Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Beekeper's Apprentice

I previously read one of Laurie R. King's "Mary Russell" books more than two years ago, so it was interesting to go back and re-read my comments in light of my latest read, The Beekeeper's Apprentice, which is the first of the "Mary Russell" books.

As I wrote then, Mary Russell should by rights be an unbearable Mary Sue.  She's (almost) as smart as Sherlock Holmes, physically very fit, a deadshot aim with a rock (which plays a role in two separate incidents in the novel), and manages to get Holmes off his cocaine habit just by meeting him.  And yet...  I enjoyed the novel quite a bit.  I couldn't even really say why. 

King gives us some nice chemistry between Holmes and Russell, and she doesn't try to have Russell over-shadow Holmes.  In fact, though Russell is shown to be very fast, in the end Holmes is still the lead.  (which makes sense, as he's got a leg up of 40 years' worth of experience).

Having said all that, I still find a little goes a long way, and I imagine it will be a while till I return to the Russell/Holmes duo.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Deadhouse Gates

The Deadhouse Gates is the second novel in Steve Erickson's monumental Malazan series.  It alone clocks in at 850 pages, longer than the entire Book of the New Sun put together.

The most important question is, was it any good, and fortunately it's easy to answer yes.  Malazan is a complex world, with a lot of different cultures, and it's clear that Erickson's put some thought into the way it's put together.  Although I can imagine editing this book somewhat, I don't think it could be significantly cut.

The harder question is, is it worth the time and energy to read it?  After all, the series is a whole is probably as long as the complete works of many authors, some of whom are better writers than Erickson.  But the large canvas he's chosen for himself gives Erickson the chance to work on a huge scale.  Even by the end of the second novel, I felt like there's a lot of Malazan left to explore, and that Erickson has a handle on how he wants to unfold it.  And that sense of scale can be fun to read in and of itself, even if the writing is occasionally clunky -- the feeling that no-one is doing anything quite like this.  (I know that Malazan gets frequent comparisons to A Song of Fire and Ice, but (a) the Song isn't finished yet, and  (b) it's not really clear that Martin knows where he's taking the series.  I haven't read the novels myself, but I've definitely heard that the latest couple of novels have had a lot of treading water).

Death of a Gossip

Death of a Gossip is the first Hamish MacBeth novel.  I liked the TV series for its offbeat humor, as well as that it had a low-key approach.  As I recall, there was a crime of some sort in most episodes, but it never amounted to much (one episode was about a thief who leaves a pint of raspberry ripple ice cream at the scene of every crime).

The novels, however, seem to center around murder, from the descriptions.  As a general rule, that would irritate me, since part of me is saying "that would make Lochdubh the per-capita murder capital of the world, given that it has only a few hundred inhabitants)."  But that's neither here nor there for the first novel in a series.

More importantly, M.C. Beaton seems to follow the Agatha Christie school of mystery writing.  In the pool of suspects, there are only one or two without a motive (really, only one), and so that's the one who must've done it.  Beaton's writing is humorous enough, and the novel is short enough (less than 5 hours on audible), that I can see myself reading another one, but I don't seem that time coming soon.

The Lighthouse Land

I think of Adrian McKinty as a crime fiction author, but The Lighthouse Land is an exception, being both a YA novel and science fiction to boot.  So, how does it stack up against his crime fiction, which I've liked in the past?

So, how did it stack up against his adult fiction?  Not so well, I'm afraid.  It's not exactly that it was a bad book, but it didn't have much of the flair that characterizes his other novels.  I mentioned Michael Forsyth's flights of fancy in one of my earlier posts, so I'm not going to rehash it, but I think one of McKinty's strongest points is a very individual voice, and that was a bit lacking here.

My other problem lies in the science fiction aspect.  This book has a heavy emphasis on the science behind the magic, so to speak.  Jamie's arm comes and goes because the salmon scans his DNA, and the missing arm isn't missing in the rebuilt Jamey; humans and Altairians can't have kids because of different biology; and so on.  And once you're going to go that route (instead of a more Star-Wars-y hand waving route), the science has to be pretty solid.  Viruses shouldn't be able to jump to aliens who may not even have DNA; the idea of the salmon rebuilding your body from your DNA is really problematic (how does it know how fat to make you? How does it know how tall you are? etc), and so on.

It's probably churlish to pick on a YA science fiction novel for weak science, but it nagged at me enough that I didn't enjoy the novel.  Paradoxically, these things bother me less in novels where the author doesn't even try to explain -- I find that no explanation is worse for me than a bad one.