CBR #49 – Lies and The Lying Liars Who Lie Them

Phantom by Terry Goodkind

Initially I had given this two stars, but thinking more upon it, I pulled a star.  There are a multitude of reasons.

First, Goodkind opens his book with a quote from “prophecy” which essentially comes out as “Haters gonna hate hate hate.”  Honestly, he’s written ten books that inexplicably became bestsellers and he’s got the temerity to act wounded that people think he’s a hack.  Boo fucking hoo, Ayn Rand.  I guess you’ll have to dry your tears on your solid gold copy of The Fountainhead.

Secondly, the ending.  This is supposedly his Empire Strikes Back.  It ends on the downer.  The army of Jagang is surrounding the D’Haran palace.  Kahlan has been taken prisoner by Jagang.  Who threatens to rape her, pulls off her clothes climbs on top of her and then says, “No.  I’m totally going to rape the raping shit out of you, but I want you to know who you are then so that when I rape you, it rapes your brain too.”  Jagang has two of the boxes of Orden.  Richard has been stripped of his magic.  Stripped of his sword.  He was going to get tortured by a witch woman but instead he was taken prisoner by the Order and now he plays on their sportsball team.  THAT’s the end.  RICHARD FUCKING RAHL is going to basically do The Longest Yard.  He’s not been physically changed.  He’s not looking different.  Somehow, someway, in a fucking army of thirty jillion motherfuckers, not one of them sees him and thinks, “Hey, um, you guys?  Isn’t that the ultimate champion for the other guys?”  But no, they want to set it up so that Richard will play Jagang’s team and then I don’t know.  Probably more crying and rape.

But the biggest reason this book feels like a fucking cheat is that Goodkind essentially ret-cons EVERYTHING.  Everything is bullshit.  The prophecy wasn’t true.  (But they never are.)  The boxes of Orden work under totally different rules this time and stuff can happen differently.  Princess Thundertwat, Violet that odious little shit, didn’t die, but instead came back to life because the witch woman Six healed her and now she’s back to torture revenge everyone but oh wait no maybe not.  You see, the real, real, REAL prophecy is…  Goodkind cheated everyone.  He basically took everything that he had established and rewrote all of the rules to shoehorn his new plot ideas.  It’s like Max Landis bitches about in the The Death and Return of Superman.  Goodkind kills death.  You can’t believe anything he’s told you before because now the rules are different.  It’s such a fucking cheat.  He basically changed up the entire story to set up this weird metaphor.   And all the rules and prophecies and promises setup beforehand turn out to be malleable.

You can change rules in your story, you can retell your story, you can do so many things, if you play fair with your audience.  Goodkind doesn’t.  He’s so intent on speechifying and having characters cry and making everyone love Richard.  He’s so intent, now that he has this stage, to hammer the audience with this overblown, repetitive speeches that tout his Ayn Rand Paul worldview.  It’s just embarrassing.  This is honestly harder to slog through than Left Behind.  But I refuse to be beaten.  No matter what bullshit you spew. Haters gonna hate, and I’m a big mothafuckin hater.

CBR #48 – Sex and Violins

The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

I’ve been reading the Sword of Truth series along with this series, and it’s impossible not to scream out loud with the skill and differentials.  In particular the review that will follow this one for book 10.

Stross sets up his events, no matter how crazyballs they tend to get.  There are sudden surprises and plot twists in Fuller Memorandum that don’t feel like cheats because they’ve been established and balanced and nuanced.  For example, we found out what makes Angleton so Angleton-y.  We get his backstory and the reveal about his actual identity and why he seems ageless and out of time. And it doesn’t feel like some kind of ret-con shoehorned in to serve a sudden whim of the author.  Masterful authors can pull this off.  Not so much for others.

This story deals more with the relationship between Bob Howard and his now wife Mo — and the constraints and challenges put on it due to the fact that they are both involved in the Laundry.  I like Mo because she’s simultaneously a badass with a mind-scrambling magic violin of doom and someone fragile enough to collapse under stress, and it gives her nice balance with Bob.  Bob’s the fumbling emotional wreck who bumbles about like some sort of nerd-embossed combination of Mr. Bean and James Bond. It’s a nice dichotomy that plays out from the events of the previous book.

So even when the big reveal at the end play off something that could feel like a running joke but is really a deftly handled plot device, and even when things go completely insanely bonkers with blood magic and zombies and soul transmogrification, it all feels grounded in stuff that Stross has long set-up in early books and stories.

It did go so far off the rails that it was a bit much, that’s true.  But that’s the kind of thing you deal with when you fight the squiggly eldritch things from beyond the void.

