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.

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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.

CBR #42 – As Foretold By James Cameron

Predator One by Jonathan Maberry

Goddamn, do I love me some Joe Ledger.  And this one did not disappoint.  It was high octane kill your face from the getgo.  Joe Ledger can’t ever watch a motherfucker baseball game.  He’s at Opening Day for baseball at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.  As he sits in the box ready to see the first pitch, terrorists attack the stadium with drones and explosives.  It’s a hideous terrorist attack.  Meanwhile, the government is reeling from a video that got captured and broadcast on YouTube of a certain terrorist that was supposed to have gone Zero Dark Thirty who is NOW dead.

Anyway, this is just the beginning.  The remnants of the Seven Kings are basically annihilating the DMS and trying to tear apart the world.  It’s just a hair towards convoluted, but the meat of the story is the true horror.  Anything autonomously operated — much of the military, drones, drone delivery, autoparking cars — can be manipulated by a sinister AI and forced to shutdown or attack or deliver viral loads.  It’s all feasible and fucked up and I love it.

Maberry knows how to give his characters a beating, and this is no joke.  So many people get killed or hurt in this book.  So many.  And it’s not even like I’m going to try to injure you in a terrorist bombing.  It’s setting secondary bombs that kill first responders.  It’s killing someone with a virus and then sending mercenaries to the hospitals to murder the survivors.  And the attending physicians.  It’s brutal and well-constructed.  I only shave a star off because it’s still got some hiccups and melodrama and chest-pumping that gets a BIT much.  Maberry does love his technical descriptions of artillery and technology.  Still, it’s great to see a series as deep as Joe Ledger staying fresh and intriguing.

CBR #41 – The Most Blatant Case of False Advertising Since My Suit Against The Movie The Neverending Story

Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

Good God.  It’s just…I don’t know anymore.  The eighth book of this series, and again, it’s so reminiscent of when I tackled Left Behind or Twilight.  If you pulled all of the biblical proselytizing or awkward teenage mooning out of those series, you’d have a pretty decent three book apocalypse series or a one book vampire story.  There’s still flaws, but it’s like stop preaching to the choir.

In the latest book, Rand has the taint I mean, Richard has problems with The Gift. It’s giving him headaches again.  Though that might be from the whiplash of the characters around him.  The women have all been reduced to helpless shrieking hateful harpies, who constantly berate anyone who disagrees with them.  It’s a little embarrassing.  Not as embarrassing as Jennsen, who’s pretty much like “OMG, I lervs you big bro!”  Twenty years of hate and on the run, but hey, whoops, we cool, ese.

In this one, they are trudging back from The Pillars of Creation, like a sunburnt suburban family making the hours-long jaunt in the family station wagon home from the amusement park of the day up I-95. Birds follow them, because…holy shit it’s so stupid, I’ll get to it later. Anyway, Cara and Kahlan spend the first six chapters yelling at Jennsen for, I dunno, because Goodkind hates women.  It’s the usual recipe of, “Remember that thing we never mentioned before, but now we’re going to bring it up?”  “I do, Lord Rahl.”  “Well, I hope we don’t run into that.”  “Oh shit. It’s THAT!” “Sigh. Okay, Deus ex magica.” And then people cry a lot.

The thrust of this book involves the Bandakar empire.  Remember how the children of Rahl that are ungifted are murdered?  Only Oba and Jennsen and Drefan managed to avoid that?  Okay, well, no, what we meant was in the old days, they banished them all to the Old World.  And by banished, we mean, a wizard trapped them in a mountain enclave. And there they became an allegory.  Okay, allegory is a poor choice because it implies skill or craft.  Let’s go with overwrought metaphor.  The Bandakar can’t be touched by magic.  And so they are pacifists.  Like uber so. Like they represent pseudointellectuals who don’t support the American military and would rather compromise.  And so about 400 pages of the book are Goodkind having Richard explain why anyone who puts a daisy in a machine gun should get a face full of flowerpetals and metal.  It’s not even supporting defense.  It goes on and on and on and on to explain that they have to fight against anyone who challenges their way of life and to ignore that or to try to morally compromise with that is evil.  And that you must take up arms to defend against them.  It’s borderline militia talk.  And much like Altur’Rang’s tragic Objectivist message, it’s just as lame.

But for the plot points!  Oh, the pacifists heard about how Richard saves people and so they sent someone to ask him to help.  And to poison him.  But, but, but they were totally going to give him the antidote!  As long as he promised to get rid of the Imperial Order.  But stupid Richard, he and his friends killed a bunch of people trying to kill them.  And so that made their helper sick.  And then he was late.  So now Richard will die if he doesn’t get the antidote.  And by the antidote, he means, three antidotes that he has hidden in strategic locations.  Including with the master dark wizard who rules the roost and who is dressed so goth-y other goths would pour their tears and razor-wound blood on him to drown him.  It’s like a side-quest for some fantasy game that just gets increasingly more complicated and really has no upshot.  I think there was a parody RPG where a man kept giving you just one more quest until you finally killed him.

But the big baddie in this book is Nicholas the Slide.  What is a Slide, other than something that Goodkind came up with five seconds before writing the book?  It’s someone who is as powerful as Jagang and his dream walking.  He can take someone’s spirit.  And then use that spirit to…enter animals?  And spy on people.  But yeah, totally captures souls and spirits.  Maybe.  Definitely.

Anyway, Richard rides in and of course the last batch of antidote is lost to him, and he also is going to probably die from magic.  Only at the last second, he remembers something and then literally douche ex magicas it.  I mean, he looks at a statue and goes, “AHA!”  And solves his magic problem.  And then even though everyone who could possibly make the antidote for the poison is dead, the gift lets Richard come up with George’s Marvelous Medicine and he is cured. FUCKING AMATEUR HOUR.

Also, there’s a cool subplot where the Bandakar are used to breach the Keep and Zedd and Adie are taken hostage, but rescued in a joint effort by EVERYONE EVER WHO EVER WAS EVER.  But it does bring back Chase and Rachel, who I miss from early when this wasn’t still a terrible knockoff of Wheel of Time.  Anyway, onwards and upwards into the books where there’s only one word titles.  Four more left!