SFF Books I Have Been Reading

I read the late Sir Terry Pratchett’s The Truth in his Discworld series. This was just before he left us, which makes it a bit bittersweet. Discworld is one of the most amazing series out there, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s in the top twenty sellers in the world. It’s a satiric alternate world fantasy series of linked novels that spins satire both precise and broad, and always on point. The Truth manages to be relevant to the time and tech of when it was written, of the past back when Pratchett started as a journalist, and deeply relevant now, tackling the psychological concept of newspapers and the power of news. Pratchett makes good use of old characters and the new ones in the story are delightful. Pratchett’s writing is so amazingly constructed. It’s like an onion, it has layers. This is probably one of my favorites now of the vast series for its balance of slapstick humor with razor social commentary.

I read Ben Aaronovitch’s Moon Over Soho, the second book in his contemporary fantasy series set in the U.K. about magician apprentice/police detective Peter Grant, which is getting more and more attention and has been optioned for British television. This one dealt with a magical crime crisis in the Soho area of London, natch, and involved jazz musicians, which brought Peter dealing more with his dad, a minorly known jazz musician. The book wasn’t quite as well crafted as the first one maybe, but it was a solid follow-up that expanded the magical world of the story in interesting ways. It was nice to get a better sense of Peter’s multiracial family and background, and the posse of jazz player aides he picked up were a lot of fun. The key with these types of series is the protagonist voice, and Peter is a good one for me — his relationships with the other characters are well done, as is most of the dialogue. I’ve generally been recommending this series to folks looking for a contemporary fantasy one. Aaronovitch is also well known as a former writer for Doctor Who and British television. The first book in the series is called The Rivers of London, (re-titled Midnight Riot in the U.S. because American publishers are sometimes stupid.)

I read Laura Resnick’s latest in her popular Esther Diamond series, Abracadaver. The series is broadly farcical contemporary fantasy about a working actress who helps out a kindly 350-year-old mage fight evil mysteries in NYC. Again, protagonist voice is the thing, especially for the humorous series, and I find Esther’s pragmatic do-gooder a lot of fun in Resnick’s experienced hands. Like Pratchett and Aaronovitch with his dialogue, the book has a few layers working that you can dig into or ignore, as you prefer. This one, unlike others in the series, takes up right after the somewhat cliffhanger ending of the last one, The Misfortune Cookie, and involves Esther’s gang of allies dealing with whether her sometime boyfriend, organized crime task force police detective Lopez, has a new partner who is not what he seems and may have something to do with reanimated corpses and demons. I liked this one having some nice digs at cop shows, with Esther back to work as an actress on one. It’s interesting that Esther is seeing the real costs to being part of a second world, balancing with the ordinary one, and Resnick has the ensemble of regulars down pat with the dialogue at this point. (The first book in the series is Disappearing Nightly.)

And along the same lines, I read the fourth book in Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie contemporary fantasy series, How the White Trash Zombie Got Her Groove Back. While the series is kind of satiric at points, it’s not a straight out satire series. This book I enjoyed for the character development of the protagonist, morgue worker and recovering addict Angel, who happens to be a zombie in Louisiana. A lot of new developments and discoveries came up about the zombieism of the series, which twists between SF and fantasy in its existence. This one was also fairly action packed, as it was a rescue mission when several members of the organized zombies in her area are snatched, traitors are suspected, and Angel and several of her comrades have to travel to NYC. This opened up Angel’s world and strengths further, but contemporary fantasy suspense, like regular suspense, is very much about sense of place, which meant losing that aspect — ruralish Louisiana and the morgue environment — in this series entry. So not my favorite of the series, but interesting, and again, a lot of good action with all the paramilitary/spy characters of the “Zombie Mafia” and there’s lots of disturbing set-up for the next one. (Rowland is a former cop, morgue attendant and CSI forensics investigator, so all her procedural stuff is spot-on. The first book in the series is called My Life as a White Trash Zombie. She also has a demon summoner cop contemporary fantasy series, the Kara Gillian series. I haven’t tried that one yet, but I would like to see Karen Gillan play Kara Gillian in a t.v. version. It would be better than her last t.v. series.)

I also read Max Gladstone’s Three Parts Dead, the first in his Craft Sequence series that got so much buzz. And it was deserved buzz, for me. It’s a secondary world fantasy with many different elements and cultural bits packed into the text (and a very subtle strain of dark satire as well.) In Gladstone’s mix of modern and archaic world-building, gods exist and power cities, magicians have abandoned the gods for a different type of magic that involves the legal courts, and everything is for hire, including vampire ship captains and necromancy. This book centers on Tara, a scrappy junior associate necromancer brought in to help resurrect into a new form a dead fire god, and Abelard, a junior priest of the fire god, who becomes Tara’s detecting partner when they discover the god has been murdered and a bigger conspiracy seems to be unfolding. One part legal thriller, one part action spy mission, and one part wondrous fantasy, it’s a nice launch. Gladstone’s subsequent books in the series reuse some characters but follow different wizards in different parts of his very complex world.

 

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Filed under Humor, SFFH Novels to Check Out

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