Sunday, December 23, 2012

Anno Dracula


  So the rundown is as follows:

      The book is a really good adventure story with tons of extra material packed in, to the point of maybe being overstuffed. While initially starting cynical and dark, the pace picks up quickly and the book is too much fun to be overshadowed by its faults. While occasionally too clever for itself, it is still very clever, and that is something that should be commended. You will enjoy this. You should definitely try reading it. The author's a true lover of pop-culture, and it helps that he's a brilliant writer who has a good understanding of tension and narrative. In a year of books that I have really enjoyed reading, this stands out as one of the top three of its class (and yes, it's one of my top three of the year despite it coming out close to twenty years ago. Quiet, you.). More, as always, below.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012



      So the rundown is as follows: This is one of my favorite books. While it drags at the beginning, and some of the segments seem like they don't go anywhere, Daryl Gregory created a masterpiece of fiction, dealing with family, identity, and creating works. Buy this book, and if you haven't ever read it, seriously consider it, because chances are its much-deserved shelf space in the public consciousness is being taken up by something a lot less fun. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Strange Tales on the Road to Virginia: Nekocon 2012 (Part 4: And Then We Came To The End)

When we last left our hero, he had collapsed in a slightly paranoid manner on the floor...

        I lurched back into consciousness to the movements of people packing. After a brief conversation with Agnes cleared up the misunderstanding from the previous night and let me know that it was time to pack up (also that it was Sunday), I packed everything into the red Time Magazine shoulder-bag I take out on the road and headed for breakfast again at the coffee bar. A quick check of the time told me that I should be heading to the LARP room to meet up with my group for the big endgame, so I headed over at a lesiurely pace while eating my muffin and drinking my cappucinawhateveritwas.



Do you have some insane cultural theory you're just dying to tell people? Is there some book you want more people to know about or that you really want to rip a new one? Have you been to a convention and want to talk about it? Do you want to discuss, review, or otherwise advance some form of discourse about media these days? 

If so, have I got an anno

uncement for all of you. Effective immediately, Geek Rage/Strange Library is now open for submissions from the general public. Yes, that's right, I'm going into the editing business, and while I can't pay, I can at least feature your submissions in a forum that has been called "very definitely a blog". If you have something you want to say, or something you don't think many people have thought of but you, or hell, even want to tell people how much something sucks, then please email your ideas (of any length longer than four or five sentences) to

There is no deadline for this, and this is not going to be a one-time thing. Once again, this is an at-your-lesiure sort of thing, but if you have a piece you might wanna toss this way, I'll be happy to take it. I also promise that I will only be editing for grammar and spelling mistakes and will in no way change the piece. Also, you will own the work. I'm just hosting it.

So once again, if you have anything to say, email it to

Monday, December 3, 2012

Strange Tales on the Road to Virginia: NekoCon 2012 (part 3)

           Saturday began with the sound of a klaxon jolting my semi-lucid dreams away. As it turned out, Agnes had also set an alarm, and I'd woken up to that. As I stared up at the ceiling, I felt around for my phone so my own alarm wouldn't go off. And then something hit me about that. I was looking at the ceiling. A quick stock of my surroundings also told me that my throat hurt. A sudden spike of adrenaline ran up my spine. Oh hell.

          See, I don't ever sleep on my back. I sleep sort of on my stomach, half on my side. There is a very good reason for this-- when I sleep on my back, I start to talk in my sleep-- loudly, I might add, and when I'm not doing that, I snore loudly. This hurts my throat, annoys everyone around me, and usually means I wind up with a headcold because everything drains through the updrafts and downdrafts coming from my massive sinus cavity1 and wake up feeling like crap. Since everyone was still asleep, there was no time for a mass apology to the room, so I dredged myself out of the sleeping bag, got dressed, and headed to the shower with all the grace of a drunken ox. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Strange Tales on the Road to Virginia: NekoCon 2012 (Part 2)

When we last left our hero, he was falling asleep on the floor of a hotel room with an ominous noise clicking through the dark...

      The next morning, my eyelids slammed open about ten seconds before my alarm went off. I turned over a little and lay there closed while my body slowly came back online, phone clutched in my grip to spare my roommates the terrible and disturbing noise of a "vibrate" setting on hard wood. After defusing my phone, I slipped out of my sleeping bag, got dressed, and headed for the shower. I had a vague outline of things I wanted to do, after all, and while they started in "don't wake anyone up" and ended in "LARP", the general order was a little out of whack. I was able to put together a few thoughts once the warm water hit1, and sketched out a general plan that looked like this:

- Finish shower
- Cram gaping maw with whatever they had at the breakfast buffet
- Make contact with other friends
- Pay entry fee
- ???
- Roleplaying!2

         The first part was easy, and pretty much involved just turning off the water, getting dressed, and grabbing one of the tickets for the buffet. The second part meant I had to spin and pivot a little going out the door, as there was a sixth occupant of our room, Gerry, that I hadn't quite remembered the previous night. Gerry had also taken a sleeping bag on the floor. But once outside, I flipped open my phone and texted a little back and forth with my friend Abby so I could meet up with her. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Strange Tales on the Road to Virginia: NekoCon 2012 (Part 1: How We Got Here)

I decided to drop the "A Tourist in an Unknown Land" title for this...two colons is one too many. Also, sorry, this is turning out kinda dry.            

        We struck out just as it got dark, and headed south. My friend, occasional editor, and partner-in-crime Mr. Ellis* was at the wheel, and there were six hours of driving between us and the Hampton Roads Coliseum. The two of us were headed there for NekoCon 2012 and its live-action roleplay event, a new scene for us since we started hitting cons together, but one that most of the friends we have in this group seem to dig. Fresh off my pillage of NYCC** and hungry for another con, I had made an effort to go to this one, and even worked out that I'd be able to bum a ride off of Mr. Ellis**** and crash with a few friends of ours on the circuit. We had a backseat full of Coke, some peanut butter and bread, some onigiri, and several weird bread variants***** from the Asian market/restaurant by Mr. Ellis's house, and between the two of us we were pretty much ready for anything that might pop up.

