Friday, July 31, 2009

Forgotten Books: The Tar-Aiyam Krang by Alan Dean Foster

My latest contribution to the Forgotten Books Project started by Patti Abbott. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.

Back in the late 1970s, Alan Dean Foster was my introduction to science fiction. He wrote the novelizations to the Star Trek Animated Series, expanding 22-minute cartoons into longer stories with more depth and characterizations (here's my review from earlier this year). Naturally, I gravitated toward Foster's own work and started with his first book, The Tar-Aiyam Krang. Thirty some-odd years later, I frankly can't remember a thing about that book. Now that has The Tar-Aiyam Krang on audio, I decided to read it again.

Foster's first novel, The Tar-Aiyam Krang (1972) is the first to feature his young hero, Flinx, and his 'minidrag,' Pip (basically, a flying snake-like thing). Flinx is an orphan on the planet Moth, part of the interstellar Human-Thranx Commonwealth. The Thranx are incectoid creatures who have a good relationship with the humans. Flinx, who is a partial telepath, happens upon a mugging in which Pip played a role, an event where both muggers and victim all die. Snagging something from the victim's pocket, Flinx soon discovers it's a star map that might lead to the Krang, a large weapon or musical instrument created by a long-dead race, the Tar-Aiyam. Two gentlebeings, one human (Tse-Mallory) and one Thranx (Truzenzuzex) hire Flinx as a guide through his city. The trio end up at the home of a merchant, Malaika. Armed with the star map, they all board Malaika's starship and set off on their adventure.

The irony of reading this book when I did is all one of timing. I recently read Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island for the first time as well as Scott Lynch's The Lies of LockeLamora (my review). It's clear that Foster was at least inspired by Treasure Island (treasure map; star map; young hero) and Lynch's 2005 novel is part of a long line of orphan heroes (Oliver Twist, Batman, etc.). Foster's book was good and lighter than I remembered. With youngFlinx along, he gets the chance to ask Big Questions that result in an info dump on the reader. Thankfully, the info dumps were not too long but they still slowed the story. But the story's kind of slow anyway. Treasure Island had more action than this book. But, at least, The Tar-Aiyam Krang did have the huge ending, setting up Foster's later books. One thing that annoyed me back in the day was the names of aliens. When I read the book, I could not even figure out how to pronounce Truzenzuzex. Now, with the audiobook, I know. More importantly, I know what the name means. Okay, I get it now. My bad.

The Tar-Aiyam Krang is the first of four books Foster wrote in the 70s (Orphan Star, The End of the Matter, Bloodhype) and Flinx and Pip returns sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s. Just this year, Foster published Flinx Transcendant, the fourteeth and final novel in the series. The Tar-Aiyam Krang is a first book and it has all the good things a first book contains (new ideas, new characters, new universe) and a few minor nits (the need to explain everything at the expense of action). With most, if not all, the Flinx books now available on audio, I'm likely to forge through more Flinx books in the coming months and years. He's a fun character and, besides, are you going to argue with a teenager who has a venomous flying reptile resting on his shoulder?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Forgotten Books: Naked in Death by J. D. Robb

(This is a slightly reworked version of a review I did way back when I had few, if any, readers on my crime blog. The original review appeared in March 2008.)

(This is a contribution to Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books.)

Call me bi-curious. No, not in that way. I’m talking in the way of romance books.

I’m a red-blooded American male. I write mysteries, I read mysteries, SF, thrillers, history, food tomes, almost everything but romance books. Up until now, I’ve always thought of romance books as trite throwaways that contain a couple of good sex scenes. Read those and forget about the rest of the book.

But something happened about a month ago: I actually noticed, really, for the first time, how many romance books there actually are in a bookstore. Hundreds. Thousands? And, for the first time, my countenance faltered. I realized that I might actually be up to read a romance. But which one? I asked a fellow writer who she liked and, among the names was Nora Roberts. I know Nora Roberts just like people who don’t read horror stories knows Stephen King. I went the local library, picked up a few Nora Roberts books, but none of them really caught my attention.

