zanzjan: (bookshelf)
Richard Castle [1], Heat Wave
Hyperion, New York, NY.

So, yes, I bought the book.

What can I say? I really like the TV show. Aside from Nathan Fillion, who I could pretty much look at (AND listen to, how rare is that for an actor?) all day, I don't always see the ending coming, and hey, I enjoy the irony of procrastinating from writing by watching a TV show about a writer procrastinating from writing.

So, yes, yes, I bought the book. I made it as far as page 5.

No, really. Five. I would have been able to report that I'd bailed on it at page four, except I ate something that disagreed with my digestive system yesterday and I've made a few more trips to the bathroom than usual, and it was either read a little bit more of this book or read the back of the shampoo bottles again, and the shampoo bottles were all out of reach.

Okay. Here's the premise of the TV show, for those unfamiliar: Castle is a bestselling, very well-regarded mystery author with an entire "NY Times Best Selling" series behind him. He's become stuck in a rut, so he kills off the main character from that first series as a way of forcing himself to move on, and then finds inspiration for the next series in a chance encounter with a (hot) female NYC homicide detective, and he pulls strings with the Mayor (a fan) so he can tag around with her in the name of research. He's funny, she's good at her job, there's chemistry, the supporting cast is excellent, and the cases are interesting and sneaky and not obvious. Works for me.

During the course of the first season, Castle the fictional character finishes (and sees into print, breaking a land-speed record for publishing) the first novel of his new series with the new main character inspired by the hot detective. Being clever, ABC thought it would be cool to produce the actual book. And hey, I'm only somewhat embarrassed to admit I thought it was a clever idea too.

We have, if you will, three layers of reality at play here:
1) the real world, where you and I[1] are readers/viewers, and
2) the world of the TV show where Castle and Detective Beckett are real people, and the book is real, and
3) the fictional world inside the book itself.

Publishing an actual book takes an artifact from layer #2 and moves it in layer #1, and in so doing carries the characters/world of #2 along with it, giving them a "presence" in our world. So, as a reader, if I'm going to suspend disbelief and go with Castle being a real author, and this book he's written being a real book (which is essentially the whole point of the exercise) there's a couple of things I need:

1) If Richard Castle is real, and a well-regarded best-selling author, then I need to believe that he's a good writer, which means the writing shouldn't be skill-less crap that would have a hard time making it out of a slush pile. (Also, a multi-best-selling novelist who can crank out a book of only 196 pages? That stretches my credulity a bit right there.)

2) If Richard Castle is real, and a well-regarded best-selling author, then I need to believe that he knows what he's doing, in which case the first five pages of this book shouldn't be the most unsubtle, irritatingly stupid, borderline offensive, wall of MARYSUE I think I've ever had the misfortune to pick up. If Castle was the writer (and the person) that the TV show wants us to believe he is, he would NEVER be so unimaginative and incompetent as to insert such a thinly-disguised version of himself ("Jameson Rook") into the story where he behaves like an arrogant ass from the very first moment. It intrudes the author into the book in an incredibly ham-handed way, which all but the most woefully clueless writer-wannabes know enough not to do.

I get what ABC was thinking: it's like an episode of Castle with different names, where the main characters get to hook up (I skipped and read the last paragraph; hey, it wasn't like it was going to *spoil* the book!) It's cute. (I guess. Well, no, it's not cute, but it bears the trappings of something that somebody else thought might be. Cutesy, maybe.)

What I wanted was a good mystery book that stood on its own, where the author was present only in the form of their own voice, where the main character had subtle shades inspired by the "real" detective, and which added a little weight to the illusion of Richard Castle as a likable, talented, "real" author. If that had been managed, this would have been a fantastic addition to the overall mythology of the show. As it is, done as poorly as it has been, it manages to drag the show down a little.

Because next time I watch Castle, when I get enough into the story to suspend disbelief (if I do), I'm gonna be thinking: "this guy's really a shit author and an offensive jerk to boot." And I'm going to wonder why Detective Beckett, who has read the book in the show, hasn't just fucking shot him in the nads and claimed it was an accident. And that really spoils the whole damned thing for me.

--
[1] obviously not the real author's name. One expects the real author, should they ever go on to have an actual writing career, will look back with some gratitude at being able to plausibly deny any connection to this book.
[2] hopefully just me, as I would like to believe I was able to warn you in time.
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
I was going to start off this post with "I rarely read fantasy, but...". However, looking at the list of books I've read so far in 2009 (six, for the record -- not too shabby, all things considered) it seems that five of them are fantasy, and the one that isn't is a Rudy Rucker book, which while technically SF I think we can all agree that Rucker is a category unto himself.

