BEA on Friday!

Don’t know if anyone else from the blogging community will be there but I’ll be attending Book Expo America at the Jacob Javits Center tomorrow.  It’s my first year going and I’m pretty excited.  Needless to say you probably won’t see another post until Monday(ish).

Review: A Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A. Day

Grey Moon Over China by Thomas A DayA Grey Moon Over China
Thomas A. Day
Tor, 2009 (original published by Black Heron, 2006)

A Grey Moon Over China is near future sci-fi epic with a surprisingly intimate touch that constantly wars with broader scope. It is a struggle that at times makes for an engrossing read and at other times makes for a difficult read. In the near future of this novel Earth is shattered by wars and environment ruin. While people go on about their daily lives the endless war and violence takes its toll. One soldier, Edward Torres, tired of war and violence and look for a peaceful life and quiet place his own, makes a startling discovery on a tiny island: a cheap, near limitless, portable energy source. His discovery creates a domino effect of change as he and his companions restart a failed space program in order strike out and start fresh amongst the stars.

A Grey Moon Over China was a bit of an impulse buy for me. Before punching in for a weekend shift at the book store I had picked up the book and started reading the prologue. Towards the end a particular melancholic passage clenched my purchase:

Walking back up the hill carrying my parcels, I stopped to catch my breath and listen to the silence after crunching my feet on the gravel. She’s like the rest of us, I thought. We pursue our own solitary passions and seldom look up, seldom sense that it we ourselves who form the swelling flood of history, the dark constellation of events we would sooner lay at the feet of other. Until the storm finally gathers, and then we look up and we grow afraid, and we say: This is not what I intended.
And yet, even then, I thought, we do not act. Even then we hesitate, and always for too long.

There was something about that little passage that really struck and cord with me and while that passage doesn’t neatly encapsulate the novel’s plot it certainly captures the novel’s tone.  This is not a novel that lifts you up.  It drifts into surprisingly dark places and in many ways confirms and highlights the immutability of man’s violent nature.
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Gaming Bits and Weekend Recovery

You’d think that with a three day weekend here in the states that I would have got more reading done.  You’d be wrong.  I made the mistake of not properly planning what I want to read next which I means I have stupidly been splitting my time between about four different books.  The result being that I’ve made startlingly little progress in any of them.  Certain other distractions this weekend in the form of golf, grilled meats and Call of Duty 4 mean I made even less progress then I should have.  I’ll be hopefully buckle down and finally finish A Grey Moon Over China tonight.  It has been a slow read for that one, not a bad read mind, just slow and not the kind of pacing I’m used to, but more on that when I finally get a review up.

As mentioned I did purchase Call of Duty 4 only 2 years after its initial release.  I’ve only played the single player campaign so far but it has been enjoyable.  The game’s single player aim assist is a Godsend for the controller impaired.  It helps just enough to make me feel competent without feeling overpower.  Unfortunatley, I seriously doubt it works in multiplayer.  I find the sniper rifle implementation particularly smooth and the added ability to hold your breath and steady your aim is perhaps one of the simplest and most effective control tweaks I’ve seen; now if only I could stop moving my character when I press down on my left thumbstick.  The game is particularly good and capturing epic moments and creating tense adrennaline pumping moments.  Unfortunatley the game, while taking a fascinating multi-perspective narrative approach to tell what appears to be a fairly cohesive, and certainly engrossing, story, fails in getting you at all attached emotionally to any of your characters, or your computer controlled allies.  For me this haslead to a fairly detached gaming experience.

I’ve also picked up Left 4 Dead and have so far enjoyed my experience.  I’ve managed to make it through one of the “films” in the game Dead Air. I came close to completing another but me, and the rest of my group, were obliterated by a zombie horde mere feet from our escape boat.  I’ve been yet to convince any friends that Left 4 Dead is worth dropping $60 for (on the 360) and, truth be told, I can see there point.  Not that Left 4 Dead isn’t worth the money, but I can point to few games I’d really be willing to shell $60 for, especially since the PC version is $20 cheaper.  This is has left me playing the game with the “unwashed masses” on Xbox Live.  So far my first time was the best time, the straight run of Dead Air, but subsequent excursions have proved fun but less than stellar.  I was particularly disappointed that so few of the people I’ve played with were taking advantage of voice chat which in an almost purely co-op experience should be mandatory.  I’ve yet to try either Versus or Survival mode but if they’re even half as fun as the regular game they’ll still be a blast.

