Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ahhhh! (very late reviews, 11/17/10)

This past week and such has been crazy! For instance, I have not yet been to the library this week, which is unprecedented. I did paint a room, though, so that's all good.

I do have reviews:

S.M. Stirling - Dies The Fire 

This is the first of Stirling's novels of the Change - I reviewed the most recent one a couple of weeks ago. I wanted to go back and take a look at the beginning of the characters. This was, I thought, a neat way to approach a post-apocalyptic setting - at the beginning of the novel, all explosive technology stops working. Gasoline no longer burns fast enough to power engines. Gunpowder no longer ignites quickly enough to fire bullets. Steam engines do not produce enough pressure to drive locomotives. The world is thrown back into a pre-industrial state. Stirling looks at the implications of that, and follows around 3 groups who adapt to the new environment. It's good stuff - he has good characters, he's thought about the setting a lot, and it's an entertaining read. I do find his use of accents distracting, I know I've mentioned this before. Additionally, he skirts the edge of implausible luck in a couple of places - to the extent that his characters comment on it, actually. Some plot points that I remember as coming later in the series actually happen much earlier. A good re-read, I may continue re-reading the series. 

Charles Stross - The Jennifer Morgue 

On Saturday, in addition to painting, I also went to a local book sale - factory seconds and the like - and picked up this book. Last year, I grabbed the first one of these - The Atrocity Archives - and I was actually looking for the 3rd one, which I thought was the second - so this was a nice surprise. Stross has a neat premise here. Magic, and particularly demonology, actually work. It's a subset of math. With the rise of computers during and after WWII, it's actually become easier to summon things from elsewhere. All of the major world powers have subsets of their secret services which are devoted to ensuring that such summoning doesn't happen. James Bond meets Cthulhu, basically, with a healthy dose of computer hacking thrown in for good measure. The humor is dry, the horror is just under the surface, and the books are exceedingly well written.

Stross is a hugely versitile author - he can go from hard science fiction to this to softer fantasy type settings, and makes each of them work. He doesn't like steampunk, but I suppose you can't please everyone all the time. One of the signs of that versitility here is the inclusion of a short non-fiction essay at the end of these novels. In the first one, Stross muses on the shared nature of horror writing and spy fiction. In this one, he discusses the creation and endurance of James Bond as a character. Well thought out, well written essays, plus entertaining novels? Hard to beat!