Then I remembered J.D. Robb. I knew that Roberts wrote stories as Robb so I checked them out. And I found my beachhead in the field of romance books. Lead character is a police detective. I’m writing a book about a female lead detective. Stories take place in 2059. Hmm, that sounds like SF. I like SF. The books are characterized as romantic suspense. I like suspense. My first novel was a suspense novel. And I’m a romantic. What’s not to like? I verified which book was the first in the series, Naked in Death, checked out the audiobook from the library, and inserted the CD.

The first disc was not even halfway through before I was hooked. And not just mild interest but hook, line, and sinker. I was all in. The book has a nice pace, not slow at all. Since the book was written in 1995, it is interesting to note some of the futuristic discrepancies but just as cool to note the stuff Roberts got right. Eve Dallas, the lead character, carries around a device that will surely be what the iPhone is going to be: the all-in-one gadget that basically does everything. I also appreciated the more mundane aspects of 2059 NYC: cars that don’t fly. Sure, I want my flying car. Who doesn’t? But we’re probably not going to get there in 50 years.

Back to the story: Eve Dallas must investigate the murders of a licensed companion, a prostitute, who just happens to be the granddaughter of a prominent US Senator. It was pretty interesting to read this book, with legalized prostitution, during the week NY governor Eliot Spitzer resigned for being with one. Roberts really let us readers get into Eve’s head and thoughts. I found myself being mad when she was and happy when she was. I’ll admit the POV shifts that frequent this book is not the style in which I write. It was annoying at first but then I got used to it.

The story was great. But what about the romance? This was a romance book after all. Rourke, the all-everything Irish guy who starts as a suspect and becomes Eve’s lover, is the kind of guy, I’ll admit, seems to inhabit romance books. Now, I’m saying this purely from a stereotypical standpoint. But, hey, the first romance book I read has one of “those” guys in it. How’s a regular guy supposed to compete with that? Anyway, the romantic aspects of the novel seemed even, believable. Even the sex scene—there’s one main one, with intimate details—was good and hot. I give a hat tip to Ms. Roberts in the many ways to describe sexual intercourse without using actual physical words.

One of my biggest questions to see Roberts answers is how the series characters Eve and Rourke go on being together, their daily interactions, their passion. Naked in Death was the ‘getting together’ book. Those are easier. Just look at all the movies out there (and probably half the romance books). What I want to know is how the characters grow together.

For the more forgotten gems, head on over to Patti Abbott's blog.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Comic Review: Joker by Brian Azzerello and Lee Bermejo

(This review originally appeared on my crime blog. I'm posting it here during my vacation away from the blog.)

Of all the things Heath Ledger did for the character of the Joker, making the Clown Prince of Crime a thug tops my list. I’ll not go so far as to say that the comic book version of Joker was genteel. He was always a murderous character, more so in the last twenty-five years. But you always got the sense that the Comic Book Joker didn’t want to get his hands dirty. Sure, he’s shoot you but he’s leave it up to someone else to clean up the mess.

Not so with Ledger’s Joker. He’s a thug. He’s dirty. He’s vicious. And he’d just as soon stab you with a knife and have you bleed on his hand as shoot you. It was a characteristic of Joker that I welcomed. It’s the difference between noir and pulp. Pulp is fun, gritty at times, but, in the end, kinda light. Noir is dark, brutal, always gritty, seamy, unsettling.

With the new original graphic novel, Joker, that sensibility is alive and well. Joker is noir.

The graphic novel is about Joker but it’s also about Jonny Frost. He’s the narrator, a young punk who doesn’t know what he’s getting into when he agrees to go pick up Joker from Arkham Asylum. It seems someone thought the Joker cured and got him released. Wonder if that doctor isn’t an inmate in the asylum. Nonetheless, Frost picks up Joker and starts his crash course in revenge, Joker-style.

Another difference with Ledger’s Joker is his obsession with controlling the crime in Gotham. As that stack of money burns, Ledger’s Joker announces he controls Gotham now. In the comics, you never really got the sense that Joker was after power or control. He was just out to have some demented fun at everyone else’s expense. Azzerello’s Joker is, again, more in the Ledger vein than previous incarnations. Joker, upon his release, discovers that his organization has gone to the crapper. And he’s out to fix that situation no matter how many bodies pile up.