Aaaaaaanyhow. I just finished Margaret Ronald's Spiral Hunt. Urban fantasy, yadda yadda. This makes now two novels I've read by VP alum this year. I had exceedingly high expectations of both, and for reasons I don't expect require clarification I'm only writing a review of this one. So yes, I know Maggie Ronald, I think she's awesome, I don't think those facts altered in either direction my assessment of the book, and that's your official disclaimer.

And here's your official review, the short version: the book is fantastic.

Long version: with first novels, there are certain "stumbles" that you develop an eye for (particularly when you're also a newbie writer and doing your damnedest to avoid those same stumbles yourself, which is a lot easier said than done.) There was none of that here, none of the insecure blundering around through obvious plot digressions that creep into so many early novels. There were a few things that I thought could have used a tad more clarity at the end, but they were all very minor and that's a quibble I've had, sometimes on a far grander scale, with Much Bigger-Name Authors (Neal Stephenson, I'm looking at YOU.) It was smooth, polished, moved through the narrative in a straightforward fashion without feeling either constrained or forced, and without sacrificing character or detail or the larger view surrounding the story.

Totally recommended.

Now, to go look up when I can expect the next one...
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
Ian McDonald's Brasyl? Absolutely fucking brilliant. Will say more when I've managed to set aside my awe (and envy) and gather my thoughts back into a coherent pile. The Hugos have more than one worthy contender this year, it seems.
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
#7: Charles Stross, Halting State

Okay, first, I want to say that wearing the Reader Hat is much easier than wearing the Writer Hat, and it's a lot easier to see the flaws in and be critical of someone else's work than it is to write good work of your own. Having said that, I also feel I need to back up for a bit and talk a little bit about Charles Stross. I've read and commented on a whole bunch of his books here over the last couple of years, and I've had very much the same feelings: while he's been held up in the SF community as the greatest thing since sliced bread for a long time, and while his *potential* to be as awesome as he's been touted as being has been clear from the beginning, I've generally felt that he's never quite managed to actually fulfill that potential. (Mind you, with one notable exception I've enjoyed all his books, so take my disappointment in that context.) While on some levels an excellent author, he has had two fairly substantial weaknesses: 1) he is obviously much more natively adept at writing shorter works than novels (as evidenced by the very episodic nature of his earlier books), and 2) he doesn't quite seem to "get" characters.

I expressed a fair amount of excitement over the last book of his I read, Glasshouse, because it was the first novel of his that seemed a unified narrative whole and his instinct for characters was noticably improving. Worthy of its Hugo nomination, certainly, though I wouldn't have picked it as the winner out of the bunch of excellent novels nominated that year (I'd have placed it at #3, I think.)

That said, this brings us to Halting State. Not only would this book richly deserve a Hugo nomination, even without knowing what the competition is at this point I can't imagine that I would think a win inappropriate in this case -- there have been years where *none* of the contenders were this competent or enjoyable or original. This is Stross finally meeting that long-prophesied potential head on and kicking its ass all over the map. In short: this book rocks. It's of a solid piece from beginning to end with none of the fits-and-starts of earlier books like Accelerando, and although there's still some room there for improvement in how he manages his characters (and in particular their interactions with one another) they were solid and believable and fully-formed and they fit their roles *perfectly*. This is the book I've been waiting to see from Stross for the last umpteen years I've been reading his works, and I couldn't be happier. Well, so far anyway -- assuming that this is still just a data point on the sharply upward-sloping graph of Stross's abilities, I anticipate many future happy moments snug in my chair with my Reader Hat on and a book in my lap (-:

And a blurb from Bruce Schneier? How much cooler can you get than that?
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
#5: Jasper Fforde, The Big Over Easy
#6: Jasper Fforde, The Fourth Bear


These are books one and two of the "Nursery Crime" series, which revolves around Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his underling/partner Mary Mary as they try to solve bizarre crimes involving nursery rhyme characters. Set (naturally) in the town of Reading, in The Big Over Easy they are attempting to solve the murder of a philandering, alcoholic, scam-artist Humpty Dumpty, and in The Fourth Bear the victim is Goldilocks. In neither book is the plot and resolution in any way straightforward, and instead meanders you through a series of absolutely brilliant encounters with a variety of fascinating and occasionally ridiculous people. The character Lord Spongg from the first book, who has giant bronze anteaters in front of his palatial, highly-eccentric home, was an instant favorite and one I sincerely hope we meet again. (I have to say I'd personally opt for marble instead of bronze, but the idea of marble anteaters in front of my own house holds a distinct appeal I haven't quite shaken off. It could be done, y'know!) I enjoyed the second book more than the first, even though both were wonderful, and I don't know if that's because the characters had done their settling in in the first book and could get around to being who they were and getting on with business in the second, or if the ultimate premise of the second book (SERIOUS MAJOR SPOILER HERE [rot13]: tvnag rkcybqvat ahpyrne phphzoref -- if you have even the slightest intention on reading these books, DON'T uncypher that!) was just so amusing and ridiculous and unexpected as to make me extraordinarily pleased with the whole book. And it actually almost made sense, dammit! If you can pull something like that off, you *know* you've got talent.