          "So who would get thrown out of the library first," I asked, grabbing another Coke from the back seat and staring off at the ominous-looking dark mounds that constitute scenery when everything around you is pitch black, "Brian Blessed, or Tom Baker?"******

*His full name is "The most esteemed and nefarious Mr. Ellis, destroyer of worlds". You'll forgive me for not using all of it.
**Funny story, Mr. Ellis was supposed to pillage with me, but due to them denying me credentials and a tangle with the paperwork***, I wound up solo
** (I know, this running gag doesn't belong here, but...) Dicks.
****Who, by the way, is a god damn saint for putting up with me and my complete inability to stop talking when there's nothing to draw my attention away. For a total of ten hours in an enclosed space.
*****I do not particularly know the names of said weird breads. I just know they are breads and I do not completely understand them.
******The question should be credited to a dear friend of mine, whose privacy I will protect unless they're cool with me using their name here. Where I own a blog, and Mr. Ellis (and indeed most of the people who're also part of the con scene) knows that since I spent a fair amount of time with him that he's gonna wind up on here with his name displayed in some form, I try not to give people too much unwanted attention. And if you're reading this (and you know who you are), hi. Hope the month's going well.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Work Is Not Yet Done

           The rundown is as follows. This is arguably one of the nastiest things I've ever read, from one of the nastiest authors I've ever read. If you want a good, surreal Halloween read, you cannot go any better than Thomas Ligotti, whose works convey a certain pessimistic and existential dread. So the master of dread and dark pessimism doing a novella about a man pushed past the point of collapse who exacts some very creepy revenge on the people who wronged him gets a warm recommendation from me, despite the caveat that the novella and its companion pieces are fairly sick to read*. My Work Is Not Yet Done is not as human as Joe Hill's work, nor as sickeningly sensual as Clive Barker's early pieces, but Ligotti is in a class all of his own when it comes to unnerving the bejesus out of someone.
          The drawbacks come in when every narrator and main character sound like I imagine Ligotti to sound, not exactly purple in prose but using the same syntax and dialogue choices despite being presented as different people. The curse of Ligotti having such a unique voice is that it's kind of easy to pick out, and when confronted with a lot of it at once, it all kind of runs together a bit, with only the unique themes of the novella and two stories to keep things separate enough to be enjoyable. But pick this one up if you get the chance, or try to find it in a library. If not, try to find his other work.

*You'll forgive me for not going into too much detail yet...

Monday, November 5, 2012

State of the Blog: BEWARE, I LIVE!

So, sorry this isn't the post you guys are probably looking for, but I need to move a few things around. As you know, last week the Eastern seaboard was hit by a massive storm that knocked out most of the power*. I was out for the whole week, a week spent either weeping openly, or screaming at the PSEG trucks driving by my house**. 

I've also kind of been in a bit of a slump recently where reviews are concerned...if you notice, there are a lot more articles. I've been trying to get my happy medium back, but I may need some time to decompress. I went from a high-stress environment at home to a very low-stress but highly-exhausting situation at the last con I went to.

So: I'm sadly cancelling the Halloween Special this year***, gonna bounce back when I can finally get the My Work Is Not Yet Done review up, and we'll see how things go. I will say this, though: I am not going away, and the road piece on NekoCon is forthcoming. See you in a few days!

*Had I only stayed in Honolulu...
**And before you say "You shoulda bought a generator" or "You should have prepared better", screw you. I'm poor right now, and we did the best we could. Especially when the east coast is heavily dependent on infrastructure that was ripped apart by the high winds and the water. To say nothing of the stuff that was on fire for three days.
***I know, no caffeinated foghorn voice or pockmarked face to look at. C'est dommage.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at NYCC (Part 3)

               When we last left off, our hero had made it into the Sean Astin panel and finally found the friends he had managed to swap contact info with...

              I have some trouble describing panels. I am by nature an active sort of writer...when I do things, I do a lot of things very quickly and then report them in a long, rambling wall of text. It's crazy, it's kinetic, and while it looks like wandering aimlessly and doing random things, I am to some degree building something. But panels are for the most part a sedate thing. You can report on what was said, but unless you're making a big announcement or something, reading about someone sitting in on panels gets kinda boring. But there were a lot of interesting things going on, so I'm gonna try to talk about those.

              I finally got into the Sean Astin panel only for the guy ahead of me to park his ass right in the empty seat next to my friends. I managed to find a seat on the other side of them and sat down for what I was sure was going to be described as "very definitely a panel". My friends and I chatted for a bit-- they had some very specific questions they wanted to ask (all of them loaded), I had nothing I really wanted to do or say-- and then, slowly, Sean Astin and his two moderators made their way to the stage. The moderators were guys from a satellite radio program*, and they tended to dominate a little more than the soft-spoken Astin. 

           But as Astin found his momentum, he began to take more and more of the focus. Not in the same way Morrison held a room, but in a more congenial way. It wasn't his court, it was more of a chat with a group of people he really, really wanted to tell stuff to. He was quieter. Gentler. And then, somehow, we got on a tangent about Discworld, and things got a little surreal.

       Sean Astin, as it turns out, is a huge Terry Pratchett fan**. So much so that his favorite role he's played thus far is Twoflower, the mostly oblivious tourist from The Colour of Magic. So much so that he actually invited an audience member with a Kindle onstage so that Astin could read the prologue of The Colour of Magic. And so much so that he decided his panel was going to have a special surprise guest-- Terry Pratchett himself. In fact, before we got to the Q&A, the panel turned into a Terry Pratchett panel moderated by Sean Astin moderated by two guys***. Also, the audience member with the Kindle got to stay up on stage, which gave me slight pangs of envy. The Q&A session went about the same way every session goes...people asked Astin about his roles (hanging halfway off an active volcano wearing prosthetic feet while carrying Elijah Wood was unsurprisingly a frightening moment), about what he was doing next (doing a lot of work on various projects), and one case where a guy flat-out asked him if he could make a cameo in an indie film****. Finally, the panel ended and I decided I was going to wander off again. 

     Thankfully, this time I was able to wander with friends, so we made our way around the halls. They went off to meet a friend from Temple, and I started heading in the direction of the theater for the next panel. After a few more sweeps of the various floors to look for people I knew, I headed back towards the larger theatre structure so I could see the last event I wanted to for the night. 

     There was a sort of "main theatre" sponsored by a company I won't name here***** that I'd found out early in the day in my crawls across the convention's floors had a panel from some of my favorite artist/writers, Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick. Having seen the footage of them from such places as Dragon*Con and SDCC, I knew I shouldn't pass up the opportunity to watch them in action. So about an hour before their panel started in the theatre, I broke off from my friends and went to go stand in line. For about an hour, I stood in line, surrounded by cosplayers, the only entertainment my trusty music player and the panel going on about Silent Hill: Revelation, a film for which I had zero interest. Strangely enough, I gained interest from the trailer, but had none from the panel******. 

      Finally, we were herded into the large auditorium, and after they'd made sure the whole thing was filled, the lights dimmed and...the set turned into a 70s-style talk show?!