The first body is that of Monty, the man who is a lieutenant in Joker’s army who didn’t please the master well during the master's absence. Literally, Monty is skinned alive. Frost is shocked (as are we readers) but then Joker gives a little speech. And Frost is…awestruck. The artwork by Lee Bermejo is painted, not your typical four-color art. Every frame is beautiful despite its occasional grisly nature. The frame with a starstruck Jonny Frost tells more than an hundred words. Jonny Frost is in the spell of the Joker.

The story progresses as we watch Joker, Frost, and Harley Quinn (a stripper) go see various members of Gotham’s rouges gallery. “Killer” Croc is a big-ass black man with acne scars. Croc is drawn so huge on the page that it feels like the white frames surrounding the artwork won’t be enough to hold him in. Abner (aka Penguin) is the moneyman of Gotham, something Joker doesn’t have enough of and something that he craves. Two-Face is here and he seems to be as vain as Harvey Dent used to be before a punk threw acid on his face. He’s the big cheese, too. It’s all about Joker getting back what’s his from Two-Face. And the Riddler, er, Edward Nigma, is here and he’s, well, weird.

All this is to say that this is almost an alternate universe kind of thing but it speaks to what makes the Joker tick just as good as The Killing Joke (my review here) or other famous Joker-centric stories. There’s a few scenes of honest empathy if you’ll allow yourself to feel for a psychopath. In one crucial four-page sequence, Joker takes a broken bottle to the face of another thug, blows up a building, and then, is seen crying and hugging on Harley. This is almost as shocking as the violence.

If Joker’s involved, you just know Batman will eventually make an appearance. For the most part, however, he's merely a looming presence off-screen. To be honest, the way the story moves, I didn’t need Batman to show up. I knew he was coming...and I almost didn't want him to. Just as I enjoy the Gotham Central (my review) comics (featuring the police officer of the G. C. P. D.), I was quite enjoying all the criminals without the hero. But he’s called (you’ll never guess by whom and how) and dispatched. Quick as lightening, the story wraps up.

A bit too quickly for my tastes. The ending, while decent, wasn’t the gee-whiz ending of, say, The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns or Branded Woman by Wade Miller. It was just an ending. It spoke to why the Joker was released from the asylum but never really answered the question why he was released. Unless the answer is in some subtext, I missed it.

Azzarello can do believable dialogue with the best of’em. It’s fun seeing these hardened, yet flamboyant criminals talk trash to each other. In a cast full of insanity, it’s even fun to read two of them joke about a third person:
Abner/Penguin: Someone is very sore at you.
Joker: Really? That’s wonderful news. I just like to make him sore. It’s what drags me out of bed.
Abner/Penguin: No, not him. Though I’m certain he’s not very happy about what you’ve been up to either. I’m speaking of Dent.
Joker: Harvey’s mad? Which one?
Abner/Penguin: Ha!
Joker: You think it’s funny, Abner?
Abner/Penguin: I think it’s a fair question. I don’t know how to answer it.
What about Jonny Frost? Well, let’s just say he’s us. He’s the “us” who looks at the movies and comics and sees all the havoc created by a man who looks like a clown and thinks “That’s cool. I want to be like the Joker.” Jonny Frost thinks that, too, at the beginning. He gets his first row seat to the madness that is Joker. Jonny looks into the abyss and makes a decision. It’s the most crucial decision of his life.

What this book boils down to, for me, is this: it’s a sequel to this past summer’s “The Dark Knight.” Visually, Joker is drawn as the perfect blend of Ledger’s Joker with the comic book Joker. Characteristically, he’s more Ledger’s Joker than the gentlemanly version from the comics. You get in the head of a killer. And you see things you never expected. Just be sure to go into the story with an open mind. It’s a good story and well worth your time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Comics Review: DC's Wednesday Comics

Now, this is what I'm talking about!

DC Comics is always one to play with a theme or a marketing gimmick. But, this time, they've come up gold. Wednesday Comics is a 12-issue weekly comic title that, in this digital age, seeks to recreate the golden age. It's printed in a 20 x 28" tabloid, 16-page newspaper-type format. It’s gorgeous. And the feel of it in your hands (and the smell of it) will evoke days of childhood. The paper is folded twice, bringing the size down to basic comic book size. Carrying it around, it’s kind of like being a business man carrying around the Wall Street Journal except more fun.

