Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sunday Review Post, 3/11/2012

Myke Cole - Shadow Ops: Control Point

Magic and the US military - very interesting premise, and a lot better than it could have been. 

First, this is an excellent example of mil fic. It verges on military porn in a couple of places - the gun was SOOOO big, the helicopter flew THIS fast, etc etc - but it was fun for the most part. The pace was quick, the characters were compelling. The premise, though, was what kept this fresh.

Some point in the near future, magic "erupts" all over the world. Magic shakes out into several "schools." I had to take the book back, so I don't have the official names in front of me, and wikipedia has failed me - but there are schools for the four "elements" - earth, air, fire, and water. There's a healing magic. Those are the "approved" schools. The "unapproved" schools are necromancy (magic animating the dead), "whispering" (controlling animals), negromancy (black magic - magically induced corruption), elemental magic (creating self-aware elemental beings), and portamancy (magically opening doors between our reality and another one). The military, especially in the US, has quickly moved to take control of mages. If you discover that you have magic, you pretty much find yourself in the army, which is the only place to get training in the magical arts. Mages who resist serving in the army are "selfers" - only interested in themselves. "Selfers" are tracked down by the military and given a choice - serve, or die. If you erupt in one of the unapproved schools, you're a "probe" - a prohibited mage. "Probes" are hunted down and eliminated. Officially. Unofficially, there are lots of rumors that the military has a secret training facility for the "probe" schools.

Oscar Britton, the protagonist in this book, is an Army officer. After working to defuse a magically powered Columbine situation, Britton erupts in a "probe" school, and runs. He is tracked down, and, officially, killed. But there wouldn't be much of a book if that were all there was, so I don't think it's much of a spoiler to suggest that the rumors are true. Britton gets training in his school, and works with an elite unit of similarly skilled mages to help the military do things.

So, second, the book provides a fascinating contrast with other "magic training" stories. I found myself thinking of Harry Potter, of course, but also Lev Grossman.  Britton's training is not like Hogwarts, but nor is it like Brakesbills, or even the "hobbyist" schools of Grossman's second novel. Cole offers an entirely different take on magical training. Britton goes through a magical boot camp, learning the military applications of his abilities, and the ways in which he can work alongside others in combat situations. His talent allows him to help in search and rescue type situations, but it's also a powerful force multiplier in combat. Britton and his team of four other mages effectively destroy rifle battalions. It makes you wonder what Harry and Ron and Hermione could have done with proper training...

Third, the book is full of some interesting thoughts about military service. What responsibility does a soldier have if he feels he's being asked to do something illegal? Is that illegality balanced by the moments in which he is asked to do things that are heroic? Does it matter if the orders are not illegal, but merely morally questionable? Britton wrestles with his talent, and he wrestles with his role in the military, and he wrestles with some serious moral dilemmas. The whole book is, as a result, surprisingly deep, while still being fun and fast paced. Fans of mil fic who are sufficiently open minded about the idea of magic will enjoy this. Magic fans, who are sufficiently open minded about the idea of the military, will also enjoy it. Cole has found an entirely new niche, and filled it quite nicely. I look forward to the rest of the trilogy.
Walter Mosley - Devil in a Blue Dress

Pretty good for a first novel, or at least a first novel in a series. I think Mosley falls into a couple of cliches, but I think the book is overall solid, and I really like Easy Rawlins as a character. Side note - some previous reader appended comments throughout, and said previous reader was an ass. And, possibly, an asshole, which isn't quite the same thing. I don't really have a great deal else to say about the book - it's a fairly straight forward mystery novel. Two things I did like. First, Easy doesn't start out as a detective, but sort of falls into the job. Second, the descriptions of 1948 Los Angeles were fascinating. Two things I didn't like. A heavy reliance on child abuse and sexual abuse as a motive/plot point - this feels a little cliche, actually (also, trigger warning). Of course, this is an older novel, so perhaps it's not as much of a cop out as it feels.

Finally, to the ass who appended comments - in 1948, Negro was not a nationality, but Italian was very much a race. Also, how would you describe someone of mixed Negro and Italian parentage if not as "half-Negro, half-Italian"? 

A. Lee Martinez - Chasing the Moon

A surprisingly delightful novel, much much better than I thought it would be round about the middle of the book. The over all vibe of the book was very Christopher Moore/Tom Holt - witty, and heavily character driven, with not a lot of plot. As such, by about the middle of the book, I began to dread the inevitable weak ending - Martinez drove his characters into a corner, and there was a great possibility that they would not be able to get out, or would require the assistance of a suddenly revealed alternate actor. Thankfully, Martinez did not resort to either option, but instead offers a strong and satisfying ending. 

Diana moves into a new apartment with fantastic rent, only to discover that there's a big catch. The bedroom closet houses an immortal beast from some other dimension - Vom the Hungering - and, if she opens the door, Vom will eat her (and everything else in his path). But, if she doesn't open the closet, she'll be stuck inside the apartment forever. Since either choice would result in a very short (but potentially interesting) book, Diana finds a third option, and effectively "tames" Vom, who becomes an amusing, if voracious, side kick. Diana soon acquires an array of other oddities, and finds herself helping out the superintendent - super of the building, but also, to some extent, of reality itself. 

Meanwhile, a cult based around a two part deity - Calvin, the earth-bound human form, and Fenris, the monster who chases the moon (yes, it should be Managarmr. Yes, Martinez addresses this). Naturally, Diana and the cult end up in conflict with each other, and ultimately this is resolved in the aforementioned satisfying ending.

In terms of pacing, the book is very much like a long short story, with a great deal of build up to a climax, with almost no denument at all. That's fine, it works quite well in this case. In the end, a fascinatingly quirky novel full of fascinatingly quirky characters, and not a lot of plot, but just enough to keep the thing moving along. Worth a look.