Sex Criminals: Volume One

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sex Criminals: Volume One
Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky, 2014

Electronic copy provided by NetGalley for review

Premise: Susie and Jon have something unusual in common. When they orgasm, time stops. No, literally. Once they find each other, what else would they do with such a talent... Collects Sex Criminals #1-5

I had heard only good things about this title, so I jumped at the chance to read the trade. I did really enjoy it, but I think it starts much stronger than it ends.

The story starts in medias res, then flashes back and forth to fill in all the background. Susie's origin story in the first issue was probably my favorite part. I'll agree with other commentators here, and say that for a book written by two guys, it does a fantastic job with a girl's sexual awakening. Susie's confusion, angst, loneliness and curiosity all felt very real and plausible.

I have less context for the plausibility of Jon's story in issue two, but it's interesting and sad.

As the book goes on, and we eventually get more and more of the present and less of the past, it feels like the theme loses focus a little. It's still interesting, but it becomes less an intriguing metaphor for sex and intimacy and more a story about people with weird powers. Still good, but not as good.

I really enjoyed the art. Both poses and body types are at least semi-realistic! I love the issue covers, too, and I’m glad they were included. They're evocative, simple, vibrant and just gorgeous.

I'm curious to know where Fraction and Zdarsky are planning to go with this, or if they had a plan beyond this point. The volume ends, not with the end of the story, but at a possible end. And it's satisfying, mostly.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

River of Stars

Monday, April 21, 2014

River of Stars
Guy Gavriel Kay, 2014

Premise: Sequel to Under Heaven. It is a different time for Kitai. The balance between the court and the army is finally tilted to the court’s satisfaction, but what will that mean when Altai riders from the steppe pour over the border? Into this time are born a few people who may affect the course of history. Or they may not. It is not given for mortal men to know.

It is hard to describe a book like this. I can describe the characters: subtle, passionate, vengeful, honorable, wise, foolish. I can describe the prose: meditative, textured, delicate. I can describe the themes: the place of men in history, the role of narrative in destiny, the secret small reasons behind the sweep of ages.

But somehow, all of this together is more than the parts. Kay's style of historically-inspired fantasy isn't for everyone, but I usually find it satisfying.

River of Stars is a book about an invasion and a war. It is also a book about extraordinary people and how they both shape the time and react to the time that is thrust upon them. It is also a book about a romance.

I need to speak a bit of Lin Shan here, Shan of the sharp mind and the careful words. On the surface, if I were to tell you all the things that make her special, you might think that she is a too-perfect character, an unrealistic attempt to cover the fact that women had very little public life in a time like this. However, she is perfectly balanced by the male lead, whose skills are near mythic.

And even if she didn't read as wonderfully grounded as she does, she is based (loosely) on a real person. A real person, who really lived, the greatest female poet of her age.

This isn't the kind of book I always enjoy. Much of it is almost a series of vignettes,many of the active scenes happen off-screen and you have to piece it together later.

But if you're in the mood for a rich, delicate visit to an ancient China that never was, then follow Ren Daiyan, Lin Shan and all the ministers, warriors and poets, and relish the journey.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Cold Magic (Spiritwalker, Book 1)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cold Magic (Spiritwalker, Book 1)
Kate Elliott, 2010

Premise: Catherine Barahal was brought up by her aunt and uncle after her parents’ death. She plans to go to school. She plans to help in the family business. She would never plan to get swept up in the politics of nations, revolution and magic, but once events are set in motion, she’ll do whatever she must to survive and discover the truth of her past.

After I loved Jaran, I decided to pick up one of the author's more recent books. Despite being different in almost every other way, the books share a cross genre appeal and a compelling heroine. Cold magic is... fantasy steam punk adventure alternate history with a thread of romance. The magic is fascinating. The characters are complicated and varied. I was completely thrown by a sharp left turn in the plot, but was eager to discover where it was headed.

I loved how historical figures were different, but recognizable. The story swings from the concerns of young girls to the concerns of nations in a way that actually seems quite reasonable for the situation.

Cat's world is delicately balanced between industry and magic, between spirit and steel. She is trapped by her past, by the actions of others, by treachery and circumstance. It's the way she is determined to turn these very things to her advantage that has me marking the sequel on my to read list.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book


Monday, April 7, 2014

Frederick Pohl, 1976

Hugo winner - 1978

Premise: Ever since humanity found ships left behind by the mysterious Heechee, people have been taking them out for the chance at a fortune, despite a much larger chance of death. Robbie Broadhead tries to be one of those prospectors, but he doesn't get what he expects.

I have seriously mixed feelings about this book. The ending was actually pretty effective. Getting there, however, was somewhat of a slog. I found the first third or so incredibly slow.

The story flips back and forth between Broadhead's experiences as a prospector and his sessions with an artificial therapist years later. It's supposed to be a mystery how he became rich and so screwed up, but the character is rather unlikable, and I wasn't able to muster much interest in his story.

However, I do think that there is some really interesting writing in this regarding unreliable narration and self delusion. The ending, as I said, is emotionally effective. It might be really interesting on a re-read.
But I just kept putting the book down and not wanting to pick it back up. Not a style that gripped me, I guess I might say.

Overall it clearly has merits, but I personally can't recommend it.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

List of Hugo Winners