Gimmick or not, the folks at DC still have to produce something worth reading. They haven’t skimped here, either. Clearly written in episodic format, the first issue gives readers a taste of what to expect. Here’s the breakdown.
  • Batman by Brian Azzarello and Risso - Yes, this is the same Azzarello that wrote 100 Bullets and last year's Joker (my review). An investment banker has been kidnapped by forces unknown. Gordon sends up the Bat-Signal but it's too late. The art is sepia-toned, evoking some of the scenes from Batman Begins.
  • Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth - This one gives you a bit of background as to who Kamandi is. The original Jack Kirby art is hinted at as well as the lettering from the old Prince Valiant comic strip.
  • Superman - The artist, Lee Bermejo, is spectacular. You can tell that Supes is wearing boots and cloth in his costume, the detail is that good. You also get one of the funniest lines in this issue. As Kal-el is about to fight an alien, he ponders "I just wish somebody could tell me why every 'close encounter' has to end in a fight."
  • Deadman - A murder-mystery, nothing less for the Dearly Departed Detective. And we end by seeing the back of the killer's head!
  • Green Lantern - This one goes retro with the story taking place in the early 1960s as the Gemini project (NASA) is getting off the ground.
  • Metamorpho: The Element Man - None other than Neal Gaiman writes this one. Again, another wonderful retro look-and-feel to this one, especially in the art. You even get the head shot roll call like the JLA titles back in the day.
  • Teen Titans - The villain (or maybe he's not?) gives us a peek as to how he's going to destroy the Titans.
  • Strange Adventures - Adam Strange, the spaceman, returns! Here, the Rock-People of Ragathann invade his city. These ape-like, blue monsters look mean and ugly. What's Adam to do? Blast off into the sky, gun in hand.
  • Supergirl - The funniest entry of the issue. Best thing: Supergirl *looks* like a girl, not some tramped-up teenage object of lust. I knew about Krypto the Superdog. When did Streaky the Super Cat show up?
  • Metal Men - I never read this title back when I was younger. Just reading the one page and the humor involved, I think I'm going to have to find some old issues.
  • Wonder Woman - Okay, this one was trippy. It's almost an origin story. Diana is dreaming but, for almost the entire page, we (and she) don't know it. She's about to be sent to the Mortal Land (i.e., the rest of earth). Best thing here: she talks, in her dream, to two birds who hold a running commentary not unlike Pat Oliphant cartoons or the old Pogo comic strip. Trippy, but in a good way.
  • Sgt. Rock - Written by Adam Kubert and drawn by his dad (and co-creator), Joe Kubert. Yeah! Rock's captured by a SS Officer and is getting pummeled. Dunno why but you know Rock's got stones of, uh, steel.
  • The Flash - This one's a twofer. The top half of the page is Flash battling Gorilla Grodd. The bottom half is "Iris West." That's Flash's wife. This one has that soap opera look and feel (complete with the Warhol-esque dots for color) of comic strips like "Apartment 3-G." But what she sees makes her wonder...
  • The Demon and the Cat - Demon doesn't make an appearance here but the Cat is Catwoman. And I think she might trying to steal something. No, really!
  • Hawkman - Again, a peripheral character for me but there's a huge splash panel of a sky full of Hawkmen, flying upward to retake a hijacked plane. Oh yeah.
Basically, if you can't tell, these stories are intended to be FUN! And I had a blast reading them. Can't wait until Wednesday. Or the next one. Or the next one...

Friday, July 10, 2009

Robert E. Howard's Conan Stories on Audio just made my day. I just discovered the first 13 Conan stories on audio. A quick peek at Wikipedia, "The Source of All Things True," reveals these are the 13:

* "The Phoenix on the Sword"
* "The Frost Giant's Daughter"
* "The God in the Bowl"
* "The Tower of the Elephant"
* "The Scarlet Citadel"
* "Queen of the Black Coast"
* "Black Colossus"
* "Iron Shadows in the Moon"
* "Xuthal of the Dusk"
* "The Pool of the Black One"
* "Rogues in the House"
* "The Vale of Lost Women"
* "The Devil in Iron"

I am one happy dude!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Which is more fun: Alternate Earth/History or Brand-new Land?