      Yes, apparently the good people behind the show The Venture Brothers had decided to do their panel in the style of a show called "Let's All Smoking!", with voice actors Paul Boocock and Michael Sinterniklaas as "guests" and Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick (the creative duo behind most of the show) as "hosts". The "hosts" pretended they had no idea what TVB even was, and managed to keep up the pretense until just before the Q&A session. And yes, they did actually smoke during the event. Little E-cigs that were too long and apparently felt all weird, but it still completed the effect. And it's a rare panel where the people running it are actually more impressive than the product they bring to show off, but in this case, they were. So much. 

     The AstroBase Go! panel had the general aesthetic of theatre, but a very approachable type of theatre. One where everyone's in on the joke. Hammer and Publick were welcoming and very congenial, and most of the jokes they made at anyone's expense were either about themselves or an apparently very funny in-joke about Deborah Harry from Blondie*******. The Q&A session continued the tone, with fans asking Doc Hammer for hugs ("It must be like getting hugged by a fence rail dressed like Dracula"), asking the panel about their favorite Halloween costumes, and relating an anecdote about meeting Doc Hammer in an American Apparel store (Which lead to an unprintable back-and-forth session. It was hilarious, and probably caught on film somewhere. Go look for it). By the time the panel had ended, I actually started to come down, surprised that yes, the panel had given me a high of some kind.

            But finally, the charms of NYCC had begun to fade for me. I was beat, dead tired, hadn't found anyone else, and had missed the last few panels my friends were attending. So, my coat heavy on my shoulders and once again the sounds of "House Jam" by Gang Gang Dance (which is now my official "end titles" music) pumping into my ears through my tiny earphones, I trudged out of the building and out into the streets, following the brightly colored costumed people back towards the train station and home. It may not have been the best con I've gone to, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

What I learned:
- Prosthetic Hobbit feet have got a lot more comfortable since 2001
- An hour's lead time may be just enough time to get into the bigger panels and get a good seat. Barely.
- Terry Pratchett speaks very quietly these days.
- Understand that you will not be able to see everything, but you will be able to see most things
- I should really be buying my books at these things, as they have a lot of new and promising-looking titles
- "House Jam" is still the best damn end credits music, I mean, seriously, but I will allow "Midnight City" by M83 as a close second. 

*The moderators for the panels were all from satellite radio. Those that did have moderators.
**He also appeared to think Terry Pratchett was little-known. It must be that he and I travel in wildly different circles or something.
***Who, while energetic, I tried to tune out because they tended to think a ton of references to his earlier career in such movies as Goonies and Rudy were what the crowd needed.
****One of my friends later reported that he waited with the guy to talk about Astin and film appearances. Nothing ever came of it. I don't see this as a slight on Astin's part. I just think he was busy.
*****They already get more than enough press, thank you. Actually...I think they even are the press...
******I think...I think there might be something wrong with me. Isn't this the inverse effect?
*******There was also one fan who got up to ask two questions, one "in character" that was misconstrued as something about "jews" that got a good response. But it was good-natured ribbing, it seemed. 

- A guest gives her impressions of NYCC, as she was there for longer than I was^
- Horror Show by Greg Kihn
- The Annual Geek Rage/Strange Library Halloween Special
- And much, much, much more


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at New York Comic Con (Part 2)

When we last left our hero, he was trying to find his way towards the panel rooms in time to meet his friends… 

     Descending to the lower depths of the building, I kept my friend talking to figure out where they are. I could use a map, but maps are useless to me-- I never wind up where I want to go regardless of whether or not I use them. Instead, I navigate by getting what I call good and lost. There's an art to getting good and lost, but it will get you where you need to be without fail. So I take the escalator and I start my technique, my friend giving me the exact place so I can figure out where they are once I get to the general area.

     Now, this is a technique just about anyone can try. What you do is you just sorta let your mind slip. Like you would if you were meditating. Keep walking, it's very important you put one foot in front of the other, but to get to good and lost, you need to stop thinking of a destination. The walking is more important at this stage. Move in and out of the crowds, and for the love of God don't run into anything, but just take the paths that stand out to you. As you wander, you'll find yourself getting more and more disoriented until you don't know where you are. Relax when this happens. It's all part of the technique. 

      Now that you don't know where you are, keep doing the same things, but be aware. If a way out of the place you are stands out to you, take it. If a door is open, walk through it. Music helps a lot, too, as it kind of shuts up the tiny engines that allow you to move based on intuition. Eventually, though it might take as long as half an hour (sometimes longer when I'm navigating Manhattan...more ground to cover), eventually you'll get exactly where you need to be. It may not be where you want to be, exactly, but usually you can get to there from here. It works best if you have an undefined idea of where you're going and a little bit of time to kill. 

     In my case, though, since this kind of intuition-based hokum is the only way I can navigate, I use it to my advantage in any big situation. Eventually, I found myself in the event room section, after finding the food court and the events theatre. The panel my friends were in was closed, so I bummed around a little more out there, and then went off in search of fresh prey. "Fresh Prey" in this case meant looking for some friends who were also around in the area. However, I'd neglected to give them my contact info until well after the point where they were out of my range, which made things a little difficult. Still, I figured, they were both in costume, there was no way I'd miss them*. 

     In hindsight, this was a mistake. Especially on a full convention floor. Especially when most people were in costume. Also, looking for a young woman with bright red hair at any geek convention short of a model train enthusiast's gathering is a bit like (in the immortal words of Mr. Neil Gaiman**) playing "spot the pigeon" in Trafalgar Square. More so if they're wearing black. I wandered around the various floors for a while, looking for anything that caught my eye, anyone who looked familiar, and that was when it happened. I was walking around the event floors, debating whether or not I wanted to kill some time watching anime in one of the viewing rooms, when a guy in a baseball cap came up to me and asked, 

"So are you supposed to be Weird Al or something?"

      I blinked for a few moments. Internally, I ran through my options. The guy may have been a little confused by the loud Hawaiian shirt and the long hair. I could do many things to him, but really, I just wanted him to leave me the hell alone. Finally, I hit on the diplomatic approach and went for it:

"Nah, I'm covering the con today and this is my only workshirt."

      He persisted. "Oh. look like him."

       So I just nodded for a moment, keeping things quiet for the most part and sort of odd. Finally, when he looked really uncomfortable, I finally said, "Yeah, it's the hair and the shirt, right? Look, I gotta go." And I shrugged back into my long black coat and slouched off back to the panels hall. 

