Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee

As I have mentioned before, I discovered Yoon Ha Lee, as many people did, with Ninefox Gambit.  That book hit me like a freight train - there was so much happening, and I didn’t know if I understood half of it,  it what I did get, I loved.  I devoured the Machineries of Empire series and have been saving the short stories, reading them slowly, because I don’t want them to end.  I read his YA novel, Dragon Pearl, when it came out, which I frankly did not love.  I’m not sure if I just found the plot too haphazard, or if the YA tone didn’t work for me, or if I didn’t enjoy the Space Fantasy aspects, but when I read it, I kept thinking two things: this protagonist is making all of the wrong choices, and the writing style is too simplistic and is turning me off.  

I decided to give Tiger Honor, another book in the same universe as Dragon Pearl, a try (thanks, NetGalley, for the eARC in exchange for this honest review!).  I didn’t love this either,  it I enjoyed it more than I did Dragon Pearl.  I think my main problem is that I am not the target audience - this is more middle grade than YA, and so the conventions are different.  I felt the pacing was off, and several of the secondary characters felt like cyphers, and the protagonist felt both too competent t and incompetent at the same time.  I may just wait for the author’s next adult novel.  But I will recommend it to my kid.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee

I can’t believe I waited this long to jump on the Fonda Lee bandwagon! I’ve been hearing about Fonda Lee and the Green Bone Saga for years - her books keep showing up on recommended lists and best of the year lists, but somehow I never got around to finding the time to read them.  But when I saw a book by her from Subterranean Press on NetGalley, I thought I should request it to try it out.  It was wonderful! Her characters are so well drawn, and her world building is wonderful! Even though this was a short book, I felt like it was a real place and well defined.  The only note that clanged to me was when a character who was not a warrior ended up killing someone in a fight, and his emotional response to this did not seem to fit with what I had thought of who the character was up to that point. But maybe that’s just me.  In any event, I loved this book and an putting all three Green Bone Saga books high up on my TBR pile. Thanks for the eARC in exchange for this honest review.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by Kim Newman

As I have said before on more than one occasion, I am wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections. But this is one of the better ones I have sampled lately. A new-to-me story by Seanan McGuire is always a treat. Give this one a try! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Kaiju preservation society by John Scalzi

 I was excited when I got the new John Scalzi book from NetGalley and Tor in exchange for an honest review - I’m a big fan of his work. But his last few novels have been weaker than some of his earlier work, and I think it was due to his habit of rushing through writing them to make his deadlines (as he has eloquently described on his blog). I also had some concerns about this new book, since on his blog he described it as also being written very quickly after a different novel idea fell apart. 

The first two chapters are a REAL turnoff. Scalzi’s protagonist is a glib millennial in New York City in March 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic, and as someone who lives in New York and works in Manhattan, I can tell you that Scalzi has failed utterly to capture the mood and attitude of the people living through that specific time and place. Instead his characters feel flat and unreal in a way that totally destroys any ability or desire to want to read any further. 

It feels like a failure of worldbuilding, except the world he fails to build realistically is OUR real earth, before it even gets to the parallel earth filled with giant monsters. He envisions a global conspiracy that thousands of people know about but no one talks about that is supported by every government on the planet. Throw into it a secret effective one-dose covid vaccine early in the pandemic that gets kept solely for the benefit of this global conspiracy, and it’s not just a world that’s unbelievable, but one I wouldn’t want to exist. 

Once the plot gets going, the writing doesn’t get better. The characters are all ciphers. At 1/3 of the way in, none of the characters have any individual personality. They all exhibit that trademark Scalzi-character wit, but in an undifferentiated way. This is especially frustrating in dialogue exchanges without tags, because it is very easy to lose track of who is talking. I know from his blog that Scalzi has done this to make it sound better in audiobook format, but it really shortchanges the clarity of the words on the page. By the end of the book, i still could not differentiate the characters, breaking them down only into Narrator, Villain, and Everyone Else (and they all sound just like Narrator). 

The writing also feels noticeably weaker than in prior books. For example, here is a paragraph from chapter ten: “We all screamed and Satie did a thing and our helicopter did another thing and somehow we got past Edward, but not before I saw an image I would take to my grave.”  This really feels like phoning it in to me. There are SO many instances in this book of the narrator telling the audience that they can’t describe something,  or they can’t explain something, or it makes no sense, but it just happens. If the author cannot explain something, maybe that’s a sign that there is a problem? 

I will keep rereading my older Scalzi novels and I will look forward to whatever new novels he comes up with and I will keep enjoying his blog like I have for years. But I can’t give this one a pass. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Batman: The Imposter by Mattson Tomlin

This was a weird out-of-continuity elseworlds-style Batman story. Batman is more clearly neurodivergent in this comic, Dr. Leslie Thompkins is much younger and a tries to provide Batman with therapy, and there is a noticeable lack of costume villains. The story and the art are clearly aiming for a more high brow experience, but it just felt rather tired and dull, like the author didn’t really want to write a Batman story unless he could put his stamp on it. And the “innovative “ art style was much better executed in the original run of Batwoman for example. This is skippable.