Those Who Hunt the Night

Monday, October 27, 2014

Those Who Hunt the Night
Barbara Hambly, 1988

Premise: James Asher is a professor. He knows a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about linguistics and anthropology. He is also a retired player of the Great Game. This is why, when Simon Ysidro demands his help, Asher’s first response is to notice his unique accent. His second is notice that Ysidro isn’t breathing. Ysidro needs Asher to help him find out who is killing the vampires of London. Asher just needs to not get killed.

A little fun with vampires for Halloween.

I feel like it would be a little unusual today to see a novel that deals so well with the potential ambiguity of vampires. Even if they once were human, and retain some human qualities, that just makes them, at best, as untrustworthy as humans. Even when he becomes engrossed in the problem for its own sake, Asher never forgets that Ysidro might turn on him, or stops thinking about options should he need to turn on them.

These are dangerous predators. Asher is blackmailed into helping Ysidro try to discover the killer, even though most of the vampires would just as soon ignore the problem and kill Asher.

This is a really fun novel. It took me a while to get over how many annoying times James’ wife Lydia is described as a waifish beauty… but it’s in tone for the style of the time the book is set in. Plus she’s actually a medical researcher, and pretty great. It’s set in the early 20th century, shortly after the publication of Dracula, naturally. The characters are intriguing and the plot twists mostly satisfying. One of the biggest reveals was such a surprise to me, though, I had a little trouble following. Even so, the ending was great.

A solid thriller/mystery with some appropriately scary monsters.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The Fountains of Paradise

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Fountains of Paradise
Arthur C. Clarke, 1979

Hugo Winner - 1980

Premise: Vannevar Morgan has a vision. He is already the most acclaimed architect of his generation, but now he wants to help man climb to the stars in the first space elevator. The only thing in his way is the monastery sitting on top of the ideal building location.

The Fountains of Paradise begins with a flashback to the ancient story of King Kalidasa (a fictionalized version of Kashyapa I who terrorized his enemies and built a massive tribute to his own power, in sight of the proposed site of the elevator. The book, on a certain level, is all about men’s efforts to make a mark on history, to build something that will outlast them.

I enjoyed this story quite a bit. Like Rendezvous With Rama, it does a nice job of balancing the intricacies of theory around the technology with the human stories of the people interacting with it. It’s not a book for those that need their stories to be purely character driven. We observe Vannevar and the other characters from close enough to sympathize and be engaged with their stories, but never connect to them on a very deep level.

Another theme that I enjoyed centered on the relationship between the continued existence of religion and gaining new knowledge, particularly knowledge of extraterrestrial life. It’s only sort of tied to the rest of the book, and it’s (sadly) not terribly believable these days, but it’s a pleasant subplot, posing a fairly utopian outcome.

I’ve found both Hugo-winners I’ve read by Clarke so far to be excellent palate-cleansers: intellectual puzzles and intriguing worlds make a nice break from books (or movies/tv) full of over-the-top romance, angst, and strife. Fountains has its life-or-death moments, but they aren’t emotionally exhausting to read.

I found this book very solidly satisfying, and I’ll have to make room for some more Clarke in my to-read pile.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

List of Hugo Winners

Cold Fire (Spiritwalker, Book 2)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cold Fire (Spiritwalker, Book 2)
Kate Elliot, 2011

Premise: Sequel to Cold Magic. Armed with some, but not enough, of the answers, Catherine tries to protect her cousin, disentangle herself from her arranged marriage, not get arrested, decide whether to help one of the factions of radicals, and figure out who or what her father is. It’s sort of a busy time.

Let me start with the nitpicks. I don’t like how this book/series plays to the trope: ‘hot guy who is attracted to the main character conveniently secretly a good guy, despite initial evidence to the contrary.’ This was touched on in book one and expanded here. I’m willing to go with it, but… I like the magic plot and the politics plot so many times more than the romance plot here. I’m warming to Vai a little, but I need to spend like a few months sometime only reading books with NO romance to reset my internal calibrations.

I hated how many times Cat was just floored by a twist. There are a lot of plot twists in this book, but in book one it was established that she was trained from birth in subterfuge and spycraft and politics. Why does it sometimes seem like everyone in the world can pull one over on her? She gets a few wins, but I was just so annoyed by people tricking her.

Little warning for impaired consent in this book. It’s addressed (later) to a certain extent, but still. Be ye warned.

But saying all that makes it seem as though I didn’t like the book. I did like it. I really enjoyed the read. It’s fast paced. The world is greatly expanded in a way I really enjoyed, that gave it more depth and color. Cat finds out about her heritage and both embraces and fights it in a way that makes me not want to put the book down.

I missed Rory, absent for much of this volume, and I could have used even more Beatrice.

I did enjoy this book, and I’ll probably get around to the third, but not until it’s on sale.

And if you have any suggestions for great sci-fi or fantasy novels that feature awesome lady protagonists who decide to entirely chuck their would-be lovers because of duty or a higher purpose or just the desire to form a lesbian utopia, send them my way.

Cold Fire gets 3 Stars - A Good Book