Yes, I am aware the “week” part of the title is a joke. At this point I can’t even honestly call these pieces “This Month on Kindle”. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading however. I’ve actually been reading a lot. Not much of it has been new stuff though. I’ve been going back and reacquainting myself with old favorites the last several months. I’ve sailed through Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Martin books. Knocked out Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe novels and zipped through Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder series. It’s new to me but I’ve been going through some of C.J. Cherryh’s stuff as well, the Chanur novels and the Foreigner series.
Reading though these titles that have been published a while I’ve noticed a few things good and bad. Some examples, something bad, just because a title comes from an established publishing house doesn’t mean there aren’t errors. The errors are of a different nature, more scanning errors than just bad writing, but it’s still annoying and is often enough to jar you out of the narrative. It’s also proof that nobody reads these before they send them off. They just reformat them and push them through the system. Something good, adding Audible narration is cheap. For an extreme example take Far Side of the World the tenth book in O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series. Looking at Audible’s website the audio book alone is over thirty bucks. But you can pick up the Kindle book and add the audible narration for under fifteen dollars. Less than half price. Another bad thing, there are still titles from mainstream authors from popular series that are still unavailable on Kindle. I understand that a single publishing company may not hold the rights to every title in a series but why wouldn’t the rights holder to these orphaned books make them available. I’ve run into this twice in the last several months. The only Dortmunder novel I have not read is Don’t Ask. All thirteen of the other Dortmunder novels are on Kindle but not Don’t Ask. The other example was the third book in the Chanur trilogy. Yes the third book in the trilogy, what kind of lunacy is that? It’s almost enough to make me go back to actual paper books for a little while but I don’t know if I have the strength to turn the pages anymore. I will wrap up with something good. I already owned a lot of these titles, but some of them I had originally read on paper or listened to as an audio book so I had to go back and purchase a some of these. It was just luck of the draw that the titles I had to purchase were not in the Kindle Unlimited program, but I did see that the first seven Dortmunder novels are in the program, so if your in the mood for a comic crime caper and you subscribe to the Kindle Unlimited program you can’t go wrong with The Hot Rock the first in the series.
So enough about old stuff how about some new stuff.
Straights of Hell: Destroyermen
$12.99 on Amazon Kindle
This is the tenth book in the Destroyermen series. The series started off with the crew of the USS Walker, a destroyer on patrol in the Pacific, being chased in to a hellish storm by superior Japanese forces at the beginning of World War II, a time when the US was still reeling from the attack on Pearl Harbor. When the storm had blown over The Walker had managed to lose the chasing Japanese task force but the world they found themselves on didn’t quite match up to the world they left when they entered the storm. Here their charts sort of matched up with the sea and terrain they now observed, but everything seemed a little off, even the flora and fauna were different. They begin to suspect something very strange was going on. The clincher was coming upon a giant wooden ship being sailed by giant lemurs being attacked by giant lizards.
The crew of the Walker joins the fight on the side of their mammalian cousins and spends the next ten books fighting the Grik, the giant lizards, building a civilization with the Lemurians, the giant lemurs, and finding other remnants of humanity that have some how ended up in this world. I really found this to be a stupid premise and I still cringe when I try to explain the series to someone, but Anderson is a master storyteller and once you get over the magic storm that brought the Walker to this alternate earth the characters, the fighting, the improvisation, the world building are infections. I can’t get enough of these books.
As much as I love them though the series is getting a little long in the tooth. I still find myself burning through each new book as it comes out but I’m enjoying the journey less now than in the beginning. I find myself turning pages just to see how things are going to turn out. So maybe I’m not enjoying the journey as much but I am still dying to see what happens next. Anderson is a master at giving you answers to lingering questions while introducing new mysteries that you just have to continue reading to see resolved.
$7.39 on Amazon Kindle
I’m most familiar with Reynolds for his Revelation Space series but this is a novella set completely apart from those stories. Slow Bullets is around 182 pages but it has the feel of a short story. It’s a story told with broad brush strokes relying on you to fill in the details which can be disconcerting, there were times when I didn’t have a cue what was going on and at least once I had to back up and read a section all over again. I’m not really a fan of short stories and I’m not really a fan of short novels unless I know there are four or five more in the series. I don’t like stories to end. But Reynolds manages to wrap this up so well that I didn’t mind at all that the story was over, in fact I think the ending may be my favorite part of the book. Slow Bullets is a clever little puzzle of a story that gives real satisfaction when you solve it, I mean end it.
The slow bullets of the title are little bullet shaped computers that are injected into soldiers. These computers serve as tracking devices as well as repositories of military records and personal digital files of the individual soldiers, kind of like super dog tags. The story opens on the final day of a war. In fact the war is over or at least the fighting should be over as a ceasefire has been issued. Unfortunately for Scur, she has just been captured by a man who either has not heard or doesn’t care. Doesn’t care is probably the answer as he is a notorious war criminal. He tortures Scur for the hell of it by injecting her with another slow bullet. This one programmed to kill her. Scur survives but finds herself revived on a mysterious ship full of other soldiers who have just been revived, soldiers from both sides of the conflict, including her torturer. Reynolds has some fun with the whole concept of the slow bullets going from being non lethal to lethal and back to non lethal. He rants against religion and toys with the concept of redemption as punishment. He made me have to actually think when all I was wanting was my daily dose of space opera but he did it so well I forgive him.
$16.99 on Amazon Kindle
Stephenson has become one of those authors you either love or can’t stand. Which is a bit odd because his earlier work was much more accessible. Snow Crash and The Diamond Age are fun thought provoking romps through post cyberpunk landscapes that any Science Fiction fan should enjoy, but with Cryptonomiconv his work took a turn. For me it was a fantastic turn. It was like geek porn. The sheer amount of detail that he pumps into his novels turns a lot of readers off but I love it. I can’t get enough. After he describes a character building a digital computer out of pipe organ parts you feel as if you could go out into the garage and build one yourself. Seveneves fits this mold. It is bursting with detail and ideas and concepts. Enough that I don’t think I would recommend it to anyone who is not already a Stephenson fan. I really hate to write those words down but if I’m really honest I’m not all that crazy about Seveneves anyway. It’s huge and epic and full of big ideas but it doesn’t have the spark of The Baroque cycle or Anathem.
The start of Seveneves reminds me of a typical Disaster Area song, you know “boy being meets girl being underneath a silvery moon, which then explodes for no adequately explored reason.” Yep, he blows up the moon in the first lines of the novel. Even faster than Douglas Adams blew up the Earth in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. For a while big chunks of the moon continue to orbit pretty much the same as they did while the moon was still one piece but it doesn’t take long for more intelligent observers to figure out that this is not a stable situation and that those big chunks of moon are over time going to be ground into tiny chunks of moon which are going to rain down on the earth like something out of the Old Testament, actually worse than anything out of the Old Testament as this is going to leave the surface of the Earth uninhabitable for more than forty days and forty nights. The only questions are how long until this bombardment starts and how long will the surface of the Earth be uninhabitable. Even though the title of the book is a bit of a spoiler I don’t want to give you much more detail than that.
Like Stephenson’s other works he takes the opportunity to explore big ideas and at the same time get into the tiniest details. His characters are fleshed out and the plotting and pacing are the work of a master. Still though if I’m going to go back and read a Stephenson novel again while waiting for his next book to come out I think I this would be the last one I would go for. There isn’t a Jack Shaftoe or Erasmas, or Lawrence Waterhouse, there’s also very little humor. Of course the end of the world isn’t usually a good source for humor.