CBR #47 – Mangling Your Childhood One Tentacle At A Time

Three Tales from The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

Tor.com put together a collection of the three Laundry Files stories not included in the backs of the other stories.   PIMPF was included at the end of The Jennifer Morgue and was a fun distraction involving MMORPGs and Human Resources.  The short novellas and such are great mini-encapsulations that Stross totally likes to go bananas on.

The collection is a bit fucked in that they are supposedly all occurring between Jennifer Morgue and The Fuller Memorandum.  But according to Stross, they happen scattered across the timeline.  Supposedly, they go Down On The Farm, Overtime, and then Equoid.  But Equoid comes first in the collection.  The series itself feels like there are tons of little side tales available for Stross to play with.  Again, it’s the stories that are the meat and fun.

Down on the Farm is about a mental institution that dabbles a bit in Doctor Who and a bit in The Prisoner.  It’s a neat little distraction, not as dynamic necessarily as the other two, and it’s very much a bottle episode.  If they ever made a television series of the Laundry Files, this is the episode I’d most want to see, but otherwise, it’s throwaway.

Overtime I wish had gone further.  It’s a fucking disturbing concept, revolving around the rituals of Saint Nicholas.  It kind of skids left at the end, and I almost wish it had gone full Rare Exports.  I have the same problems with this as I do with that movie, in that it promises one thing and then never lives up to that promise.

Equoid was my favorite in that it involved unicorns and trashing Lovecraft.  Lovecraft will and always should be a disturbing insert into the history of horror. He’s an asshole who carved in purple prose.  His creations were terrific, but he’s a fucking douchewaffle.  And this pokes fun at him.  While also creating the most fucked up unicorn mythology.  And in the same regard, managing to take a swipe at vampires and Twilight. Just cleverly done all around.

Stross probably has plans for many more Laundry Shorts.  The stories are so well primed for anthology collections and such, easily accessible and delightful.

CBR #46 – Shaken And Stirred

The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross

This one got pretty entertaining.  Bob Howard is summoned to complete a mission in the Caribbean.  A billionaire has decided to use old oil derrick platforms to draw up one of the Elder Gods from the bottom of the ocean.  And Howard is the only one who can stop him.  You see, the billionaire put a geas on the mission that someone has to come who is a lowly pencil pusher who will then be forced to act like James Bond.

It’s actually deviously brilliant.  It totally subborns James Bond and Fleming’s misogynist background and treatment while also staying true to it.  Stross has kind of being pedestal smashing with his whole series.  Mocking Lovecraft while using his mythos, mocking spy novels while writing one, doing pop-hard-sci-fi.

Bob is linked up with Ramona Random who works for the Americans and the Black Chamber and who just happens to be a demonic succubus.  Well, actually she’s a little more than that.

Stross is building a great base for his series, and this is what I meant by him having an opportunity to spread out his wings and really have fun with the series.  The bureaucracy is still there — but not as overbearing.  He still overwrites a bit, and he gets jammed up a bit in his own prose, but it’s still such an enjoyable series.  It reminds me a lot of Green’s works, but Stross is so much more masterful.  Just an all around more deft writer.  And so it’s easy to enjoy the hell out of the series.  I’m still bogged on the hard-sci-fi aspect and the mathmagic. But if it sound intriguing, get the hell on it. You’ll love it.

CBR #45 – What The Fuck’s A Kahlan?

Chainfire by Terry Goodkind

I think I’m getting fucking Stockholm Syndrome, because I started to give this three stars.  But thankfully, Goodkind did like always and fucked it up for everyone.

Richard awakens suddenly, and then finds himself being healed by Nicci in a farmhouse because he was shot with an arrow and WHAT TEH FUCK?  Apparently, we jump right in the middle.  Richard awakens, healed, after Nicci uses her dark force powers to remove the arrow to discover that Kahlan is missing.  Not just missing, but completely erased from the minds of everyone.  From everything.  No one believes him.  That he ever had a wife, that there was such a person as Kahlan.  And so most of the book is spent with Richard desperately saying “Uh-huh!” And everyone else going, “I’m sorry, Lord Rahl but nuh-unh.”  The other part of the book features a beast that in indestructable and can take any form and is drawn to Richard if he ever uses magic.

Now, this was interesting, and it worked really well for a while.  Goodkind’s usual repetition is bullshit and he keeps rehashing and proselytizing like always.  He flirts with maybe Kahlan was never real, which is interesting.  And every time Richard tries to explain events that could not possibly have happened without Kahlan, they end up finding a way to work around it.

