Monday, March 23, 2015

Review: Railsea

Railsea by China MiƩville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a weird way, this reminded me of some of the old-school "hard" what-if sci-fi, where the author would make one leap - one wild assumption about future technology - and then try to show how the world would be made different by that one change.

Except Mieville does it with fantasy, and his one assumption is ludicrous.

The Railsea, as a concept, is great storytelling but lousy physics. There are a ton of things wrong with it and it's not worth making a list; suffice to say that a mole the size of a blue whale is not, in this universe, tunnelling through earth solid enough to lay train tracks on, at a speed sufficient to catch a train running on those tracks. What's cool is that this really doesn't ruin the story at all; it's an 18th century sailing novel, and they're just called trains for some reason, and the fact that they're trains makes it feel a bit wacky and odd which is fun. I enjoyed this world, it's characters, and their story. Just try not to think about it too much.

(It's a lovely typeface - thank you for telling me all about it's origins in the appendix. Now, never again set a book where you replace all the ands with &s; I understand the symbolism, but it's incredibly annoying to read.)

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was, perhaps, a little aimless, but it's lovely; ethereal and nebulous and fey. A glimpse into the mind of an obsessive-compulsive without turning it into some harrowing psychological thriller. It's sad and poignant and beautifully written.

In the author's forward, Rothfuss tells you not to read this if you haven't read his other two books. I disagree completely - though he may have a certain weight of authority over me on the issue, if it comes to a showdown. Like one of Auri's favorite rooms, this may not go anywhere, but it is perfectly self-contained.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Review: Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is pretty bad.

I'm sorry to all of you folks for whom it's a nostalgic romp through your childhood, but I read this for the first time as an adult, and it is not good. The characters are a series of not-even-two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that are caricatures of themselves:

Grumpy Dwarf
Mischievous Rogue
Evil Wizard
Gentle Giant
Grim Paladin
Barbarian Princess
Noble Savage

That's all you need to know about them; and indeed, all you seem to find out about most of them. There are two many of them, and most are entirely unnecessary to the story; it's like reading a phone book. They're presumably all here because they were present in the original role-playing game this was all based on, because you can hear the dice rolling behind most of these pages. They're mostly all just dumped on the reader as "old friends reuniting", but their shared history doesn't have any depth or weight to it. The elf is there to provide brooding angst; the other non-humans are strictly lame slapstick comic relief.

The setting is a typical fantasy tourguide listing of the Environments section of the Dungeon Master's manual: tree village, mountain, forest, swamp, underground lost city, elven city. We get as little detail about most of it as we get about the characters moving through it. The enemies are over-the-top, mustache-twirling, puppy-kicking evildoers who are stupid and easily-tricked; our heroes defeat them by dumb luck most of the time anyways. I've noted the inherent racism in epic fantasy before, but it's particularly strong here: murdering sentient goblins who are unaware of your presence is considered good fun and good riddance, and everything non-human besides the noble and wistfully-romantic elves is comically stupid.

The plot seems to center around one of the characters having stolen something off-camera, in a dream, before the book even started, and the efforts to get it back from them. Various powerful beings - including a few gods - tell our heroes where to go and what else to steal, and then they just do it. But it's all ok! Because the people telling _us_ what to do are shiny and bright! And the people telling those guys what to do are stinky and dark! Get em!

I have to admit to not finishing this - I seem to have lost the thing 3/4 of the way through - but I think I'm fine with that; it didn't seem to be getting any better.

(Favorite moment of Fantasy Physics: Two giant buckets connected by a pulley. Caradmon holds down the lighter of the two with all his strength, mighty thews straining, then jumps in the bucket along with another large heavily-armoured man, and the bucket shoots upwards, freed from his immense gravity-defying power!)

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