Making Money by Terry Pratchett
Ah, Moist von Lipwig. He’s such a strange character. As I read the later novels of Terry Pratchett, I kind of pine for the earlier ones. I miss Rincewind, and the elderly Barbarians, and Death. Well, Death’s kind of in every novel, to be fair. But Tiffany Aching feels like a poor version of the Witches, and the new stuff just is entertaining but less so for me, I guess. I don’t know.
I like Moist von Lipwig though, because it gives a chance for Vetinari to shine, and I dig the fuck out of Vetinari. If ever there was some kind of eternal world-spanning pit-fight, I’d love to see Vetinari versus Tyrion Lannister in a battle of wits. Moist has his moments, but he also is written (effectively) as if he hates to be in the story. And yet, there are some masterful exchanges.
After dominating the postal trade, Moist is now thrust into the banking trade. Against his will as always, and with the looming threat of death over his head. It’s always a fun commentary on modern commerce. The Bloom County rut of the Discworld. There are secrets and shell games and thrilling changes that every resists. This story blossomed liked an accordion where it stretched out and wheezed and then all kind of came crashing together cacophonously in the end.
I always like the Discworld books, but I’ve never become fanatical about them like others. As I edge towards the end of the adventure though, I guess I feel wistful for what might have been. It’s like after the Dark Tower ended and then Stephen King retired. And then he didn’t. And then he wrote an eighth book. I’ve said I’d like to see Joe Hill take on his version. Or hell, even a five book series where each of the King progeny takes a whack at it: Owen, Joe, Tabitha, Stephen, and Kelly Braffet, Owen’s wife. But we get no more Discworld.
Though how great would it be for a 41st book to appear all in caps?
Scratch Monkey by Charles Stross
I can finally say it. I don’t care for hard science fiction. I can recognize the quality of the stories. Kim Stanley Robinson. Isaac Asimov. Frank Herbert. And I realize those guys probably don’t even qualify. But I love Charles Stross’s Laundry Files. And I fucking hate his space books.
It’s me. It’s entirely me. Like there will be people who read this and will adore it. And they should. But I posited to Steven Wilson years ago that maybe I just don’t dig science fiction. And I can finally say, “I don’t.” I’ve tried the best. And it does nothing for me. Space opera, maybe? But just hard science with tachyons and actual descriptions of interstellar travel and all that shit. NOPE. Loved The Martian. Hated the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Admired the fuck out of what he posited. But I just couldn’t get into it. It was like reading a textbook.
Gunning through this essentially digital download of interplanetary domination was like pulling fucking teeth. I just could not deal. I didn’t like the characters. I hated the premise. It all felt like two people have a very clever conversation in a foreign language that I just don’t care to learn. I could understand the idea that humanity has been essentially downloaded into a huge nano-network, and that artificial intelligence ate a bunch of human minds to make superbeings, and then superbeings evolved into massive ultrabeings that were consuming all life and…oh, I just don’t care. Give me a sword and chop off an orc’s head any day. I can’t deal with this space shit. It ain’t for me.
(Having said that, I will invariably end up reading and reviewing more of the space books in the future. Because I am an asshole.)
Rivers by Michael Farris Smith
This was a damn interesting one. It’s a post-apocalyptic adventure, set in an alternate universe post-Katrina South. Relentless storms crushed the coast, and are continuing to rain down on the region. The US has declared everything south of an arbitrary line to be essentially forgotten wasteland. They offered sanctuary and buyouts to those folks still living below the line, and then they washed their hands of the holdouts. So everything has become a survivalist epoch — a zombie apocalypse, only the zombies are the soaked refugees trying to get by.
It’s quite imaginative and thought provoking. There’s no disease turning people into monsters except opportunity. The waterlogged become hermits, haunted by their own ghosts. Some folks tool around with pickup trucks and weapons, looking for a legendary treasure supposedly buried by some casino owner. Some run a black market trade in necessities — accepting money and running goods below the line in an old U-Haul. Some create their own biblical harem of captured women, trying to repopulate after the flood.