       I noticed from the banners outside each one of the rooms that one of my idols, Grant Morrison, was doing a panel. I've wanted to ask him a few questions for a long time, but they're not the kind of thing you ask in public. Long discussions on magick and the occult and susto*** and all of that aren't really suited for a panel. Short ones, yes, long ones not so much. As I looked kind of bewildered, I was immediately ushered into the room where the Morrison panel was to take place. At the time, there was a panel on how they wrote and drew an issue on Wonder Woman, that while entertaining I didn't have much of an interest in****. The lack of sleep from the night before, combined with the heat from the convention hall and about seven or eight other factors was giving me a headache, so I tuned out the panel, until suddenly from the corner of my eye, I saw a skinny bald man approach the microphone, and I was yanked into focus by a sudden high-pitched howl. 

Morrison had arrived. 

      He was the only one on stage. There may have been a moderator sitting next to him, but she was superfluous. Grant Morrison held the audience, delivering a rambling but perfectly-coherent speech about his new projects (he's got two new movies in the works, one based on what he himself described as "A Christmas Carol on drugs"), the idea of superheroes as perfect ideals*****, and the possibility of a comic where the Ents from Lord of the Rings live in regular apartments. The questions afterwards ran the gamut from demon-banishing (you use logic and shapes...demons can't stand rationality) to what was going through his head when he wrote Flex Mentallo, one of his more famous works (Ecstasy and mushrooms, apparently), to questions about how his multiverses work (Featuring him grinning evilly at one fan's theory on a certain aspect and telling the fan, "Oh, it is so much worse than that"). As the panel grew to a close, I was invigorated, and it was clear Morrison really likes his work and likes to talk about his work. 

    I left the panel to find several missed calls from my friends telling me they were getting ready for the Sean Astin panel, and having missed the few chances I did have to talk to Grant Morrison for now (And the press badge that may have made it easier...******), I headed onward to finally meet up with them for the very first time that day, finally achieving my goal of having met up with people I know.

What I learned:
- Contact information is important
- Completely improvising your plans can often lead to plans not happening
- Italy has an entire genre of devilish anti-heroes, and there's a movie coming out called Annihilator that plays on this archetype
- Superman has been remade for every decade he's existed, and in the forties, fifties, and seventies he was a bit of a bastard
- I should really outline these looks at things. I mean, jesus.

In the next installment:
- The dangers of going off-topic
- An explanation of why I'm rubbish at panel coverage
- I almost climb into a trunk
And much more

A guest contributor weighs in on their experience of NYCC in the first piece on this site not written by yours truly. 

See you next time!

*When I later looked up a picture from the event, I think I could make myself out in the background, slouching towards God-knows-where. Had I only bothered to turn my head to the side...ah well. 
**Still have to review Neverwhere or Stardust. Maybe when I get another spot for a classic review.
***susto is a condition that occurs when you experience some sort of fear or trauma that causes you to believe your soul has left your body completely. Or, as I like to call it, "Late February to early April 2012"
****Wonder Woman is a comic that seems to be telling me at every possible moment "THIS IS NOT FOR YOU! STOP READING ME AND GIVE ME TO SOMEONE WORTHY!" So now I leave it alone.
*****Often misquoted in arguments about why comics should be dragged back to a time before the Bronze Age of Comics happened, much to my dismay
*******Yes, this will become a reocurring theme.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Tourist in an Unknown Land: Seven Hours at New York Comic Con (part 1)

I like the idea of these accounts having a separate title. So now they're under "A Tourist in an Unknown Land". Like it? Hate it? Let me know!

        The story actually starts a few weeks before NYCC does. I'd failed to go to New York for two years running-- the first because I simply didn't know, and the second because I was in Honolulu. So this year, I checked the website, and decided this year that maybe, I'd take the advice of one of the better first-person account writers of our century: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." and get myself press credentials. The plan was, I'd get a press pass for ComicCon and then be able to cover all four days of the show, maybe earning a little more credibility in the process*. So I went through the paperwork, got myself a fancy web URL at**, got a business card with my chop on it, and the morning of the deadline I faxed all the paperwork to New York. About a week later, I got my response: No***.

        Maybe it was that I just didn't have the circulation figures. Maybe it was that they just didn't want to give the underdog a shot. Maybe it's that most of what I do is book reviews due to not getting the press credentials I apply for. In any case, I found an alternate route in and got a day pass for Friday, figuring that I'd be able to see more than enough to report back to you guys. 

      And so, finally, on a cold October morning, about three hours late (and having forgotten my camera in the journey out of the house), I entered the Javits center for the second time in two years, once again wearing my official Hawaiian shirt of journalistic intent, and I was blown away. 

       The first thing you notice is the crowd. Most of the places I've been working and going to, there's a crowd, but it's dispersed throughout. BEA didn't have a bottleneck even half as big as NYCC. Upon entering through the proper door, I was hit by a wall of people. Almost literally. Posters and banners for all sorts of new movies hung from everywhere, and The Walking Dead's new season was advertised everywhere I looked. A car display was just off of where I came in, one that could be mistaken for an auto show were it not for the logos and banners in back, advertising something I could only barely make out.

          Navigating through the crowds was difficult even for a veteran of concert mosh pits like me, and despite the fact that it was about forty degrees out when I arrived, inside I'd already started to sweat from the heat. So naturally, the first thing I did after getting out of the crush of people streaming into the con hall was go up the stairs into the even more heavily-crowded showroom floor.

       I don't know what it is about the Javits center that always draws me to the second and third floors of the building. I guess it's just that they're the first thing that catches my eye, and between that and the large steps that always have some kind of graphic on them pertaining to the con, I get funneled upstairs. 

       I'm not the only one, apparently. The showroom on the top floor was packed with people and noise in what could only be described as an oppressive sensory-overloading gauntlet of stuff. And not really any particular order to any of it. Books were put next to video game displays, the Troma Entertainment table was smack-dab in the middle of a group of comic book companies and a few tiny independent film booths. Weirdest of all were the random anime tables scattered intermittently around the floor...I understand that the geek spheres of influence are growing closer all the time, but it just makes the whole thing feel a little it's trying very hard to find its voice but it can't. 

      A friend of mine from the con circuit told me this was because it merged with an anime convention in New York, but given that the merger isn't recent, the show should have found its soul by now. Instead, it feels like it's going through an identity crisis. The anime events pop up all over the place, but if they're going to have a section like that in their show, maybe not spread it out all over? I dunno, it just didn't work for me. The showroom felt anarchic in all the wrong ways, like something was trying to be cohesive and failing. 

      After spending some time wandering the halls of the showroom and looking at all the things I didn't feel like buying****, I finally went over to take in the video game displays. About one aisle over from a comic display for a book called (I shit you not) Whore with a display that would be just as offensive to me if I thought about such things regularly*****, the game displays boomed out from the corner of the convention hall, large banners proudly displaying a free-to-play  The game displays were pretty much a wall of light and noise, though the new Just Dance game had a platform where a small group of con-goers (most of them in costume) danced to some song I didn't know. To get out of the noise, I headed to the book section, narrowly avoiding buying two DVD box sets from the corrupt anime table and the Troma table******. This looked familiar to me. It looked like the tables at BookExpo America, only you're allowed to buy things and don't get confused about what's a freebie. 

