Friday, July 13, 2018

Book Review: The Afghan Campaign

My fifth book by Steven Pressfield, and his fifth on the list, The Afghan Campaign (2006) takes a look at a specific era in the Macedonian King's conquest of empire during 330 BCE when he attempted to subdue the Afghan kingdoms (modern day Afghanistan). The novel focuses on a recent recruit called Matthias who begins the book by running away from home to join the military, where both his older brothers have enlisted.

Following Matthias on his journey the book begins to feel like a young man coming of age story, then a love story, and then a meditation on the costs of war. Much of the novel focuses on cultural differences between the Macedonian army and those it battles, and Matthias makes a number of clear missteps throughout the book from a place of good intentions but almost total ignorance of the people he is either liberating or conquering, depending on your point of view.

When I tell people I've spent the last few years working my way through this specific list, I'm often asked what draws me to these stories of Ancient Greece, and with certain novels, like John Gardiner's The Wreckage of Agathon or this title by Pressfield, I find the answer is that much of the issues dealt with at that time are still very close to us here are the beginning of the 21st century.

A fascinating read.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Book Review: Head On

John Scalzi's follow up to his 2014 book Lock In continues to follow FBI Agents Chris Shane and Leslie Vann as they examine an accidental death/potential homicide during a game of Hilketa, an especially violent professional sport specifically for Hadens (the 1% of the population locked in to their own bodies and forced to explore the world either online or through surrogate robots called Threeps).

The novel works as a fairly fun action mystery and speaking as someone who is not particularly interested in professional sports, I still found it to be a really fun read read and one that continued to expand and eplore the world that Scalzi created in the first novel.

Well worth a look, although I'd strongly recommend you read the first novel before digging into this one.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Book Review: The Hot Kid

Back in 2002 I read my way through the works of Elmore Leonard, who began his writing career with westerns and ended up writing some of most interesting crime novels I've ever come across. His dialogue was snappy, his characters intriguing, and I was never sure when I started one of his books whether the good guys would win or not.

At the time I read all of his works from his first novel, The Bounty Hunters (1953), up to his kids book A Coyote's in the House (2004). I was clearly reading at a much faster pace than my current "one book a month" style. At the point I caught up with him, I moved on to my next author and figured I would keep up as new books came out.

Turns out I didn't, and when the author passed in 2011 I still had six books to go, At the time I was working through Robert R. McCammon's books, and afterwards I switched to Richard Matheson and then Charles de Lint, so it was only now I've managed to begin catching up.

The Hot Kid is a prohibition-era crime story following a U.S. Marshall named Carl Webster as he tracks down a number of bank robbers. He plays on the bank robber's need for attention and tries very hard to bring them in alive. The novel follows both Carl's story and that of the villain, Jack Belmont, the son of a rich man who desperately wants to become a John Dillenger-level criminal.

The novel is fast-paced, fun, and feels like a fun throwback to his western novels. Well worth the read.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book Review: The Wind in His Heart

Reading Charles de Lint's latest novel, The Wind in His Heart, I was struck by how much of the story involved people feeling trapped in their own lives, and the things they do to change.

The book focuses on a number of main characters: Thomas Corn Eyes, a young man who feels shoe-horned into becoming a shaman for his people, Steve, a hermit who thinks he has long escaped his past, Sadie, a teenager abandoned by her foster father in the middle of a desert, and Leah, a journalist who thinks she may have just found the biggest story of her career.  

As compared to his Newford novels (which do get a shout out here) and his more recent Wilding YA series (which also have a blink-and-you'll-miss-it note), The Wind in His Heart has de Lint masterfully balancing multiple characters and storylines against an amazing background of life on an American reservation as well as journeying into a strange otherworld.

What I've always loved best about de Lint's work is the way he matches regular folk with the fantastic and examines how they deal with finding out their world is now much bigger than they had ever imagined.  The mix of real-world concerns with issues involving spirits, witches, shapecahngers and others bring both into sharp contrast.

The Wind in His Heart marks my last de Lint novel for now, I've been reading his his books at the rate of one a month since March of 2014 and have thoroughly enjoyed every one of them.  Now, like all the other de Lint fans out there, I've just got to sit and wait until he releases his next story.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Book Review: The Virtues of War

As I continue to work my way through this list of 36 Historical novels covering Ancient Greece, two names always bring a smile to my face as they reoccur, Mary Renault and Steven Pressfield. Renault's work gives such an interesting look at aspects of the Ancient world I'm not as familiar with, such as the lives of actors, poets, and even occasionally, kings. Pressfield, on the other hand, wows me both with spectacle and how he pairs ancient philosophies with the events he describes.

His 2004 novel, The Virtues of War begins with Alexander the Great nearing the end of his conquest in India, and looks back across his life at many of the key battles he fought. Pressfield works hard to show Alexander's military genius and after reading Scott Oden's Memnon, I found myself approaching the battles between Alexander and the Persian general with trepidation; I knew how everything would turn out, but had previously only seen it from the other side.

The novel was a really great look at Alexander's world from his own point of view, and although perhaps not as lyrical as Renault treated the same source material, a really excellent read.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: Wanderers of Time, by John Wyndham

I can't honestly say when I read my first John Wyndham novel, but if I had to guess it would have probably been sometime in Junior High (88-91) and was most likely either Day of the Triffids or The Midwhich Cuckoos.

For me his books were an early introduction to post-apocalyptic fiction and his mix of end of the world terror with a sort of middle class 50s United Kingdom mindset was a great introduction to the sub-genre for me.

Over the past few years I've collected a number of his books and this month dug into my first, Wanderers of Time which is a short story collection of some science fiction he wrote in the 1930s. With stories ranging from Time Travel to space adventure and two pretty interesting horror stories (one a sort of Mummy on the moon and the other a terrifying example of bio terrorism), I was quite impressed and am definitely looking forward to reading more.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Book Review: The Obelisk Gate, by N.K. Jemisin

Following up on The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin's The Obelisk Gate continues Essun's story, but this time includes the point of view of her daughter Nassum as well. In an attempt to stay away from spoilers, as the book is only a few years old, I will say that although I was a pretty big fan of the first novel, the second one took the concepts and world building from its predecessor and starting looking at them in detail, including a much more in depth look at the stone eaters and the character of Hoa.

I'm really interested to see where this series is going and although I'm still not certain as to whether I'll ever own copies of it myself, I'm finding this tragic, intimate story to be much more affecting than I was initially expecting.