I’ve also been slowly working my way though the latest Prince of Persia game.  It has been a surprisingly pleasant experience so far, but one that feels perhaps a bit too easy.  On the one hand the simplicity of the controls lends a certain degree of fluidity to the game.  There is a collection element to the game and, oddly enough, that (rather than the story) has been my favorite element so far.  As you collect the “seeds of light” there are moments when you hit a rhythmn traversing the various levels that is particularly soothing.  There are some sticking point in the game, especially for an anti-platformer like me, but by and large Prince of Persia is kind of like a pleasant walk in the park; not terribly taxing but surprisingly refreshing.  Again, as pleasant as it is, there hasn’t been anything to really grab me.  At this point in the game the titular Prince is only a thief and I’m not even sure he is a prince at this point.   The game does require a fair bit of backtracking which I find a bit tedious.  I’m not sure if I’ll end up finishing it or sending it back to Gamefly for another game.

There are only two games on the near horizon that I’m really looking forward to: Prototype and Ghostbusters.  The Ghostbusters game is the next best thing to a new movie (which we are supposed to bet getting as well) and looks to capture the feel of films quite nicely.  I really don’t know what to expect out of Prototype but I do know that the videos of slaughter, carnage, and mayhem with weird genetic powers and strange biological enhancements tickles some sick fantasy in the dark recesses of my own mind.

Anyway, that’s about it.  Hopefully I’ll have a review for A Grey Moon Over China up sometime Wednesday.

Review: The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker

The Empress of Mars by Kage BakerThe Empress of Mars
Kage Baker
Tor, 2009

Kage Baker is one of those author’s that I always mean to read but never get around to doing it. I’ve always been intrigued by her Company novels but intimidated by the prospect of jumping into a new series. The Empress of Mars is listed as being a Company novel, and the cover certainly mimics the the other Company but new readers should rest assured that The Empress of Mars feels like a standalone work and I never felt at a loss for having missed out on other Company novels.

The plot is fairly straight-forward. Mary Griffith runs a bar on colonial Mars, run by the British Arean Company, called the Empress of Mars. The plot is not grandiose but rather almost quaint. I don’t mean that in a bad way but the story of a hardworking colonist struggling against the oversight of an oppressive administration is something quite familiar; especially from the American perspective. Baker manages to imbue that familiar struggle with a vivid originality; I was particularly fond of her use of the Celtic clan structure to increase bonds between colonists and the emergence of a sort of monotheistic Dianic neopaganism as an more widespread religion.
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Val looks at The Strain

Since my friend Val is a big fan of the vampire, and frequently a bit heated about the current state of vampire fiction, I asked her if she’d like to review del Toro and Hogan’s The Strain as a counter-point to my own review. She did so.  Thankfully she managed to trim her 8000+ words down to a more managable 1500 words.  So check out the review below, as always comments are welcome!  -Mike

It’s very hard, in my opinion, to write a truly great and well thought-out vampire book. Sure… you can write a book that has vampire characters in it but that’s a dime a dozen nowadays. I can name at least 10 vampire series of books but not all of them are good. There are so many books out there that just merely throw the vampire into its story, without any real thought as to what they are or where they come from. I’ve never made any bones about my severe dislike for most vampire fiction books and although I might like them if I could just get through the bad sentence structure and the almost angelic romantic views of vampires, I could never really get into the authors’ lack of understanding about the creatures that stalk our dreams and take over our imaginations.