     I was pleasantly surprised to see perennial favorite of the site Iain M. Banks had a new book in his fantastic Culture series, as well as that his publisher was holding a drawing for five books in the series, including the mainstay of my "to-read" list Consider Phlebas and the big, thick, and engaging-looking Matter. I quickly jotted down my name and email address in a scrawl that could charitably be called "unintelligible" and continued to make the rounds. While there were a few booths that caught my eye, my wallet kept me from spending too much time around the dealer tables and the merchandise. Soon, I recieved a phone call from a friend of mine who had also come to the show, and I made my way downward to the panels, hoping to catch up with them and maybe take in a little of what I was supposed to see as a journalist. 

Things I learned: 
- Have a backup plan so you can cover four days, in case NYCC gets stingy with their passes
- People like the creators of Whore should really try's no fun when they're just blatantly trying to offend for controversy
- Troma Films, makers of such low-budget sleaze classics as Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, and Poultrygeist, need a bigger freaking table. They had this tiny corner square at NYCC, and they're too good for such a small space

In Part 2:
- Mad scotsmen
- An unfortunate case of mistaken identity
- I search for a needle in a haystack

*Also, less the expense of faxing them my application, press passes are comped four-day deals with access to the lounge and some nice perks. So...why wouldn't I want one, exactly?
**Which, as many of you know, leads to the tumblr site of fantastic design and horrid formatting. Blogger made their bed by not enabling url redirects, the schmucks
****which is almost everything. I have another con in about two weeks, gotta save some money for not buying things at NekoCon.
*****People were convinced to sit in the "whore cage" for ten or twenty minutes for an exclusive T-shirt. Yeah. I try to keep myself distanced from any sociopolitical issues, but seriously?
******I have the opinion that at any given con where anime is being sold, there is the shady anime table (where the box sets look a little shoddier but the prices are lower and the quality's usually good), and the corrupt anime table (where the set quality is a little better but the guy calculates the price discount in his head very quickly, not always to your benefit). The Troma table, of course, just looks shady and a little corrupt but is in fact on the level. And twenty bucks for Terror Firmer, while out of my price range, is still cool. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Sugar-Frosted Nutsack

This review's a little short, folks. Hope you don't mind overmuch. I just had a hard time reviewing a book like this. Why? Read on...

        So the basics: This is a very good book that I cannot recommend. It tackles cultural decay in an interesting and absurdist fashion, and there are passages that have made me laugh out loud. Mark Leyner has an excellent way with words, and his poking fun at the nature of mythology as well as decay and contamination is fantastic. A book about a book being attacked (possibly by itself) is a wonderfully meta premise, and if you can take that, then you can easily read and enjoy this book. 

However, the bad part is, if the self-conscious premise doesn't grab you, you will not like this book. I can't recommend it to anyone. The plot and characters and action are entirely superfluous to the story, the main crux of the book being that the book is fighting itself. Some of you will get this concept and hate it. Some will not get the concept and hate it. So I can't recommend it, but it's a book that'll give you an interesting and original read, all the same.

Full analysis below.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

VampCon announcement

So friend of the site and all around awesome guy Armand Inezian has a new book that is out now, and I apologize for not getting the word out sooner, because as I said, Armand is awesome. That link above is to his writing blog/website. Check it out.

Armand's new book VampCon is a dark fantasy thriller, and I'll let the ad copy speak for itself:

“Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
The vampire who turned Jonathan Stoker did so as a joke: what fun to turn a man named ‘Stoker’.
But life is no joke for Jonathon. He’s fled his family, every vampire he meets attacks him, and he’s consumed by blood urges. Ten years after his mortal life ended, the blind and striking Arial Lockhart delivers Jonathan’s invitation to the Vampire Congregation in Boston. It isn’t a request; Arial’s summoning spell warps time and space to ensure every vampire attends
Of all the many horrors Jonathan discovers at this murderous congregation, worst of all is to find his mortal son, Jake, has come searching for him. And Jake’s just fallen in love… with a vampire!
  “Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
Jonathan learns that Arial’s invitation is far more than a summons to the congregation: it is an invitation to fulfill his destiny, because the stoker, the shifter, and the priest are the only ones who can defend the vampire and mortal alike against the demon invasion.
But only if they can stay alive…
“Kill the stoker and the shifter and the priest!”
Now, and I only speak here from my somewhat biased position atop my ivory tower, this sounds like a fantastic read. I wholly suggest you check it out, or at least give it a preview. VampCon is sold in these places:
Available in paperback from   | 
and Kindle:   |  and ePUB: Smashwords  | diesel  | Kobo 

Please do us both a solid and check it out. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Hello, and sorry for the delay from last week. I wanted to finish the book and get over my cold. I have now done both these things. There was also some drama-brooding, but everyone has drama-brooding, so best get over it and do what I do best:

My verdict is as follows. Book of the year. Hands down, my pick for book of the year, unless there's a genre book that solves all the problems I've been brooding over, or grants all my fondest wishes or something right around the corner. This is easily one of the best things I've read. I'm kind of pissed off I don't own it.

The bad bits have to do with some pacing issues and a tendency Harkaway has to follow multiple threads until he can finally lock down what he's focusing on, but this in no way takes away from the overall presentation, which twists and turns its way along until finally the brake-lines get cut and the book slams home with a climax that is altogether surprising and satisfying. Full analysis below.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Announcement: Health Delay

Hi guys. Caius here. I'm taking a little break recently as I caught some kind of nasty head cold/almost flu sort of thing* and am spending a lot of time either sleeping or in a haze of NyQuil and tea**. Angelmaker will go up, as scheduled, but with a slight delay, as I need to spend more time resting and less time reading about clockwork bees and ninety year old lesbian superspies***. So, hope this finds you well, and see you Sunday!


*I apparently caught it from the internet. Nasty bug going around that my friends caught, and suddenly I wake up one morning with my head packed full of cotton, and crap in my throat and nose.
**And anyone who's tried to read while over-medicated or asleep can tell you, it's beyond even superhuman capabilities to pay attention to what you read. Especially the asleep bit
***Well, at least Nick Harkaway's trying to return to form...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Good Omens

The basic rundown is: Most of you, gentle readers, have already read this book. You know it's good, you probably already own it, and I don't need to tell you anything. 

