Review: The Mussorgsky Riddle

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:49:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Mussorgsky Riddle The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this book due to it using the suite, Pictures at an Exhibition, by Modeste Mussorgsky as a framework for the story. One of my teachers in junior high taught a section on Mussorgsky using the same music suite.

Each movement of the suite was inspired by a series of paintings done by Viktor Hartmann. The teacher told a unique story about each painting that related the visual work with the music written by Mussorgsky. As an example, the fourth movement is entitled "Cattle". The movement features a steady deep bass and percussion beat that mirrors the imagined feet of the ox pulling a cart. The music crescendos just as the oxcart reaches the center of the painting with a bit of a crash before slowly fading as the oxcart goes off into the distance.

The teacher suggested that the crescendo as the oxcart reaches the middle of the painting coincided with the oxcart running over the legs of the man that was sitting against a hut by the side of the road. I guess he should have pulled in those legs.

So now Darin Kennedy decided to use the same musical work as the basis for his book. In this case, an abused boy is experiencing episodes where he travels into an imaginary world described by Hartmann's and Mussorgsky's works. An investigator and spiritually "sensitive" person is hired to help solve the riddle of the boy's episodes. The story was interesting, but a little muddled.

It had a detective style murder mystery. It had some sort of mystical world traveling. It had some sort of spirituality. It tried to have some sort of "science". It has witchcraft.

But all of the elements are rather loosely connected. The resolution was decidedly unfulfilling. The protagonist was successful largely because she emoted enough.

If you have an attachment to any of the features above, then you will have a pleasant time with this book.

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Review: The Forgetting Moon

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:10:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Forgetting Moon The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review. That is a reasonable estimate of my experience.

This is the start of a standard sword/sorcery epic with multiple point-of-view characters. The world building is phenomenal.

The short version of the story's hooks is that there are five of everything. Five ancient heroes waiting to be reborn. Five pieces of armor (helm/crown, armor, axe, sword, etc.) worn/used by the lead hero waiting to be recovered. Five sacred stones that also need to be recovered. Five different theological views of the actions of those ancient heroes. Five islands. Five cultures. Five armies (although some are already broken).

The author does a good job of hiding the protagonists. Characters that are presented as being good are also shown performing decidedly non-good actions; calling their motivations into question.

Which of the five theological views of the past is correct? Which has been twisted by the hands of time and machinations of humanity/elves/etc?

Along with the usual sword and sorcery activities, there is also a mystery that one of the protagonists has to solve to save her friend's life.

A personal issue I have is with the tendency of authors to put diminutive female characters up against big, burly male characters and expect the smaller characters to measure up. The author does a very good job of describing why all of the characters are the way they are. He provides an appropriate backstory for each character that meshes well with the events that follow.

One nitpick and one criticism.

The nitpick has to do with the dominant religion. It makes a big deal out of having every person be the product of a known union. Being a bastard significantly reduces the social status of the character.

Under such a religion, there should be a whole lot more focus on chastity. While there is a significant focus on marriage, some of the characters are quite willing to engage in pre-marital sex. The theology doesn't mesh up with the social norms as a result.

The criticism is that an awful lot of names of people and places are thrown at the reader in the first few chapters. Rather than slowly bring the reader into the world and natively building familiarity with geography and personalities, the author tosses a lot of detail at the reader in the first few chapters.

The series is promising. People that enjoy epic fantasy should give this a try.

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Review: Dust

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:10:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Dust Dust by Hugh Howey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a brief 3-star review. More like a 2.5-star experience.

This book could not overcome the serious defects in Silo, #2 (Shift). The engineering/construction flaws in the imagining of the silos is made ever clearer as the story progresses.

Read Wool.....stop there.

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Review: Defiance: A Narrative Poem

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:10:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Defiance: A Narrative Poem Defiance: A Narrative Poem by Lela E. Buis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a 4-star review.

The book is a narrative poem about a potential future time when non-binary people are compelled by the government to undergo surgery to "correct" their condition. The story features a woman in love with another person despite the fact that they seem incapable of returning her affection.

The protagonist doesn't want to have to choose a gender. Their non-choice is their identity. They fear that having to choose one or the other would be to ultimately turn them into someone else. Someone they did not choose to be.

This was a very interesting and nuanced treatment of gender-related issues. The one flaw that held back the story is the constant references to "straight white men" as being unimaginative, non-creative, and largely unproductive. In attempting a nuanced discussion of gender-related issues, the author relaxed into a one-note description of the alternative.

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Review: Red Sonja: Unchained, Volume One

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:09:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Red Sonja: Unchained, Volume One Red Sonja: Unchained, Volume One by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a solid 5-star review.

This is a stand-alone series about Robert E. Howard's Red Sonja. In this story. Sonja's trademark bikini chain mail is broken and needs to be repaired. In the interim, Sonja ends up wearing the blue fur pelt of a demon that she has killed.

This is a straightforward sword and sorcery tale that is an earnest homage to RE Howard and his characters. The artwork is top notch as is the writing. I learned about this book while attending an author event for Peter V. Brett. I had no idea that he has written it.

The writing, in particular, is noteworthy as it works on two levels. The primary story is well crafted. At the same time, there are undertones that the reader can enjoy if they are so inclined. One of those undertones has to do with Sonja being portrayed in sexy armor that would be pointless in a real sword fight. She was created to give largely male readers a little more flesh to look at.

The side observations on that issue acknowledge that we are living in the 21st century where women are more than eye candy while at the same time not being dismissive to readers that frankly enjoy the eye candy. It is a subtle and sophisticated treatment of that issue.