One thing that's come about as I write and conceive my steampunk tale is where to set the story. Right now, it's an alternate Earth, not yet in the 20th Century, but with steampowered trains as well as airships and other SFnal crafts. Originally, I thought of creating an entirely new land, complete with different names for cities, land masses, and history. Gradually, I've begun to think of creating an alt-Earth with alt-history.

Which do you prefer? Do you like seeing freshly-conceived worlds with new ideas, characters, cities, creatures, etc. Or do you like seeing known historical figures/concepts in a different manner?

As a historian, I'll admit that I tend to prefer the latter, alternate history. I like seeing how authors/filmmakers create interesting "what ifs" in history. I also think alternate history can be easier for the author, to be sure, but also the reader. Abraham Lincoln is pretty much going to be the same no matter what alt-Earth you place him in, right?

Okay, y'all's turn.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Which is the better term: Steampunk or "Historical SF"?

I stumbled across a new blog for me: The Steampunk Scholar. (hat tip to Chris Roberson). The post Roberson linked to was an interview with Rudy Rucker. The entire interview is enlightening but I gravitated toward one exchange (bold text by me):
MP: Do you think the recent reprint of The Hollow Earth by Monkeybrains Books has something to do with the current increased interest in steampunk?

RR: I think the reprint of The Hollow Earth was a personal decision by Chris Roberson, the author who runs Monkeybrains Books. He enjoys reading and writing historical SF.
Rucker goes on to describe steampunk as a literary movement and a term.

"Historical SF." I seriously like that term mainly because I think it can apply to any story with historical elements and SFnal elements that take place out of the typical Victorian Era that steampunk seems to occupy.

Even now, as I conceive and write my own "historical SF" novel, I still use the word "steampunk" but, more and more, it's not, really, a steampunk story. I've got magic in the story, but also airships. I've got conjured cities and, yet, regular old six-shooters. I'm not necessarily all that interested in how some of my technologies work, just that they do. I have a group of people, ostensibly heroes, who have different pieces of technology based on their needs and talents. It's not all steampowered. Much of it is.

Thus, I think I'll start using the phrase "historical SF" when I refer to my story. If I get strange looks, I'll probably still drop the word "steampunk," but, even then, I'll still have to explain myself.

So, Readers, which term do you like? And, just like in school, please explain your answer. ;-)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Apollocon 2009: "SF: Then and Now"

Of all the panels I attended, this one was the best. Moderated by Bill Crider, the panel included Alexis Glynn Latner, Bennie Grezlik, Larry Friesen, and Lawrence Person.

Bill started off the discussion with an obvious question: where do we start? Does SF/F begin with Jules Verne and H. G. Wells or somewhere else? Lawrence chimed in with his take: SF started great with Verne and Wells, then proceeded to "suck" for a few years, then, gradually, started to get good again. Larry stepped and reminded everyone that Edgar Rice Burroughs used then-current science as the basis for the science in his Mars books. Sure, it's a little cheesy now but back then, it was current thought. Bill made a point that we know too much now. All the panelists and many audience members nodded their heads.

Bill then posed the question using Lawrence's term: Did SF really "suck" back in the days when Hugo Gernsback, the editor of Amazing Stories. Alexis said it was like comparing apples, oranges, and key limes. She mentioned Sturgeon's Law: Ninety percent of everything is crud. Lawrence countered by saying that modern crud is so much better and more proficient than Golden Age crud.

A member of the audience asked the panel to discuss "science fiction" before Gernsbeck, that is how Wells, Verne, and Burroughs rose up to the prominence they have now. Lawrence stated that in those years, "science fiction" wasn't a genre as we know it now. They were just stories. Gernsbeck realized that there was a market for a magazine that features these kinds of stories. Thus, he created Amazing Stories.

In these days, many times authors wrote stories where the idea was the hero. Larry pointed out that authors would take a known situation, even if it was in space, and examine what would happen when an Idea intruded. This led, eventually, to sub-par stories, something John W. Campbell tried to rectify when he was editor Astounding Stories in the 1940s.