For those of you who don't know this fantastic book, here's the other rundown: This is a comic fantasy about  an angel and a demon trying to stop Armageddon, as various parties run around preparing for it and trying to avert it. Read this thing at all costs. It's funny, the dialogue is great, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett are two absolute grandmasters in their craft, and it's a book I wish I could write, but I'm not nearly this good. Even if you don't think you like a comedy about the apocalypse, then you should read it anyway just so you know why you don't like it. Seriously. Trust me*. Full analysis, as always, below.

*I mean, you guys have this far. Have I really steered you that wrong?

Saturday, September 15, 2012


So, once again, because it's gone over pretty well, here are the essentials: Noir by K.W. Jeter is a horrifying, deranged masterpiece that is less cyberpunk and more somewhere uncomfortably between biopunk dystopianism and cosmic horror. With a side of good old-fashioned Burroughs-style paranoia. It's very good, but also very dense, both in detail and plot, to the point that it sometimes comes unhinged and breaks down. The other major bone of contention is the part in the middle of the book where Jeter gleefully describes what happens to copyright offenders, which is one part tract on the glory of copyright (and how anyone who disagrees is a "hippie" and delusional) and one part what the author would like to do to people who pirate intellectual property, all of which comes off as whiny and ranty. Still, while it is a challenging book, it's very well-written, and overall the cool ideas and the way the plot finally comes together overshadow this. I like this book, though you should get it out of the library or borrow it from someone else. It's not worth a buy. Full analysis after the jump.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Another Reveal: Reaping Me Softly

Long time readers of the site know of my good blog-friend Kate Evangelista. Well, Kate's releasing her next novel, and because I think she's really cool (and also because I'm a little shameless), I decided, "Well, why the hell not? Let's reveal the next cover." So here, courtesy of AToMR Book Tours, is the cover for Reaping Me Softly, along with a quick synopsis.

Book description: 
Ever since a near-death-experience on the operating table, seventeen-year-old Arianne Wilson can see dead people. Just as she’s learned to accept her new-found talents, she discovers that the boy she’s had a crush on since freshman year, Niko Clark, is a Reaper.

At last they have something in common, but that doesn’t mean life is getting any easier. All while facing merciless bullying from the most powerful girl in school, Arianne’s world is turned upside down after Niko accidentally reaps the soul of someone she loves. This sends them both into a spiral that threatens to end Arianne’s life. But will Niko break his own Reaper’s code to save her? And what would the consequences be if he did?

I think this sounds like a damn good book. Maybe not within my purview (conflict of interest, among other things, prevent me from reviewing it*), but really, really cool. Reaping Me Softly is set to debut with a book tour on the week of Halloween. Look for any related posts then.

*As a rule, the only overt supernatural romance novels I will do at present are Christopher Moore novels (Bloodsucking Fiends**, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, etc.)

**Hey, it's a relief Christopher Moore didn't write two terrible sequels that threw a brick through the window of the original novel, right? Yeah, I thought so, too.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Here's a Thought: David Fincher's Romantic Comedy

So I decided to try something a little new: I have these weird theories rattling around in my brain, and since I have this forum for them, I might as well let them out. A warning, though: Not all of these are book-related. Still, I hope you join me for this new venture, as I think it might be cool. Also, hi, friend* who requested this. Hope it pans out.

 DISCLAIMER: So it goes without saying that there will be a lot of spoilers in this. If you are worried about spoilers, then you by all means don't have to read the article**. I'm sure it'd probably ruin the experience a little for you anyway. But I feel like this is a viewpoint that hasn't yet been explored, so I might as well do it here. Furthermore, I'd like to apologize, as some of the logic will be a little faulty. I'm kind of working with severely warped takes on tropes here, so there's a chance not all of it will shake out and exactly conform to what I want to say, but hopefully I can get my point across just enough.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess

As part of an experimental format, I am posting the epigraph and image just before a sort of "capsule" review of the book. The real review will be below the jump. Like it? Hate it? Wish to rant about the sad state of literary affairs in the world? Please tell me in the comments. This blog, as always, is an organic and ever-changing process, and the cooler I can make it, the better off both I and my readers will be.

ALSO: I am going on a longer vacation, so no review next Saturday. I need to calm down so I can concentrate on getting you the best reviews I can, delivered on-schedule and without having to rush and not finish the book all the way. There may also be a renaissance faire involved.

"It is here, with great reluctance, and a full awareness of how a chronicler should report a story without being the story itself, that one of your professors enters the narrative. Surely the tedious whys and wherefores of how he came to find himself in this particular prison at this particular time have no significant relevance to the greater story and shall thus be ignored."
- Professor Philip Foglio

           So, to get the basics out of the way, Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess is the second novelization of Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius* webcomic series, a series born from a love of pulp, steampunk, comic fiction, and possibly monsters with teeth bigger than their faces. In it, the main character, Agatha Heterodyne survives an airship crash into the terrifying area of an alternate steampunk Transylvania known as "The Wasteland". To get her safely to the city of Mechanicsburg without being eaten by the terrifying monsters or crushed by steam-powered robots, she joins a traveling circus and hopes to have an uneventful time. But soon intrigues and adventure find her, and she is swept up in an adventure involving her lineage, lost princesses, and insane gadgetry.
          The book is incredibly well-done, though it suffers from a minor lack of context in the opening pages and occasional typographical errors in the edition I own. The descriptions are fantastically detailed, the sense of humor is frenetic but manages to let the reader catch up, and even the momentary self-insert is played self-deprecatingly for comedy. If you have ever wanted an adventure story that is just straight-out flat-out fun; with engaging characters, a good sense of humor, and a self-aware quality that engages the reader rather than ironically detaching them to poke fun at itself, this is your book. I love it, I thoroughly recommend you should buy it, and then once you've bought it, press it eagerly into your friends' hands with only a meaningful look and the words "read this".

(Complete review after the jump)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Quick State of the Blog

       I was hoping we could get through another few months without one of these, but sadly that time has come again. I've had a really rough week emotionally, and I need to take a little time to sit back and relax. Because of this, the post is gonna be late, something like Sunday or even Monday. I just haven't been able to settle my brain down enough to hammer things out, and with the stuff going on, it's just too much too fast.

The post will be up this week. Just check back in another few days or so when I've had enough time to process everything.

Sorry for the delay.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Demi-Monde: Winter

"Whatever happened to 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law'?"
- Norma Williams

          I will at the very least give Rod Rees this about his book The Demi-Monde: Winter. He is an ambitious son of a bitch*. In his debut novel, he takes cyberpunk, melds it with a certain post-steampunk sensibility, adds some nasty historical tones, some outright horror elements, and flings it all headlong into our laps without so much as a casual "look out". He tries, and he tries very, very hard. You can tell there was quite a bit of effort that went into The Demi-Monde, and that Mr. Rees wanted to make this an ambitious epic full of narrow escapes and frightening terror. He wanted to make the threats real and the story one that twisted and turned, with betrayals and an actually competent villain who won more than they lost. He wanted an epic, and that's what he tried to write.

