This Morning (Book Review: Everything Box)

This morning I don’t know if this is a good idea? I wrote a book review, which I want to post; I don’t want to interrupt this stream of This Morning blogs, so I thought I would use the book review for This Morning. Opinions? Is this a copout? Just the wrong sort of thing for me to do, because This Morning is about my thoughts and feelings? I dunno.

I can make book reviews a part of this streak, or I can make separate posts.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think, if you have thoughts.

 

The Everything Box

by Richard Kadrey

I’ve read three Sandman Slim novels (And if you haven’t, you should – dark horror/fantasy with a punk edge and a great sense of humor), so I had some idea of what to expect with this book; but I didn’t expect this book.

It’s a caper story, a one-off novel with no connection to other Kadrey books (And I just found out this second that there are sequels) about a professional thief who gets hired to steal the wrong thing, and even though he manages to do it, he gets sold out on the job by a fellow thief, who, predictably, has no honor. Coop (Charlie Cooper, though no one calls him that) gets sent to a special prison for the next few years, before he is sprung, by the same guy who put him away, and for the opposite reason: this time the guy, Morty, needs Coop’s help.

He needs Coop’s help specifically for the same reason that Coop was in a special jail: because Coop is not a normal thief. He is a magical thief, who steals mystical and mysterious items for mystical and mysterious people who can pay him in cold, hard cash.

That’s the setup (And forgive me for spoiling the first two chapters), and it’s a good one. The opening scene when Coop is on the job is a lot of fun, and the subsequent caper action is just as good, all the way through. The book does start a little slow, as Kadrey has a pretty broad cast of characters; there’s a madcap element to this, as it ends up with one of those Mad Mad Mad Mad World scenarios, with everyone running around looking for the same thing – the Everything Box of the title – and so getting all of those characters with their disparate personalities and motivations into the reader’s mind is a challenge. Kadrey does it as well as any, I think, but simply because it’s a single book, he has to fall back on some fairly generic tropes and character types. He does at least one wonderful thing, though, which is to completely flip some of those tropes: there are two different demon-worshipping doomsday cults involved, one led by a High Dark Magister (Or is it Dark High Magister?) with a bad back whose throne is a Barcalounger, and the other led by a very traditional suburban family who hold bake sales to raise funds for their dark rituals. (The bake sale scene is one of the funniest things in the book, and one of the funniest scenes I’ve read in a long while.) But there are some confusing moments: there was one character who I actually thought was a different character until they met each other, and I got lost in the earlier chapters and had to slog a bit. But it picks up, and the last 100 pages whiz by; the ending is great.

Apart from the caper action – which takes more than enough twists to keep you guessing; I honestly kept thinking, “That’s it? That can’t be it. Oh wait – that’s not it!” – the book does one other thing remarkably well, which is make you like the characters. Almost all of them are generally likable and amusing, including the ones opposed to our hero Coop, who is an excellent sort of everyman guy who just happens to be a thief. But both because they are a bit one-dimensional, and also because they are pretty goofy, you don’t mind too much when bad things happen to them – and like all of Kadrey’s books in my experience, a lot of bad things happen to a lot of people.

And I liked it.

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Book Review: The Unnoticeables

Image result for the unnoticeables

The Unnoticeables

by Robert Brockway

 

This is a badass book.

First, I mean that quite literally: it’s a punk book, with a punk character, written by a guy who wrote in his dedication that this should show all those people who said he was wasting his time going to all those punk rock shows – so I’m guessing he’s a punk author.

It reads like it. Carey, one of the main characters (There are two, as the book has two settings about 25 years apart) sounds spot on to what I imagine a punk in 70’s New York City to be: angry when he’s not indifferent, violent when he’s not wasted, wasted when he’s not broke. Always going to shows, always spending time with his friends, and criticizing and attacking every single element of his life and world, always trying to peel away the artifice and reveal the truth beneath, even when – especially when – that truth is ugly. As Carey himself often is. But he’s also a hell of a lot of fun to read.

The other main character, Kaitlyn, is also a badass, because she’s a stuntwoman, with the attendant skills, interests, and adrenaline addiction. Her story is set in 2010-ish, in LA, of course. Her story has a strong feel of peeking behind the curtain, as she is not, and does not want to be, an actress: she’s one of those rare people who really wants to be behind the scenes, essentially, at least not with her name in lights. She wants thrills, not celebrity; for the most part she’d be happy with steady work so she can quit waitressing.

The second reason this is a badass book is because Brockway has created a set of supernatural creatures that are thoroughly badass, in more than one way. Mainly, they are absurdly difficult to fight, because they are essentially unbeatable, unbreakable, and entirely deadly; you can win a fight against them, but they’ll just come right back the next day. And since they can make more of themselves, there’s really not much hope for humanity.

They’re also badass because they aren’t anything I’ve ever read before: Brockway created them. He calls them angels, because one of their forms is a geometric shape made of light; but they’re neither heavenly nor beneficent. Another of their forms is a human, but only on the outside; on the inside is –something else. Something deeply disturbing. Their third form is made by these disturbing creatures: it is a human, but one without a soul; at least, that’s the easiest way to describe it. That’s not how Brockway describes it. His way of talking about this group of enemies is interesting: they are forgettable. When you see them, your instinct is to look away, to forget you ever saw that person. These are the namesakes of the book, as there is something about these people that makes them impossible to remember; you can meet one, touch it, talk to it, even think it’s hot – but you can’t describe it. It is Unnoticeable.

Their final form? (Unintentional reference. Also, I have gone down in power, not up. The angels are the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with. But still, these are rough.) A giant man-sized mound of goo, which dissolves anything human it touches, like a walking (Well, oozing) acid bath. Those are the ones that Carey figures out how to kill, actually. The other ones he can’t kill, or at least so it seems. Doesn’t stop him from fighting them, though. And maybe – maybe – he can win. Sometimes. A little.