We follow a few characters — mainly Cohen, a man who lost his pregnant wife in the early days of the storms, and then who just stubbornly stayed on with his horse and his dog, tending to the home they left behind and the ghosts in the walls. Folks have compared this to Cormac McCarthy, and it’s a woeful tale to be sure, but possibly a little more accessible. If you’re looking for hope and happiness, you’re shit out of luck.
The story has a stuttery step to it, engaging and then drifting on memory and pace, and then ramping up, and then easing off. There was no point where I disliked it, but there were a few where I was just kind of drifting along waiting for the next terrible thing to happen — terrible in the tragic sense not the quality of the writing. I’m glad I stuck with it. While it wasn’t some kind of roller coaster dynamite ride, it was definitely more ponderous.
Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett
Every once in a while, I dabble down the Discworld path. I’ve never felt compelled to churn through the whole series like I do with others. The time to read one always seems to come upon me and then I read a few. And then maybe get to more later.
I never know what I’m going to get, because Discworld is pretty much six or seven different series that are interconnected. Rincewind and the Wizards. The Night Watch. Tiffany Aching and The Witches. Death and his daughter. Moist von Lipwig. Each novel kind of pushes forward one of their stories while pushing forward the whole of Discworld. It’s very Monty Python. They all kind of have lovely morals and messages without forcing the message. Pratchett has a topic he wants to get into, and so just sort of envelopes it in one of his humorous characters.
Now that Pratchett has died, and his daughter has declared that his final book will be the end of the series for good, I have an end point. It’s going to end on a Tiffany Aching story. Which is my least favorite series — in the sense that I find all the Discworld to be pleasant, so this just happens to be the one I like ultimately the least. It’s not bad, and the Nac Mac Feegles — the wee blue folk who drink and fight and drink and fight — are my favorite stuff. But Tiffany Aching was meant to be the Young Adult wing of the Discworld, and it very much has that feel to it. It’s a part of Discworld, but it’s just not my favorite to visit upon.
I almost always give Discworld books three to four stars. Because I like them but never love them. There’s always great parts, but the whole book is never great to me. It’s just something that should be read. If you are a fan of reading, and dry British absurdity, then you have to read them. And you’ll enjoy them.
Zer0es by Chuck Wendig
Hacker novels, and technothrillers, are always a current thing. Move five years, ten, then fifteen, and things become hilariously quaint. WarGames, The Net, Hackers, Enemy of the State, The Matrix. These all feel like relics now that we’ve moved forward with technology. So it’s intriguing to me when an author I like jumps into the fray.
Zer0es has a great story — the premise being that hackers are kidnapped and forced to work for a secret NSA cabal intent on creating an AI program that will “protect mankind.” Very Skynet. And so it kind of becomes this combination of X-Men and Suicide Squad, but instead of superpowers, they have super hacker powers. One guy is a Vietnam Vet conspiracist, one’s intent on swiping bank numbers and info, the other is a “life hacker” who’s good at talking to people and getting info, the third is a Muslim who is a standardly awesome hacker, and the last is literally a “troll.” A troll who can make people furious and who lives on fucking with people. These are your heroes.
Chapter 0 starts the novel and makes the entire novel a flashback while giving away so much of what they plan on doing. It kind of spoils the first part of the book for me. Then we get into relationships. Each of the characters is given some kind of trait that gets hammered on, and then they get a weird ghost in the closet that gets twanged for pathos. The love interest angle is incredibly dumb and feels shoehorned. It reads like a comic book, which is to say, it would have worked better as a comic rather than a novel. Wendig does graphic novel work, so I don’t know why Zer0es needed to be a novel. But it definitely plans on being a series, though now where we go from here remains to be seen.
Make Me by Lee Child
I got pissed at the movie version of Jack Reacher because it just wasn’t Jack Reacher. He’s a huge fucking dude who just wanders the US at will, setting right the wrongs. It’s not complicated. But his massiveness is a part of the equation.