Anyhow, both are silly and unpretentious and highly entertaining, and it's the often-tangential details that really make them superb. Definitely recommended!
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
I got so far behind on this last year I eventually gave up, but at least for now I'm going to pretend that I've got a clean slate and try again. I've read four (yes, just four) books so far this year:
possible minor spoilers )
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
William Gibson, Spook Country

Before I cracked open this book, I was predisposed to like it. I've very much liked everything Gibson has written with the exception of The Difference Engine, which I just wasn't able to finish (I am not sure how much of that dislike was circumstantial and I intend to try it again, someday.)

Within the first half-dozen pages I wasn't sure I was going to finish it. Gibson's sentences have become choppier, more comma-filled, harder to follow -- one thing that I've become very sensitive to when I read is the rhythm of the words, and it's tossed me out of more than one book that was probably excellent otherwise.

I did eventually get hooked, enough to overcome my dislike of the rhythm, and finished it the other night. It was great watching all the pieces and players come together and the real motivations revealed. The characters were all very well drawn, enough that there seemed like a lot more stories there that were only hinted at. The central event of the book was wonderful to watch unfold. In the end, though, I'm left feeling not sure if it was quite enough; with all that setup and those characters lives spun out to that depth, in the end what happened was (probably intentionally) not especially momentous, except conceptually. It's definitely a book that gets in your head and opens up a lot of doors of thought spun off from the actions of the novel, but I wonder if much of the substance of the book only exists outside of the book.

So I liked it, but I feel somehow unfulfilled, let down. What did other people think of it?
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
Finished reading Glasshouse by Charles Stross last night, which is one of the nominees for the Best Novel Hugo this year. Not that I'm voting this year[1], but I do like to try to read the nominees if I can.

This is, I think, by far the most solid of Stross's books (or at least, of the ones I've read). I still liked Atrocity Archives the best, but Glasshouse is the first time where he's pulled together a novel as a single, cohesive, unified whole -- up until now, you've been able to see the seams where he's patched novels together out of shorter works/ideas. I've argued before that Stross has incredible potential that he's not yet managed to live up to, but I think this one is really darned close.

Because it had less of the episodic quality of his previous novels, Glasshouse was also much harder to put down -- I finished it around 3:30am, which if you know me and know how much I like my sleep that should tell you something.

I'm still not convinced he's not a little wobbly on characters. massive spoilers behind the cut )

That said, this book was really solid, flowed well, and definitely earns its Hugo nomination. When I've read the other four books (I started Vinge's Rainbow's End this afternoon), I'll weigh in again.

Of course, what I really need to do is get back to *writing*, but sometimes you just gotta read (-:

--
[1] Gods, I wish I was going to Japan. Anyone going to Worldcon want to bring me along as an assistant? I used to speak Japanese... I can brush up again! It's only been 15 years. I can carry things[2] for you!

[2] small things under 20 lbs, doh!
zanzjan: (bookshelf)
I realized sometime yesterday afternoon that I'd only finished *one* book during the entire month of March. Despite being significant chunks through several books (I tend to read 2-3 books at a time), they were all sufficiently weighty that there was no way I was going to finish any of them by last night. (And why should it matter? I dunno!)

So I picked a whole different book off the shelf -- Rudy Rucker's Spaceland -- and finished it before turning in for the night. Spaceland is an intentional homage of sorts to Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland, except with one more dimension and penises.

Rudy Rucker is a seriously strange guy (I do not say this lightly), and his books tend to be bizarre vacations from reality that, while on the surface not very deep, do tend to linger in one's brain and make the real world seem oddly off-kilter for a while. I wonder, when he submits a manuscript to a publisher, if it already incorporates the doodles that are liberally sprinkled throughout his books (or at least the two I've read)?

I *loved* the Wackles. I can totally imagine a whole dimension "below" this one filled with them, and it's an incredibly cheerful notion for no reason I could possibly explain.

I suppose I need a haiku now:
   Wackles and grolly
   And silicon valley chic:
   Happy confusion!

--
In other news, much writing has been accomplished today:
Miledrop
10,250 / 100,000 words

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