The absolute best part of this book, for me, was the motivation of the creatures, their reason for doing what they do. It’s just so goddamn clever, and poetic, and beautifully chilling. It’s one of those ideas I wish I had had, but since I didn’t, I will gladly go on reading Brockway’s story about them, and also, anything else of his I can find.

Because this is a badass book.

Highly recommended.

Skin Game (Harry Dresden #15)

Skin Game (Dresden Files #15)
by Jim Butcher

I’ve read lots of book series. I went through a lengthy mystery phase, when I read pretty much every Nero Wolfe book that Rex Stout wrote; I read all the Travis McGee novels of John D. MacDonald — and in both cases I read a few of the knockoffs by imitators, and was unimpressed. I’ve read all of the Wheel of Time, and Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I read twenty or so of Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, and every one of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I read all of the Series of Unfortunate Events, and the Bloody Jack Faber series.

I stopped reading the Song of Ice and Fire after Book 4. Because I won’t put up with that kind of nonsense, Mr. Martin. You publish your books before you make the TV series. At the least, work on both concurrently, sir. I’m using up all of my patience with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books; but at least she has to do extensive historical research before she writes each book. You make ’em up, George. I learned from Robert Jordan the risks of waiting too long for a series to end; didn’t you learn, too?

The point is, I enjoy the series. I’ve seen them get better as they go (LOTR) and I’ve seen them get worse (ABVH), I’ve seen them end too soon and too late.

Never — not once — have I enjoyed a series as much and as long as I have enjoyed Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden books.

It is extraordinary to me that Butcher is able to keep these books as alive as they are. They are nothing but action: generally 400-500 pages, they cover only a day or two, and the entire time is spent in some form of combat, chase, or intrigue. Harry Dresden must be the tiredest man in the imagined universe. And yet, despite fifteen books with the same general outline, they have never gotten boring, nor repetitive; I have never left the edge of my metaphorical seat. The key is that the book is much, much more than action (despite my prior statement): even though Harry never stops fighting, there are many pauses and lulls in between the knock-down drag-out brouhahas, and in these pauses, Butcher has built not only a world and concept of magic that I find as compelling as any I’ve ever read, but also some of the most completely realized characters that I can imagine finding in an action novel. Dresden is not Man-Compelled-To-Fight-By-Need-For-Justice, though there’s some of that, and he’s not Man-Torn-Between-Good-And-Evil, though there’s some of that. Harry is a man, a complicated, flawed, man, both strong and weak, admirable and despicable. (Part of this is the fact that Butcher has had a canvas fifteen books wide to paint this character on. Some of the less prominent but still important characters — Michael, Thomas — are a bit more one-dimensional. But even those sorts of characters have their hidden sides — think of Bob. Mac. Charity.) On top of all that, Butcher has an ability to weave in philosophical sorts of musings, on what it means to be human, to be mortal, to be powerful; to love, to hate, to fight; along with the best sense of humor since Douglas Adams. And his nerd references are a solid 10.0. Funniest thing in this book is when a character starts quoting Monty Python without even realizing it.

The point is, I love these books, completely, unabashedly. I’ll keep reading them as long as Butcher writes them, and cry when he stops. Then I’ll re-read them all.

This book is a heist story. The tension comes from the fact that Harry has to work with his enemies, yet they remain enemies, regardless of any cooperation (Like the Winter Court, though the Fae are not as prominent in this novel.). Some allies come back, out of semi-retirement from the main plotline, which was wonderful; new villains are introduced, who were excellent; there is a fantastic cameo by a god; there is a hell of a plot twist; there is one of the coolest Ascension scenes (When a character becomes something more than he or she was before — like Molly at the end of Cold Days) ever, with one of the best nerdgasm moments of all time.

Best of all? I can’t wait to read the next book. I have to see what happens with Dresden’s daughter.

No: the other one.

Cold Days

Cold Days by Jim Butcher

I wish I could write like that. I don’t know how he does it, but I wish I could write like that.

I can’t, though. I can’t weave together a mix of humor, and moral philosophy, and myth exploration, and — this phrase, though trite, is in this case quite literally true — non-stop action, and somehow make it all come out right, together. I can’t make a story that satisfying, have that many moments when the reader is nodding his head, grinning madly, even fist-pumping while saying, “YES!” Dozens of them. Dozens of moments like that: from the pitch-perfect reference; to the beautifully lucid description of how it feels to love, to hate, to fear, to howl, to weep, to suffer; to the heart-thumping adrenaline-pumping cheer as the righteous defeat the vile, again and again.

If it isn’t clear yet, I love these books. Love them. I love this book. The Dresden series has never let me down, but the remarkable thing is that — even through fifteen books, now, counting the short story collection Changes — it just keeps getting better. I don’t know how Jim Butcher does it, but I hope he never stops. I’ve read this one before, when it came out, but I didn’t remember much of it; none of the denouement. And so it had me, rapt and wild-eyed, as everything came together at the end, with just the right mix of pure victory with surprising defeat to make it seem — perfect. I read this 500-page novel in two days, just as excited about the next chapter as I was the first time I read it; that I remember.

I can’t write like this. But at least I can read like this. And I plan to keep on doing it: Skin Game was published just a couple of weeks ago, and it’s sitting on my shelf right now. I’ll bet you anything it will be even better than Cold Days, as Cold Days was better than Ghost Story. I’ll let you know as soon as I finish it.

Probably be a couple more days, though. I have to go to work tomorrow.

 

If you liked this book, I would recommend — reading the whole series over again.

And, I suppose, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, and the first few Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison.