‘Severance’ By Ling Ma


Severance was well reviewed, and rightly so, but like most contemporary, literary novels, I always feel a slight sense of disappointment. It’s a very, very good novel, but it’s no classic for inclusion in the canon. Which is, of course, not a fair comparison, but one that I always go to. Perhaps why I read so much genre fiction. Less weight on the shoulders of reader and writer.

The obvious comparison here is to Station ElevenSeverance has more to say, but Station Eleven says it better. By which I mean that Na is not really writing any kind of science fiction novel. She is trying to make a point about modern life and the traps of routine and acceptance into which we fall. And she makes it well. Mostly.

The protagonist, Candace Chen, is a bit of tabula rasa, for good or ill. Only in the flashbacks to her childhood does she seem more fully realized, as a character.

But, this novel is about a global, airborne pandemic (albeit one spread by fungal spores). And features people wearing masks and empty office buildings. So… a little on the nose right now.

The Court Of Broken Knives


img_5217This was a difficult one to get into. A young, beautiful protagonist who is, at least initially, a member of a mercenary company that is only mostly shamelessly rips off Glen Cook’s Black Company (here, the unimaginatively named Free Company of the Sword), who happens to be a genetic sociopath. If there is a success here, it is in succeeding in duping the reader into thinking that – because he is good looking (yes, even when we can’t see the person, we are predisposed to think good looking people are better people) and is clearly set up as the protagonist – we are rooting for the good guy. Not that Spark doesn’t give us ample reason to mistrust that instinct (including pretty severe addiction problem – drugs and alcohol – that not infrequently has him puking all over himself).

About midway through, one character actually gives voice to that mistake, albeit inside her own head. Someone so beautiful must be good. And we are dragged along. It helps that the most mistrustful folks, the handful of members of the aforementioned Free Company who survive a bloodbath that takes place about one third of the way through, a portrayed as grimy, not very good looking, and very… human, in an icky and mortal way. So we don’t really trust them the way we do the good looking sociopath.

Admittedly, by around the final third, pretense has been dropped and the ‘hero’ is revealed as tramautized, sociopathic, man-child with never properly explained powers (he’s descended from some kind of god-like and also deranged hero of ancient legend).

I’m making this all sound more literary and successful than it is. Because it’s hard to feel super invested when you really don’t like anybody enough to care too much what happens to anybody and come to the conclusion that, with the exception of one (former) high priestess (who is too damsel-in-distress-y for my tastes), that the moral arc of the universe would be just fine if every significant character to whom the author introduced you were swallowed by a meth alligator.

‘The Beetle‘ By Richard Marsh


The Beetle is a work of horror by a man who seems not in control of his own sexual hang ups.

The characters are mostly too perfect or, in one case, too crippled by a twenty year old attack to be other than cryptic or hysterical at all times. In his defense, he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a beautiful young woman who was also a divine and immortal beetle.

Only a fellow called Atherton is exempt. He’s excitable, vengeful, and generally relatable in a way everyone is not. He’s an ass, but a normal and understandable one. He is also shown working on a horrifying chemical weapon which… is never used to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. It’s as if Chekhov forgot to fire his gun.

The villain, besides being indicted based on their ethnic appearance, has, when not a beetle, the body a handsome woman with the face of aging and preternaturally ugly man.

Also, nudity is surprisingly frequent for a novel from 1897. A man runs through the streets wearing only a cloak and everyone he meets notes he is naked beneath. When a young woman is forced to wear a man’s rags, the speaker notes that she must first have been forced to undress. Atherton catches a glimpse of the villainous beetle’s alluring feminine body before they transform.

And did I mention the rapes and orgies that preceded the sacrifice of (formerly) virginal white women by burning?

Also: brandy can cure almost all ills (and literally brings a man back from the dead, even if only for a moment).

Something happened to Mr. Marsh and I don’t care to know what.

In the meantime, better folk than I can comment on what this all says about gender roles, masculinity, and the end of empire.

Tek Power


You’d think I’d be more embarrassed. I mean, I’m a little embarrassed, but not that much. This is my thing. Sci fi and fantasy pulps. And these particular ones are attributed to William Shatner, for whom I have a deep and abiding love.

The thread of these techno drug cartels (the titular ‘tek’) runs through all the novels and this one is no exception. While obviously science fiction, in a semi-near future way (more Neuromancer than Star Trek), I have settled into an appreciative groove by understanding these as decently crafted, fast moving detective novels. Jake Cardigan, the primary protagonist, is very much the archetype of a noir hero: middle aged, tough, haggard, former cop turned PI, formerly jailed for crime he didn’t commit, preternaturally good at his job, and not infrequently beaten up a little. Read more

Krondor: Tear Of The Gods


Finally… after two books, we see a colon used in the third volume!

More than ever, these books feel like Dungeons & Dragons tie-ins. I just finished a long campaign with my long time group, going from first to twentieth level. This feels like a campaign. But the thing is, there is a lot of filler that doesn’t really tie the true narrative together. When playing, it’s not that important because the real joy is the relationship with your companions and seeing your own character grow and evolve. But it doesn’t really work in a novel. This was possibly my least favorite of the three.

‘Tek Secret’ & ‘Tek War’ The Movie/Series


I am not going to justify myself here. I really can’t, except for a sort of pact with the devil and a deep love of William Shatner. Also, a memory of it being on the sort of revolving wire book rack you used to see in drugstores in the Dunedin Library, near the card catalog.

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Tek Vengeance


I got back and forth on these Tek novels (inexplicable, save for my deep love of William Shatner, who didn’t actually write these novels). Today, I’m feeling generous towards the compulsive storytelling and decent chemistry between the middle aged, but still vigorous and athletic, Jake Cardigan, and his partner in the future world of private eyes, Sid Gomez.

What I am not down for is the revelation that Jake’s girlfriend (who he cheated on with her college friend in the last volume; did we forget that? because I didn’t forget that), is twenty-seven years old to his forty-nine. And they’ve been together for at least a year. Icky.

Reading ‘The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe’ To My Daughter


I would call it quarantine reading but we would have done it anyways. Having finished The Hobbit, an intro to Narnia seemed the next, logical step.

Now, she did not like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe half so much as The Hobbit, but that’s fair. Lewis, as a fantasist, is not half so good as Tolkien.

But I have come to deeply appreciate Lewis, overall, in recent years, and I was glad to introduce my daughter to him. We have put Prince Caspian on hold at the library, but what I really want to read to her is The Horse and His Boy, which, as a child, I might have read even more times than Wardrobe. It is, so far as I can tell, not highly respected, but I found it to be a lovely and beautiful self contained adventure.

Blood Of Elves


This was on my ‘wishlist’ for a while after reading about this Polish fantasy series. Only later did I learn it was the inspiration for The Witcher video games (which are exactly the kind of game I like to play but which I will probably never play at this point in my life).

I bought this after visiting a Barnes & Noble. I hadn’t planned on getting anything, but one of the staff was so nice and patient with my daughter, helping her with some arts and crafts materials they had set out, that I wanted to reward the store’s bottom line a little, so I bought this for myself and a couple of books for the little one.

Now, I will admit that I had already watched the Netflix series when I started this book. Even though this is the first of Sapowski’s Witcher books, it actually takes place after the events of the series, so there were no serious spoilers, in that regard.

Enjoyable and fun. It is fashionable now to compare fantasy always in terms of Game of Thrones, so I’ll bite. More fun and with a more manageable, but without as much of that special thing that elevated Martin’s still incomplete epic.

And I don’t see anything uniquely Polish about that mythology. Now, I don’t know Polish folk traditions, so I would have expected to find somethings I didn’t recognize, but didn’t really. What I did see where many tropes from Dungeons & Dragons.

It felt… I don’t want to say unfocused. Perhaps… leisureful? Full of leisure. A point to which he was aiming, without necessarily being in a hurry to reach it. The ending was more than a little ambiguous and clearly the story isn’t nearly done.

Also, Blood of Elves is not really a very good title for it. Sure, the topic of those words came up and I can see how they could be even more relevant for a future book, but for this one… no.

Krondor The Assassins


Don’t mean to keep harping on this, but like its predecessor, there really should be a colon in the title.

I liked the more urban intrigue of this one, but it missed out by not having one of the main characters of the earlier one. This one has one roguish character named Squire James, aka Jimmy the Hand. But it missed his former companion, the roguish and rakish Locklear. Basically, the other protagonists just didn’t hold my attention.

But, it came with a third book and I imagine I will read that one too. Hopefully Locklear comes back.