        You'll notice a lot of "wanteds" and "trieds" in that last paragraph. If you think that's an accident, I regret to inform you it is most certainly not. 

        The Demi-Monde by Rod Rees is the story of a virtual reality environment used to train soldiers in "asymmetrical warfare". In the environment, the Demi-Monde of the title, technology is locked into the year 1789, and the world is split into several areas, each ruled by a different faction. Each faction has their own leader, a "dupe" of a real-world historical figure. The world is also crippled by warfare so that each faction has an immediate reason to go to war with the others, simulating the real-world conditions of asymmetrical warfare environments**. The biggest and most dangerous of these factions are a bunch of war criminals (and inexplicably, Aleister Crowley***) named the ForthRight. Due to some mysterious circumstances, Norma Williams (the President of the United States's daughter) gets herself trapped in the Demi-Monde. When this happens, the US military sends a young jazz singer named Ella Thomas into the Demi-Monde to save the First Daughter and bring her to the only remaining exit in a mission that I am completely justified in describing as "far too reminiscent of Escape from L.A.****, only with virtual reality".

         Ella is transported into the Demi-Monde to inhabit the role of a dupe that looks like it could be her spitting image, and is given the mission of navigating a world ruled by incurable psychopaths and inhabited by sentient programs used to a culture of betrayal and brutal politics to save Norma and, as things escalate, possibly the real world itself. But if she wants to survive, she will have to navigate several plots and counterplots, as well as two revolutions and the surprisingly savvy maneuvers of Heydrich's forces to find the exit and escape. 

         And I'm not going to lie, the book is interesting, and the right kind of trashy, but it's just so very bad. It's like finding the rare un-enjoyable B-movie, a book that desperately wants to be so many things and tries so hard to reach an ambitious narrative and thrilling pitch...but then falls flat on its face. And slides along like a stop-motion man in a student film. The issue with Rees's writing isn't so much that there's not a good plot in the whole mess, oh no, there are the makings of several good plots in The Demi-Monde: Winter. The issue is that they're buried in the five hundred page disaster that is the published book.

           But I'd be remiss not to present evidence. So why is this book a disaster?

        Well, let's start with the issues in Rees's writing. While there is nothing wrong with the technical side of the writing, there are serious issues with the tone and level of exposition Rees has decided to adopt. The tone alternates between actual writing, massive info-dumps on the denizens of the Demi-Monde, and historical in-jokes. Historical in-jokes that then have info-dumps explaining the nature of the in-jokes and why we should find them funny in case we don't actually know who these people are and how clever the author is for making the jokes. And then there are the neologisms and portmanteaus he uses. Oh god so many neologisms and portmanteaus. About half the concepts introduced have stupid names attached. This is just poor writing****. Furthermore, when the actual history and personality of the real-life figures veers from what Rees wants them to do, he waves his hand dismissively and does a half-assed job of explaining it away. The most notable of these is his take on Aleister Crowley, Crowley simply dismisses some of the quotes and acts attributed to him when they're brought up and continues on his way as an evil Nazi sorcerer.

         Since it's a nice segue, let's look at his characterization next. It's terrible. Ella's pretty much a Mary-Sue****** who swings between being a mouthpiece for the author's own views half the time and being irritatingly contrarian towards everyone she meets the other half. The other characters are equally inconsistent, seemingly adopting modes and attitudes as the plot requires and then abandoning them at the most convenient times. One in particular, Trixiebelle Dashwood, winds up growing out of her initial bratty upper-class character into a fine example of a strong woman, only to regress the moment the plot calls for her to be a brat again. The only characters who seem to develop or be at all thought out are a psychic con man named Vanka Maykov, and Baron Dashwood, Trixiebelle's father. But, of course, since the book isn't about them and they can't take any snobbish and sanctimonious stances on sociopolitical matters, the author has them both as secondary characters. Everyone else tends to be historical and inconsistent, or underdeveloped and inconsistent.

            Furthermore, the characters tend to be idiots. Ella frequently forgets what she's allowed to do with her powers and what plans she can make with them, abandoning them for the good of the continuing story. In the two most blatant examples, knowing full well that there's an evil plot afoot, Ella does nothing to try and circumvent it whatsoever. This becomes especially obvious when she's given a literal deus ex machina to play around with and instead of using the damn thing to make her goals that much easier, she instead completely ignores any possible options that would bring a swift end to the conflict and instead goes for the ones with very little impact. She has every advantage given to her, and yet instead of using them properly, she just conveniently forgets she has ways to circumvent the laws of her current reality. 

         Which leads us into the plot. Of the several plots going on, there are exactly two worth exploring-- Ella and Vanka's attempts to run a short-con on Heydrich's forces to spring the President's daughter, and the building rebellion in the Demi-Monde. Neither of these emerge until at least halfway through the book, and while each one would make a lovely book on their own, as a whole package, they suck. The plots do intersect and wind up dovetailing quite nicely, but both of them would have been much stronger on their own. As a whole, they merely wind up weighing each other down. It's like Rees couldn't decide between those and the numerous subplots he tries to introduce, so he tries to keep them going all at once. To add to this ADD theory of plot explosion, the various factions in the Demi-Monde seem to act a certain way only when it suits them. One of the final plot twists hinges on a non-aggression between two groups who are so ideologically opposed that any agreement between them is impossible, simply because...the plot says so? Things seem to happen more or less for this very reason.

           And finally, the ending. Or rather, the lack of one. Since this is the first book in a four-book series (and we'd have to assume a four-book series...this one's winter, the next one's called The Demi-Monde: Spring, and Rees has said the last book will be The Demi-Monde: Fall.), Rees has decided to end Winter on a cliffhanger where everyone is almost very nearly dead and/or routed. But it seems like a cop-out. He doesn't bother to resolve anything, just sort of lets the loose ends be loose ends with the empty promise that all of this will be resolved by the end of the series. Well, I highly doubt it.

           I suppose in the interest of objectivity, I should say that there are a lot of cool ideas in The Demi-Monde. I love what he's done with the world and the cultures, and it all feels like there's a good book in there somewhere. My issue is that the book that could be and the book that we wound up getting are two entirely different books. And since I can't review the book that could be, we have this book. Hopefully he'll have a better editor for the next three. 

