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Dead of Winter, by Lee Collins


Summary: Cora and her husband Ben are bounty hunters who make their living by killing various supernatural shit in the old west. I fuckin' love supernatural shit in the old west.

It's rare to see established relationships in fiction, so I was curious to see how he would handle it -- answer is, unfortunately, not particularly engagingly. It's a hard thing to pull off, since the quickest shortcut to audience-engagement in a romance is unresolved sexual tension. Barring that, it seems like the best way to sell an audience on an established relationship is to give them an excellent team dynamic (ala Zoe and Wash in Firefly, or Rickey and G-man in Liquor), so that the reader gets a clear sense of why these two people like each other, how they work together as a unit, and how staunchly they've got each other's backs. I didn't get much sense of that here.

Partly it's because Cora is an asshole. Don't get me wrong, I'm totally okay with that -- she's arrogant, aggressive, impulsive, and a full-on alcoholic, which would make her a tired stereotype if she were a man, but it's a combination that takes on a very different (and rather interesting) feel in a female character. I just wish we'd been given more to like about her, in addition to all her less savory qualities.

Anyway, I read Dead of Winter because it turned out that She Returns From War was the sequel to this. I'll give SRFW a spin later too.

Plot - 4/5 (brisk, with action and stuff)
Prose - 3/5 (utilitarian)
Characters - 3.5/5 (Cora is not lovable, but she is somewhat different)
Novelty - 3/5 (can "Supernatural in the old west, but with less drama" be called novel?)
Emotional engagement - 2/5 (nope, not feeling it)

Counter-recs, if you're lookin' for more weird west: The God Eaters by Jesse Hajicek or A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files. (But only if you like a side of hot gay sex with your supernatural shit in the old west. And if you're not -- friend, you are reading the wrong books blog). Territory by Emma Bull, not queer but with interesting atmospherics; think magical realism in the Weird West.

On literary criticism

So I haven't updated the gay fiction booklist in a very long time, and part of it is that I hadn't (until very recently anyway) been reading all that much fiction, my time getting eaten by school and more school, but the other part is that I've become increasingly introspective about what the role of the critic should be, how to distinguish what I like from what is objectively good, and whether it's even possible to quantify the quality of a book.

Read more...Collapse )

Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley


McKinley is rapidly joining the ranks of authors that I have really really liked in the past, and would really really like to keep liking, but whose recent works have been on a one-way track to uninspired-town. (Tanya Huff and Neal Stephenson are also on that list.) The first of McKinley's books I read was Beauty, which I reread not long ago and still highly recommend, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast that is immediately absorbing and has a wholly lovable protagonist. My other favorite of hers is Sunshine, which I enjoy far more than I have any right to, given that it's a product of the "age-old vampire x teenage girl" genre popularized by Twilight. And yet.

My recent forays into narratology have left me better equipped to analyze what, exactly, it is about a text that makes it succeed or fail, and on the subject of Robin McKinley, my conclusion is this:

1) She's far better at creating character via first-person narration than third. (Although it's no guarantee -- her first-person Dragonhaven was a solid dud as well.)

2) Outlaws of Sherwood suffers from too much summary and too little scene. Seriously, I was 13% of the way through and there had been all of one actual scene -- as in, dialogue and in-the-moment action -- and the rest had been the narrator summarizing what they'd been up to. Boring as balls. Give me character subjectivity, or give me SOMETHING ELSE TO READ. I persisted up to 33%, then quit to go replay Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Counter-rec: Beauty if you want ye olde medieval fantasy, Sunshine if you want decent urban fantasy.

ETA: Apparently this came out in 2002?? Then why did I drunk-kindle-buy it last October and it was like, Congratulations on pre-ordering Outlaws of Sherwood! Whatever.

Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch

...is grate!!

So this is his third in the series that began with Lies of Locke Lamora, a book that made quite a splash some years back for being extremely clever and just so damn fun. (Think Robin Hood crossed with Ocean's 11, with banter and camaraderie that Joss Whedon would envy.)

Unfortunately, when the next book came out, Red Seas Under Red Skies, it was... disappointing. It's been years since I read it, so I don't remember it well enough to analyze why it failed, but it didn't have anywhere near the same verve as the first one. I, and a lot of other readers, concluded that whatever perfect storm had produced LoLL, Lynch didn't know how to make it strike twice. Repeated delays on the release of Republic of Thieves seemed to confirm those fears, cuz books don't get delayed when the author is on their game and writing like a house on fire.

...Or maybe they do, because Republic of Thieves is a gem and a joy that lives up to all expectations set by Lies of Locke Lamora. The dregs of RSURS's tortured plot get flushed away in short order, and our bold heroes Locke and Jean are back in the game. The game this time is to steal an election -- and across the table, their opponent is Sabetha.

Oh yeah, you heard me. She's finally in it. And because analyzing failure is more instructive than analyzing success, I'm going to spend the rest of this post turning a magnifying glass on the fly in Locke Lamora's ointment: Lynch's weaknesses with women.