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Review: Injection, Vol. 2

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:09:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Injection, Vol. 2 Injection, Vol. 2 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a solid 5-star review.

The saga of the Injection continues. The Injection is a sort of artificial intelligence that exists within computers but is able to manifest itself in the real world. The manifestations may be physical, spiritual, on this plane of existence or another, or some combination of all three.

Instead of following the characters from Injection #1 forward, we get to see the Injection operating in a different way as it continues to figure out how humanity functions.

Great art. Great writing. A series that is worth your time.

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Review: Too Like the Lightning

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 05:08:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

Too Like the Lightning Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a 2-star review.

I read this book as it was one of the 2017 Hugo best novel nominees.

I made it about a third of the way before a Dorothy Parker response was needed.

The book takes place in the future. Humanity has apparently cast off religion and overt sexuality. There are counselors that offer advice, but due to the current human convention, cannot discuss anything that smacks of religion.

In another development, people no longer align themselves with a national identity. Instead, there are 7 "Hives" that manage global affairs. One can live in one place, exhibit cultural traditions from a second place, and belong to a "Hive" that exists in no place in particular. On the one hand, this is an interesting concept that is modeled somewhat within our modern human conventions. How else does one explain religious groups such as the Mormons or Quakers?

People apparently change from hive to hive as their personal convention permits. The poorly defined government structure seeks to balance those population groups. One crisis in the book results from an action that will severely undermine the "popularity" of one of the Hives. Accordingly, the author appears to be relegating human decision making to the same level as deciding which movie star/media personality we support.

This infantilizing continues when a group of adults is chanting for one of the adults in charge of the government to buy them all some ice cream. Adults would dig into their own pocket and buy their own dairy confections rather than abase themselves before a supposed authority figure.

The book features air cars that can whisk a person halfway around the world in a very short amount of time. Unfortunately, I believe that the mathematics of speed, the physics of energy, and the economics of productivity help move the book from the science fiction category to being more properly fantasy.

The coupling of nearly infinite individual movement with the dissolution of borders creates an intriguing circumstance to discuss the utility of national identities. Breaking the laws of physics and economics so thoroughly undermines that discussion.

The characters apparently hew towards an androgynous exhibition of sexuality. This is highlighted by a scene where one woman who chooses to embrace and exhibit her female sexuality/sensuality. When another character is reluctant to agree to a course of action suggested by her husband, she quietly uses her sexuality to inspire agreement.

Humanity has several million years worth of evolution that includes sexuality and sexually based responses. That's a bunch of long words for saying that boys naturally want to please pretty girls.

Those sexual responses are part of why we have been so successful as a species. Denying that part of our evolution is, in effect, denying our existence.

All that being said, the single greatest sin of this book is that it flips from characters that were interesting over to other characters that are less than interesting. At the send, the book comes off as a high-minded college text book with a message of "sit down so I can teach you something".

A little digging indicated that the author is a college professor. Ironically, I spent some time reading her blog and found those entries to be interesting. I would probably enjoy taking a serious college course with this author. I have no interest in her fantasy writing.

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Review: The Dinosaur Lords

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Posted on : 1/01/2018 03:55:00 PM | By : Dann | In : , ,

The Dinosaur Lords The Dinosaur Lords by Victor Milán
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book had all of the hooks that should have made it a great experience for me. It had knights...fighting while mounted on dinosaurs. It had the usual palace/court intrigue.

Early in the author reveals that it has an additional hook; people have to be killed twice before they are truly dead.

Yet the book demonstrated just how poorly it can fail to measure up to expectations. While I was expecting to read more about how knights and squires managed their dinosaur mounts, the dinos were just rolled out for the combat scenes. Then they were taken away with little interest in their care, feeding, breeding, selection, etc.

The book also trades in the sort of nonsense that suggests that a lithe character can compete with a more muscular character. In this case, the leading female protagonist imagines that she could be a knight riding a dinosaur alongside her paramour despite her being a demonstrably slender character. The knights are, as one would expect, described as being significantly larger and stronger by comparison. There is no way that she could reasonably expect to don a heavy set of armor and be able to move effectively.

On the flip side, the book does do a good job of presenting characters training and fighting effectively within their "weight class" regardless of gender.

The author, unfortunately, decided to include an unnecessary rape scene. The primary villain is well established as being evil by the time this occurs. Aside from demeaning the protagonist (the same one with visions of armor dancing in her head), the rape does nothing to alter the mechanics of the plot. The female protagonist is seized and imprisoned by the villain. She is accused of treason and expect to be found guilty and killed as a result. The rape does nothing to further diminish her in the eyes of the other characters and it does nothing to further motivate her to escape.

The author felt the need to name every location in the book twice; once in something similar to Spanish or Portuguese and once in English. This was mildly distracting. People that know enough of either Spanish or Portuguese will be able to infer the English translation. Those that do not, being fantasy readers already, will parse as they do elvish or orcish or Klingonee and move on.

At the end of the story, the need for a double death to kill a character was applied inconsistently. The entire phenomenon was largely left unexplored.

And finally, one region decided to go "socialist". This was presented as working reasonably well despite the extensive human history of socialism resulting in shortages. The one realistic aspect that the author got right was the noble that decided to abandon his title and let the region go socialist. The noble ends up being an influential member of the leadership committee for the community. One of the lower caste members observes that the change to socialism hasn't really altered his status. He did whatever the noble told him to do before the change and he does what the noble....and the rest of the committee...tells him to do after the change.

The author wades into the human sexuality arena. The characters display none of the common bonding tendencies that exist within the human condition.

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