        So in the end, don't read this book. Give it a miss. If you have to read it, wait until he finishes his little "masterwork" and then either steal it or pick it up from the library. I, for one, will certainly hamstring Mr. Rees in both his legs and make him crawl to the top of the Guggenheim Museum if he ever pulls something like this out of whatever festering hole he found this particular heap of offal in. He should know better, and if he doesn't, someone needs to teach him.

PHIL AND KAJA FOGLIO'S Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess

Noir by K.W. Jeter
Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway
and other articles and sundries.

*For those of you who follow me regularly, I think I may have given the game (and my verdict) away using an expletive so soon. Don't tell anyone, would you? I certainly won't.
** Think of it as Civilization V on downers with a steampunk mod.
***A man who, despite being called "The Black Beast" and apparently being a massive creeper, has done more to further knowledge of mysticism in the modern era more than anyone, and believed more in open liberation than repressive theocracies. 
***You see? You see? Rod Rees couldn't even rip off the good Escape movie.
****And if anyone'd know, it'd be me. I've done this before, and was soundly trounced for it.
*****Contrary to popular belief, Mary-Sues are allowed to fail at stuff. And do. I don't know why people keep thinking otherwise.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Secrets of the Fire Sea

"And every so often, it's time for you to stand up and take responsibility for your own actions."
- Badger-headed Joseph

                I've wondered for a while now why I seem to like Stephen Hunt's novels of strange pulp fiction, but by the same turn seem to dislike most retro-future and steampunk novels. Part of it could be that, as I said, steampunk is very hard to get right, with most people simply pandering to the airships-and-cogs crowd. But I think the answer lies a little deeper than that:

The best steampunk writers, in my opinion, don't strictly write steampunk.

               Now, part of this has to do with steampunk being more or less a broadly-defined genre. For a book to be steampunk, usually it's science fiction transposed to the Victorian era with some minor magical elements to tie together how in Hell a society can do all the things they can when the only devices they have are steam-powered. On the surface, it seems like a very simple definition, and one in my youthful folly I claimed wasn't that hard to screw up. However, it appears that simply stopping with that is pretty much what separates the good from the bad.
              F'rinstance, take Secrets of the Fire Sea. In this book, we have elements of pulp adventure stories, high fantasy, hard SF, detective stories, cyberpunk*, post-apocalyptic fiction, and about six or seven other things I may have forgotten that just wound up all wrapped up in there. It's probably got some elements of cosmic horror and, well, regular horror there, too. Stephen Hunt isn't content to just stop with one genre of fantastic fiction, he has to have them all. And use them all at the same time

              Secrets of the Fire Sea takes a new direction for Stephen Hunt's Jackals Sextology**, not setting any of the story in the Kingdom of Jackals and playing with its many devices, but moving the action to the island of Jago. Jago is an island nation with a single city comprised of hermetically sealed vaults in the middle of the titular sea. The nation is home to one Hannah Conquest, a young mathematician who wishes to join the Rationalist Circlist Church. Hannah lives with her guardian, the Archbishop of Jago, until suddenly the Archbishop's murder**** leaves her indentured to the sinister Guild of Valvemen and forced into a power struggle almost centuries in the making. At the same time, a group from Jackals comes to Jago to investigate both the murder of the Archbishop, and the research left by archaeologists who died under mysterious circumstances. Naturally, the two plots split, and interweave, and finally come crashing together in a brilliant fury at the end of the book, an explosion of steam-bots, battle scenes, and sentient bears.

           Oh. Yeah. There are sentient bear-people in this. It's a little jarring at first, especially since there aren't many sentient non-human races in Hunt's novels, but you get used to them pretty quick. 

           What makes this book worth reading, however, is the sheer staggering amount of stuff in the novel. Stephen Hunt's always been an imaginative author, and the world of Jackals hasn't ever gone without its share of cool concepts, and this book is no exception. Jago's defenses and power plants (which hew closer to dieselpunk than steampunk) are heavily detailed, and the familiar grotesque nature of the world is definitely on display-- the Valvemen all seem to be dying from radiation poisoning, the "stained senate" is governed by a senile man with a foot fetish, and the cities are being swallowed up both by the sea and the feral beasts beyond the walls. The hacking sequences, too, are all very lovingly detailed, short on mathematics but still holding true to most of the conventions of actual hacking-- long commands and mathematics rather than flailing wildly, and the idea that it can't do everything.

         Another great thing about Stephen Hunt's books as a whole is the characters. Hunt will usually take minor characters from his work and turn them into major characters in others. In this one, Jethro Daunt and his companion Boxiron become major players, as well as a research assistant from The Kingdom Beyond The Waves. The fact that these stories do feel like parts of a larger world where every character plays their own part in different stories helps to tie the sense of the world together, and definitely helps with the overall plots of the book.

          However, there are a few issues. Hunt can't seem to stick to one plotline, or even one set of villains. While in previous books the plot twists were set up in advance, here the plots tend to come out of nowhere and change without warning. Literally the last hundred and thirty words had me yelling "What?! No!" as I tried to make sense of exactly what was going on. The book cuts back and forth too quickly, and the main villain for most of the first half of the book suddenly and without warning is neutralized and shrugged off. They spend the rest of the book more or less as a persona non grata while other factions come out of the wings. The final plot twist is actually so random as to count as nonsensical. On top of this, Hunt cuts around too damn fast. There are even some plot elements he just drops completely. F'rinstance, what's the whole deal with the creepy chamber in the basement of the Guild's stronghold? Never comes up at all.

        The other problem I have is how Hunt handles death. With a precious few notable exceptions, most characters in Hunt's novels are pretty much dumped unceremoniously without a second thought, leaving characters who have sometimes been with you through the entire book suddenly tossed off the page without a second thought. Hunt has done this before, in Kingdom Beyond the Waves, and it was just as annoying then as it was now. In particular, the character he does it with deserved a much better death, once again.

         But in the end, despite the plot's breakdown and all the silly twists and character deaths, this is a book worth reading, especially if you enjoy steampunk or pulp-style adventures. It has some imaginative ideas, some very good setpieces, and while it's lesser when compared to the previous novels in the series, an iffy Stephen Hunt book is still a damn good book. Maybe not a must-buy and read for everyone, but a good read nonetheless, and an essential book for fans of the series.

The Demi-Monde: Winter

Good Omens as a classic review. So I can see what I think of it twenty years after its debut, and ten years after I read it.
The Half-Made World

*Victorian-age computer hacking! All over the damn place!
**Writing that word makes me feel dirty...maybe not as much as his abandonment of the really cool cover scheme he had going until he swapped publishers, but still. 
***What is his deal with all these orphans? Seriously. 
****Once again, spoilers be damned, they say so on the farging dust jacket