That most strange and terrible of beasts, The Female CharacterCollapse )


And on that note, since I still haven't found a date to see Jupiter Ascending with, I decided FUCK IT, I'M GONNA DO THIS THING BY MYSELF. You guys, I am ridiculously pumped about this movie.

Gremble conlangs for Dragon Age

So this morning I wrote a program to generate elvish names for Dragon Age, because apparently I have no idea how to prioritize. There was already a name-gen for this out there, but the results it threw were overwhelmingly unusable, and often in blatant violation of the phonological rules that had been established (what? WHAT. COME AT ME BRO, THERE IS NO 'C' IN THIS LANGUAGE) so I made my own. It's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Discussion about reverse-engineering a conlang under the cutCollapse )

The Grim Company, by Luke Scull

Waste of money.

So... the title probably should have tipped me off that this was GRIMDARK GRIMDARK, but all the cover blurbs (from reputable sources!) raved about how it was "fun" and had a "great sense of humor," so apparently I'd concluded that the title must be sort of ironic.

Yeah no. Clumsy prose, laden with telling-not-showing, punctuated by tedious infodumps; a monotonously grim and dark setting; every character going out of their way to be unlikeable; seasoned with a dash of sexism and homophobia. I'd pick out examples of what is evidently supposed to constitute a "great sense of humor" but it's pretty cringe-worthy.

Apparently I have the same problem with grimdark that I have with urban fantasy -- that I can't stop myself from reading it, but never like it much when I do. And I haven't worked out entirely why that is, though I've been circling that question for a while now. Cuz I like the Ye Olde Medieval Fantasylandia setting. I like magic and mayhem and plots with Epic Stakes, I like dystopias. I'm not a prude, about sex or violence, though I find them both pretty uninteresting without context. I don't have the triggers that grimdark tries to set off about once per page. So why do they never deliver what I want?

I realized while I was writing this that I never got around to finishing up the post I'd started on Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death, which is not grimdark, but might be considered a foil to it. It sparked the beginnings of a revelation on what it is specifically about this modern crop of novels -- the ones that inspired the coining of the term "grimdark" -- that makes them different from earlier fantasy stories with a similar body count. Saving my thoughts on that for a longer, more organized post.

Anyway, at 20.6% of the way through Grim Company the plot was finally starting to become mildly interesting, but not enough to merit slogging through all that other bullshit, so I abandoned it.
(Current excuse for not reading much fiction: thesis-writing. Jesus H Christ.)

I'm not much of one for impulse-buying books that I haven't read before, particularly not new, because they're expensive and I'm broke and choosy. But this weekend I went nuts and bought five of them, which hopefully I will read, and then hopefully I will write about:

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines
River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay
She Returns from War by Lee Collins
Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
Grim Company by Luke Scull

As usual, these are not book reviews, just me chatting about what jumped out at me as notably good, bad, or unusual.

First up: LibriomancerCollapse )
If you're getting less party banter than you were expecting, you may have the Uncomfortable Silence bug that is affecting many many players, to our everlasting heartbreak. The fix is to (1) play offline AND (2) travel via the war table rather than the map.

Fancy parties are the new Fade. Points of note: finish all side quests before you go looking for blackmail material, and court approval only has to stay above zero or something, don't tear your hair trying to keep it at 100.

Improved ability rings mostly don't work. You might as well just junk 'em.

And some thoughts on Dorian (no spoilers)Collapse )


...Until October 14th, Bioware is giving away Dragon Age: Origins FOR FREE.

Holy cats, people, GO GET IT. It has been on my to-do list for a very long time to write a post evangelizing for Dragon Age, because I don't have a religion, but if I did this would probably be the one.

If you like complex fantasy novels with excellent characters, DO IT.

If you're like, Eh, a video game? Really? o_O DO IT.

If you'd like to play an RPG where you actually get do things YOUR way, rather than having all the decisions made for you under the assumption that you're a surly straight white guy, DO IT.

And if you want to have a ROCKIN' GAY ROMANCE with a well-developed love interest -- well look no further, my friends, because that is what Bioware has become (in)famous for.

In the interests of getting the word out about FREE DRAGON AGE in time, I'm going to post this as-is and follow it up shortly with a longer post about why Dragon Age is so awesome. In the mean time, just trust me -- download it, even if you intend to ignore it until I convince you otherwise.

Happy Dredd Day!

Apparently this is a thing! And a thing I am delighted to signal boost, because I'd be THIS HAPPY if Dredd got a sequel:

For those of you who haven't seen Dredd, DOOO EEEET. It is the exploding-heads action movie that fell through a portal from an AU Bizarro Hollywood in which there is no sexism. It is the comfort-food movie that I put on when I've been having a bad day and need Karl Urban's chin to cheer me up. It is the movie that inspired me to write 30k words (and counting) of heterosexual fanfic.

Dredd & Anderson

vs. Cersei Lannister.

More fun to be had:

- The Hello, Tailor review that sold me on Judge Dredd
- My musings on celibate judges

Dredd approves (+3)


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