetent as Flip.   

Most of the plot featured Dr. Sandra Foster as she went about her daily life, attempting all the while to find the origin of hair bobbing.  This may sound boring, but I think that describing daily life in a light, humorous way is Willis’ forte.  Sandra goes through children’s birthday parties, cafes, libraries, and HiTek, observing everything with an eye towards fads and absurdities. The romance in the story is pretty obvious and predictable, but adorable all the same.  The conclusion was as chaotic and ridiculous as expected, and the whole story left me in a cheerful mood.  Bellwether is certainly a light read, but it was a lot of fun.     

My Rating : 3.5/5

Bellwether is a satire of fads and office culture and a romantic comedy, but it didn’t really seem like a science fiction story.  The story is much lighter, shorter and more carefree than many of Willis’ other novels, but her style was still here in full force.  There’s no time-traveling Oxford (as in Doomsday Book, To Say Nothing of the Dog, etc.), but her characters still come up against irritating minor characters, minor frustrations, and ridiculous bureaucracy.  The focus on fads, and some of the attitudes of the main characters, left the story feeling firmly set in the 90s, and it will likely feel even more dated to readers who haven’t lived through that decade.  The writing was light and humorous, the characters were likeable or likeably obnoxious, and the predictable eventual romance was very cute.  It may lack the depth and gravity of some of her other works, but Bellwether is a funny, cheerful book that made for pleasant light reading. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Read-Along: Part One of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Today's post is going to be something a little different.  I'm participating in a read-along of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, hosted by Dark Cargo, @ohthatashley at SF Signal, My Awful Reviews, and the Little Red Reviewer.  I'm going to be reading 1/5 of the novel each week, and answering various discussion questions each Saturday.  What this means is...

Read-Along posts discuss a specific portion of The Lies of Locke Lamora and are therefore full of spoilers!  I will do a usual review post once the book is complete.

This week, I've read from the Prologue up through the Interlude titled "Locke Stays for Dinner" (an event which is much more significant than it sounds!).  I'm not sure what format I'll stick to for these discussions in the future, but for now I'll just list the discussion questions and my answers.

1.   If this is your first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora, what do you think of it so far?  If this is a re-read for you, how does the book stand up to rereading?

This is my first time reading The Lies of Locke Lamora.  I've heard many great things about this series, and I've been meaning to read it for a while.  I'm glad to finally get started!  I like it very much so far.  I was afraid at first that Locke Lamora was going to be one of those perfectly skilled characters, who never encounter failure.  However, right from the beginning, Locke is forced to face the consequences of his carelessness and inexperience.  More than anything, I think that Locke is gifted with an abnormal amount of audaciousness, so he is willing to attempt wild schemes that would seem much too risky for an ordinary fellow.

2. At last count, I found three time lines:  Locke as as a 20-something adult, Locke meeting Father Chains for the first time, and Locke as a younger child in Shades Hill. How are you doing with the Flashback within a flashback style of introducing characters and the world? 

Everything has seemed pretty clear so far, so I don't mind the skipping back and forth in time.  I was surprised that I was equally engaged in the story of Locke's childhood and his adulthood. Usually, when a novel splits the narrative like this, I find myself drawn strongly to one story over the others.  In The Lies of Locke Lamora both Locke’s childhood and his adulthood hold their own secrets, and I am eager to see what happens next in both cases.

3. Speaking of the world, what do you think of Camorr and Lynch's world building? 

So far, I love it.  I don't yet know much of the world outside of Camorr, but I am really enjoying the level of detail lavished on Camorr.  There's the orphan-thief city tunneled under a graveyard, the glowing glass, the canals, the elaborate illegal system that supports the society, and so much more.  I also love the Gentleman Bastards and their lair.  I think world building is incredibly important in a story about a con-artist, and so far everything is thorough, interesting, and internally consistent.

4. Father Chains and the death offering. . .  quite the code of honor for thieves, isn't it? What kind of person do you think Chains is going to mold Locke into?  

A Gentleman Bastard, of course!  In the case of Locke's large death offerings, I think it was less about honor and more about cutting any murderous tendencies in the bud (even though Locke didn't mean to kill anyone).  I think he wanted to beat into Locke's head that taking lives has, and should have, consequences, even if you get away with it. 

5. It's been a while since I read this, and I'd forgotten how much of the beginning of the book is pure set up, for the characters, the plot, and the world. Generally speaking, do you prefer  set up and world building done this way, or do you prefer to be thrown into the deep end with what's happening?

I’ve read a lot of really good books that go with “throwing the reader in the deep end”, but I actually prefer this approach.  There’s enough character and plot that I’m definitely hooked, but I don’t have to spend my time memorizing references I don’t understand in hope that they’ll make sense later.

6. If you've already started attempting to pick the pockets of your family members (or even thought about it!) raise your hand.

I can't raise to that one.  I’m one of those people who suffer from vicarious humiliation, so I’m really dreading the moment when the Salvara couple finds out they’ve been tricked.  Characters like Locke stress me out, too, because you never know when they’re going to be found out in a lie. So for me, at least, the novel is giving me a firm feeling of “I could never do anything like that! Not ever!!”