The next question was: Why should we care about the old stuff if so much of it is bad? Larry said that in 1970, when the New-Wave SF was being written, he didn't like it. A story, for him, has to be worth telling. He'd rather read an interesting story badly written than a story with a bad concept excellently written. For a good overview of pre-Golden Age SF, Lawrence suggest Isaac Asimov's Before the Golden Age, a time more or less from the mid-late 1930s through the 1950s. Among the name floated: Van Vogt, Heinlein, de Camp, Doc Smith, Robert E. Howard.

Bill made sure that everyone was on the same page with the term "SF." Was it science fiction or speculative fiction? Speculative, the panel agreed. Larry then asked posed a question and answered it: What is SF? It's a story about stuff you think could happen, not necessarily about stuff you know couldn't happen. That is, if you know that Mars doesn't have any living thing on it, that would be "fantasy" if you wrote about it now, but it wasn't when Burroughs wrote his stories.

The panel discussed the short fiction market back in the day as well as the various media available back then and now. Bill's next topic was space opera. We had it back then and we have it again now. Bennie, like Lawrence, said that the stuff we have now is so much better than it was back in earlier ages. Larry brought up John Campbell's guideline: treat the background as the background unless your reader need to know something. (Goes back to the world building ideas I've been writing about, including the Epic Fantasy panel.) Bill said that modern readers and writers are much more sophisticated nowadays. Larry misses the way certain authors like Burroughs composed sentences. He flags the first paragraph, which happens to be one sentence, of Warlord of Mars, Burroughs' third Barsoom book. Here is is.
In the shadows of the forest that flanks the crimson plain by the
side of the Lost Sea of Korus in the Valley Dor, beneath the hurtling
moons of Mars, speeding their meteoric way close above the bosom of
the dying planet, I crept stealthily along the trail of a shadowy
form that hugged the darker places with a persistency that proclaimed
the sinister nature of its errand.
The panel discussed a topic near and dear to Bill's heart: artwork. It, like the stories, is much more sophisticated. Weird Tales was mentioned as a good example of artwork that is both good and cheesy. Alexis mentioned that imagery we now get from the Hubble telescope or any of the Voyager missions. Talk about sense of wonder. Larry said you can't write like Burroughs anymore. Lawrence countered and said you can, you just have to change you science.

Speaking of change, a last point Bill made was to read the following authors: Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Jack Williamson, and Clifford Simak. You should read some early material and then some later material to discern how they changed their styles with the times.

The discussions went right up to the end of the hour. It was a highly informative panel and I learned quite a bit. Hope you did, too.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Book Review Club: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

(My July entry in Barrie Summy's Book Review Club)

The Lies of Locke Lamora
by Scott Lynch is a tale I’ve wanted to read for about three years now. I can’t remember where and when I first learned about it but the premise (gentlemen thieves and con games) and cover blurbs intrigued me. “…One part Robin Hood, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…” “…a high-octane fantasy caper around a refreshingly original hero…” Sometimes, reviewers name-dropped authors: Dickens, Mieville, David Liss. All these things percolated in my head, made some preconceived notions, and let me know that this book was one I really must read.

Prologues can be good and bad things. Here, it obscured the first paragraph of chapter one: “Locke Lamora’s rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim’s trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.” With my tastes for fun capers and con games, that would be enough for me. I’m probably not alone. There’s a reason why Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair, and other movies and books that feature clever criminals do so well. We all like to know how the bad guy does it. And, frankly, we want him to win. The prologue, while serving to give us some background and an origin for Locke, slows down the action. I wanted to get to the adult Locke doing his cons.

When the present-day story starts, the Gentlemen Bastards—Locke, Jean Tannen, the twins Carlo and Galdo, and Bug, the youngest member—are engaged in a long con to trick one Don Lorenzo Salvara and his wife into paying for a non-existent shipment of rare wine. The level of detail Locke and his pals use to deceive Salvara and everyone around him is intricate and fun to watch. Salvara brings Locke (disguised as Lukas Fehrwight, the wine merchant) into his sphere of influence and promptly starts being robbed (although Lorenzo is, of course, giving away his money).