Then I was talking to a friend during my lunch break and he told me he was reading the new Guillermo Del Toro book. I had mentioned I wanted to read it and the next week was given the book. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know it was a vampire story until reading the back of the book but I decided to give it a shot and, hoping for at least an entertaining read, opened the book and began the journey. What I got was perhaps one of the best written, most UN-romanticized, old and yet slightly modernized view of the vampire.

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Review: Avempartha by Michael J. Sullivan

Avempartha by Michael J SullivanAvempartha
Michael J Sullivan
Ridan Publishing, 2009

Avempartha sees our “heroes” from The Crown Conspiracy back in action and in as fine a form as ever. The opening scenes in the novel, the set-up, is a fantastic intro for readers who read the first book and an excellent and highly entertaining way to recap a bit of back story for new readers. It is a quick little conversation between Royce and Hadrian and a third-party and while it manages to encapsulate parts of The Crown Conspiracy it does an even better job at managing to illuminate the moral complexities of the roguish heroes.
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Review: Open Your Eyes by Paul Jessup

Open Your Eyes by Paul JessupOpen Your Eyes
Paul Jessup
Apex Press, 2009

Open Your Eyes is perhaps one of the densest 152 page novellas I have ever read. It’s not that the language is difficult but rather the near constant barrage surrealistic imagery never slackened and so varied from character to character that keeping up was, at times, difficult; though not without rewards. It could be argued that for all its popularity the Space Opera no matter how imaginative or original frequently covers familiar, even comforting, elements from plot devices, to characters, to worlds. Open Your Eyes, is not too different in that. The novel has sentient ships, a ragtag space crew, and a mysterious alien threat but executes them in such a way that they feel like something else entirely.
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Review: The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. SullivanThe Crown Conspiracy
Michael J Sullivan
Aspirations Media Inc., 2008

Yes, I am still working on Open Your Eyes, for all its scant 152 pages it is a surprisingly dense book. In the meantime I flew through Sullivan’s The Crown Conspiracy in just about a day. Perhaps the best compliment I can pay the book and its author is that immediately upon arriving at work I went and grabbed its sequel, Avempartha off the new book shelf. It is my understanding that The Crown Conspiracy is a debut novel and, that being the case, it is a surprisingly mature one with relatively few “new author” stumbles. Part of that maturity is likely a result of the fact that the entire series of books was written before The Crown Conspiracy went to press.

With it’s main duo, a pair of thieves named Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater The Crown Conspiracy will likely draw comparisons to Fritz Leiber’s similarly employed duo. However, other than the professional and physical similarities between the characters (quick small thief, big brawny fighter) it is there any overlap ends. Royce and Hadrian are two well-developed characters shrouded in mystery and written with a delightful dry wit that few veteran authors could emulate. You get hints about the duo’s past, but they are surprisingly small tidbits and yet they are strangely satisfying. Perhaps it is simply that the characters’ presence in the here and now is so fully-realized that everything else is merely secondary; regardless I’m excited to learn more rather than disappointed that I learned so little.

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Review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck HoganThe Strain
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
William Morrow, 2009

I had planned on finishing Open Your Eyes first but I mentioned that I had The Strain to a friend and was immediately guilted into reading this first so that I can hand it over. The Strain is the first in a trilogy of novels co-authored by filmmaker Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. While I am both familiar and a fan of del Toro’s work, from the woefully underrated Blade II to the masterful and haunting Pan’s Labyrinth, I am not at all familiar with Mr. Hogan.

The Strain begins with a simple story a grandmother tells her grandson about a vampire. The kind of folksy, cautionary tale whose moral involves eating your vegetables and obeying your elders. From there the story shifts to modern day where a Boeing 777 lands at JFK, then immediately falls silent. As the horror is slowly revealed events slowly spiral out of control as vampirism begins to spread quickly across the city of Manhattan. The Strain is a fairly quick read that at 416 pages manages to maintain a razor’s edge like balance between pacing and atmosphere. Unfortunately it walks that same line between originality and familiarity. Though, on the whole, the balance is definitely in favor of originality.
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