Well, this one here is book 20. Twenty novels where Reacher roams like a combination of tumbleweed and brick shithouse. In this one, he arrives by train to Mother’s Rest, a podunk farming community in the middle of nowhere. But these folks have something to hide, and soon Reacher finds himself involved in a private investigation gone sour. There’s no reason Reacher should help. Even when he conveniently starts bedding the female investigator because THAT ALWAYS HAPPENS.
I’ve always resisted the storytelling impetus that there has to be a love interest. That because someone has a penis there must be a vagina to put it in. And because someone has a vagina they’re going to end up in bed with the penis sooner or later. I hate that. It’s a stupid convention, but people shovel that fucking into their gullets like so much pink gooze Chicken McNuggets. And it took me out of the game on this novel.
But the story itself kept me back in. It’s a third person omniscient narrative, so we’re usually in Reacher’s head for most of the novel, but then occasionally we get glimpses into the bad guys. And that’s great. It’s a very Stepford town, where everyone seems frightened and working for some sort of secret organization. And it keeps you in the mystery as Reacher travels around to explore it.
The book takes its sweet-ass time getting to the crux, and we end up travelling all over the US by plane and such. Which doesn’t make it feel much like a Reacher story. He usually stays in one spot. The ultimate reveal is worth it, if mildly contrived, but it’s not what I expected it to be. And so Child keeps Reacher roaming, and all is right with the world.
The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
I loved the Millennium trilogy. And then Stieg Larsson died and things became a novel unto themselves. His family owned the rights to his books, because he never married his long time companion, Eva Gabrielsson. He didn’t marry her to protect her from gangs of white supremacist bikers and criminals that he wrote about. And thus, the rights to his characters went to his family. However, Gabrielsson held on to a laptop that supposedly contained extensive notes for a book 4 and book 5, and implications that there would be ten books in the series. Had Larsson not died. This was ten years ago, and the fight got ugly. The family wanted money. The publishers wanted money. But Gabrielsson wanted control. She and Larsson had been together for 32 years. And so the publishers made an end run around her and got David Lagercrantz to write the fourth book. Which is subtitled, “A Lisbeth Salander Novel” and not a “Millennium Series” novel. It’s branding pure and simple, and it’s not the first time it’s happened.
The book itself deals with a scheme involving the NSA, a Swedish computer genius, and his autistic savant son. There’s a merciless professional killer after everyone. Millennium is in financial straits and is being hassled by an advisory board who wants to make it more hip to young readers. There’s a hacker cabal named after the enemies of Wasp from the Marvel comics (Lisbeth’s online nom de guerre) run by Lisbeth’s estranged sister, Camilla. It’s like a big-time tentpole action movie.
And it’s not very Millennium. It’s nothing like the originals. It’s just an empty cash cow version of it. Imagine if they found a new Jane Austen novel. And they said, we’re going to give it to the best selling British author currently writing. And so they gave it to JK Rowling. Who is one of my favorites. But it’s just, it wouldn’t be the same, would it? It would always be a poor copy.
Lagercrantz ghost writes autobiographies. He did a famous one for a soccer player. I don’t care to google to find out if he actually did fiction, but I don’t think he has. And it shows. His dialogue is clunky as fuck, his characterizations are just broad. I’d give him credit for trying to parallel the shit he was going to take for writing this with the new owners of Millennium if I thought he was that clever. But he isn’t. And those guys end up being arrogant sell-out autocrats who gets one-upped in the end.
If they write a fifth book, will I read it? Probably. I’m an asshole that way. And I’ll complain about it then. But I’m a sucker when it comes to that. It’s ironic that I happened to start reading the Discworld books again, as Rhi Pratchett announced that out of respect for her father, she’s decided there will be no more Discworld books after The Shepherd’s Crown. I’m six books from the end then. And it sucks. But I respect her. Because maybe it’s better that way to preserve a legacy.