Locke, you see, is known as The Thorn of Camorr. Camorr is the fantasy city based upon Renaissance Venice. No one has yet linked the identities of Locke and the Thorn. They think Locke is just a sneak thief under the jurisdiction of Capa Barsavi, the crime lord of Camorr. The Gentlemen Bastards are content to keep up that appearance, paying Barsavi his ‘royalties,’ and stealing from the wealthy citizens of Camorr.

Over the horizon, however, is the Grey King, a mysterious figure who seems to be killing some of Barsavi’s lieutenants. The Grey King employs a Bondsmage, the only source of magic in the entire book. The Bondsmage is a sorcerer of a sort and one not to be trifled with. The Grey King deduces the true identity of The Thorn of Camorr and makes Locke an offer he can’t refuse.

Double crosses, bloody fights, and revelations ensue from here. The structure of the book is very much like the TV show “Lost.” For those who haven’t seen the show, an episode features a main storyline of a certain character. At certain points in the show, you get a flashback that gives you a better understanding of the character and why a certain action/decision was made. Same thing with The Lies of Locke Lamora. I’ll admit that, at times, the “Interludes,” as Lynch names these flashbacks, seem like an easy way out of a lot of exposition. Sometimes, these Interludes are useful, as when we learn about the Bondsmages. However, as informative and entertaining as the Interludes sometimes are, Lynch probably could have done with less of them and handled the exposition via dialogue or reader inference. Other times, the Interludes provide a detail that isn’t immediately used like when Lynch describes how the Thiefmaker forced all of his boys to travel, become apprentices to various groups around Camorr, only to return to the Thiefmaker’s headquarters and teach him and the other boys all the details of said group. That’s a cool idea and Locke and the other Gentlemen Bastards use this information later in the book.

The world building in The Lies of Locke Lamora is engrossing. The level of detail Lynch puts in the text is thorough and it enriches the story. But, again, he could have trimmed a bit here and there. For example, when Jean Tannen apprentices for a swordsman, he has to traverse a “garden” of glass. These glass-flowers will, if you cut yourself, suck the blood from you and you may never get out alive. Cool! Lynch tells us about this in a page or two (I listened to the recent audio version via so, for me, it was a few minutes) and then we’re back in the story. Too often, for me, at least, the background-via-interlude was too long and disrupted the action. It was a huge info dump. Didn’t need quite so much. A little goes a long way. I know people who love the minutest of details in all fantasy worlds and The Lies of Locke Lamora will satisfy folks like me and will leave others wanting more.

Speaking of wanting, I really wanted to love this book. Again, read the blurbs: “…One part Robin Hood, one part Ocean’s Eleven, and entirely enthralling…” “…a high-octane fantasy caper around a refreshingly original hero…” “One part caper, one part swashbuckle, and one part Mission: Impossible…” Don’t know about you but when I read those words (“high-octane” “Ocean’s Eleven” “swashbuckle”), a certain type of story emerges in my mind. To me, swashbuckle equals “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “high-octane” equals Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity (my review), and “Ocean’s Eleven” equals an entertaining movie that’s fun to watch with lots of chuckles. Quite frankly, The Lies of Locke Lamora isn’t all of these things. That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining. It was. I just expected to be more entertained than I was. Don’t think that I fall prey to the modern affliction of Having To Be Entertained All The Time. I enjoy slower burn books (Dan Simmons’ Drood is a good example (my review) as is Megan Abbott’s Die a Little (my review)) and I don’t always want or expect the fast-paced action a la Hard Case Crime, Edgar Rice Burroughs' Martian tales, or The Da Vinci Code. But with blurbs like the ones I quoted, I expected The Lies of Locke Lamora to be more like those other titles. It wasn’t. It was its own thing, which is good.

That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. And I’ll easily be reading the second book, Red Seas Under Red Skies (it’s got friggin’ pirates; I am SO there), if not the entire proposed set of seven books. I’ll just be doing it with a slightly-revised set of expectations.

BTW, Scott Lynch is the Guest of Honor this year at Armadillocon 31 in Austin, TX.

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@Barrie Summy

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