The massive problem is that with Kahlan gone, all the other female characters start throwing themselves at Richard.  They all suddenly become gushing schoolgirls crushing madly over Lord Rahl.  Former badass ladies are suddenly swooning illogically and irrationally.  Nicci and worse yet Shota, the witch woman.  It’s embarrassing and stupid as fuck.

The thrust of the whole book is that everyone else keeps telling Richard to fucking knock it off and to fight the war and forget this ghost woman.  And Richard finally discovers through yet another deus ex machina — Chainfire — that the secret cabal of Dark Sisters have used this secret magic to erase Kahlan so they could kidnap the boxes of Orden and put them back into play.  It looks like this is going to run the next three books: this one, Phantom, and Confessor.  So we’ll see what happens.  So far, it’s just as dumb and boring as the others.

CBR #44 — At The Mountains of Mathness

The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross (also includes The Concrete Jungle)

The Great Bookamajigger hath selected for me The Laundry Files by Charlie Stross.  I would describe it as thus: Dilbert meets Archer if they had to fight Lovecraft’s Elder Gods. However, let me delve further into that. Magic exists in this world but it is all arcane geometry as fused though mathematics.  So everything gets SUPER technical.  Like CAH-RAZY tech specs on stuff, to the point there are whole passages that are written in some sort of cyber-twat patois.  And it’s difficult to get through.  Also, the spy organization sort of thrives on the paperwork aspect — filling out forms, having to go through bureaucratic protocol.  Most of the action gets overcome by the hero having been knocked out, or flashing forward.

It’s still brilliant, but it might be a bit too brilliant.  Yes, they summon demons and deal with the Ahnenerbe.  Yes, there are tentacled things lurking in dimensions that would make our faces melt off.  I think this was a feeler pattern, in that Stross kind of wasn’t sure where he wanted to go with this.

I respect the hell out of science fiction.  It’s like wine for me.  People say you simply have to expand your pallet or cultivate a taste.  I can recognize that this is masterfully done.  I simply don’t enjoy it.  That’s kind of my take on science fiction.  I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy.  It was scientifically masterful.  So well researched. But I didn’t care for it. I’m pretty positive I’ll feel that way about Asimov’s Foundation when I get to that.

Here, this is slightly more pop-accessible.  I respect Stross’s decision to not make his story immediately, instantly accessible.  You have to do some legwork.  And that’s fair trade to him. I dig it. And the story and his spastic lead Bob Howard are well done. I just think the end result was a bit wobbly for me.

However, I read The Concrete Jungle, which is included in the digital copy of the Atrocity Archives as a novella at the end of the book, and that was incredibly more on point.  That felt like what this series has the potential to be.  It was much more focuses, had nice twists, and took full advantage of the setup.  Still super technical, but that’s more as the gloss than the meat of the story.  And I dug it.  I’m some of the way into the second book in the series, The Jennifer Morgue, and that too feels like it’s tipping in the right direction.  So it’s not such a slog, and there’s only five books in the series, plus, a collection of shorts.  So this will be quick and pleasurable work.

CBR #43 – Just Duct Tape My Ass And Put Me Back In

A Song of Shadows by John Connolly

The Charlie Parker series goes strong because the essence is Charlie and his ghost story.  He’s fucked up from page one of his adventures, and clearly part of a larger picture.  We only get fleeting glimpses of what that picture.  But the past is very much alive, and very much haunting, and very much intent on ripping Charlie to shreds.  Fortunately, the detective seems to be made of harder stuff.

Again, this series is thirteen books deep, and still able to be surprising and difficult and captivating.  It comes on the heels of the previous book, and it was like reliving a horrible memory — but in a good way.  The events of the last book are ever present in the new one.  In fact, this book might best be described as an accounting.  It’s a lynch pin between this and the next.  After being gunned down in his own home, Charlie Parker is trying to recuperate and put himself back together.  He bears all the scars — emotional and physical — of that attack and it’s changed him.  In what way is the crux of this story.

I forgot how much I love the secondary characters in this series.  From Parker’s daughter and her coming of age to Louis and Angel, his assassin/thief cohorts, they really just add so much spice to an already intriguing lead character.  Parker finds himself helping local authorities solve a murder in the small town he’s chosen for his convalescence.  It involves Nazi war crimes and hidden identities.  It’s almost a throwaway story.  Old nemeses get their comeuppance, and it clears the slate for the upcoming whatever comes next.  If this were a television series, this would be the Season 3 finale. With a probably six or seven seasons.  Answers are given, but new questions are asked.  And that’s all you can ask from a solid series.  This could easily be meandering — and truth be told some of the middle books do feel that way.  But Connolly has a way with the supernatural and the detective tale that keeps things fresh.