Due to some recent travel and lounge time, I’ve managed catch up a fair amount on my reading. While I enjoyed a lot of what I’ve read, I’m not sure I have the time or energy to write full-page reviews on everything so I’m going to try a little something new. Here are three short reviews (bang-bang-bang!) of some stuff I’ve been plowing through.
It was my loverly wife that first introduced me to Steven Brust…one of the many reasons I’m still madly in love with her. His “Vlad Taltos” series is probably my all-time favorite. Brust is one of the few authors for whom I actively look to see when the next book is coming out. This, the thirteenth of the long-running-yet-never-boring series, delivers. It contains all of the trademark wit and verbal acrobatics of the previous entries and manages to tie up some loose ends in the saga while introducing a few more questions as well. Tiassa is at heart a caper–but, as usual, Brust can’t stop there. His caper is not only multi-layered but takes place over the course of a decade. Plus, not only do we get more Vlad and Cawti, we also get Lord Khaavren, the Blue Fox, and my second-favorite narrator (next to Vlad himself, of course), Paarfi. One caveat: this one is definitely for fans of the series. If you aren’t familiar with Vlad or the Khaavren Romances you may find yourself extremely confused–or at the very least miss many of the wonderful references and some of the nuances of the plot.
Cross Plains Universe: Texans Celebrate Robert E. Howard (edited by) Scott A. Cupp & Joe R. Lansdale (2006) : 9781932265224 (MonkeyBrain Books & FACT, Inc.)
Robert E. Howard is one of the great triumvirate of “pulp” writers–the others being H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. His seminal creation, Conan the Barbarian, endures through the strength of Howard’s storytelling abilities–abilities which left an indelible mark on our culture far beyond the author’s tragic suicide in 1936. This fine collection of short stories, released in 2006 (the esteemed subject’s would-be hundredth year), celebrates Howard’s prowess as an author and his personality as a Texan. Some feature aspects of Howard’s life and feature him as a character. Others invoke his style and sense of adventure. Others actually feature some of his characters (El Borak and King Kull, for example). All of the stories here are top-notch. Standouts include: “The Bunker of the Tikriti” by Chris Nakashima-Brown (a very Howardian adventure set in modern-day Iraq), “A Whim of Circumstance” by Mark Finn (a very cool story taking place on the set of a never-actually-made Ray Harryhausen Conan movie), “Thin on the Ground” by Howard Waldrop (two young Texans looking for fun in Mexico get more than they bargain for), “The Sea of Grass on the Day of Wings” by the late Melissa Mia Hall (a beautiful depiction of Howard’s last day), and “The Roaming Forest” by Texan transplant Michael Moorcock (an adventure starring Rackhir the Red Archer from Moorcock’s famed Elric saga).
I remember when this one first came out: I gave the premise a bit of a chuckle and figured that it was a nice gimmick and probably little more. I found myself pleasantly surprised once I actually picked up the novel and gave it a try. Grahame-Smith does a great job of seamlessly forming a “secret history” tale of conspiracy, slavery, and vampires in the Old South. Abe is a compelling character with a driving purpose that colors the rest of his, and the nation’s, life. The prose drew me in and kept the pages turning…until the final chapters. For some reason, the book seemed to lose steam once the Civil War was complete and we approached Abe’s final days and the upcoming drama with John Wilkes Booth. As each plank of the actual biography fell into place, the compulsion to see what happens next began to fade. And, unfortunately, the ending (no spoilers here) seemed a bit hokey and didn’t fit with the characterizations as presented previously in the work. Very clever, very well written, but, ultimately, it just faded away toward the end.