Books 2015: 91-96
91. Bennett R. Coles, The Virtues of War
. Titan Books, 2015. Copy courtesy of Titan Books.
Bennett R. Coles is, according to his bio, a former Canadian naval officer, and Virtues of War
is his debut novel. Military SF that starts with what seems like essentially a proxy war between two major powers fought on territory that belongs to a third party, and works its way up to open
Although it's not as human or as nuanced, it reminds me a little of some of David Drake's earlier work: screwed up humans doing fucked up things under pressure. At the level of fast-paced narrative full of things going boom
, this is a pretty good piece of milSF. It has, however, at least a couple of serious flaws.
One is common: the narrative needs to walk the line between depicting
atrocity and condoning it, and Virtues of War
falters over the line of coming across a little more sympathetic to war crimes when its point of view characters commit them than when "the enemy" do. (In this regard, the fact that all the POV characters wear the same uniform doesn't help balance the problem.) But I'm willing to give an early novel a little more slack when it comes to getting this right than I might otherwise.
The second issue - more like two issues all rolled in one - however, is one I'm not prepared to cut any slack for at all. There are four point of view characters in Virtues of War
, two male, two female: Thomas, Jack, Katja, and Breeze. The former three are reasonably well-rounded characters for a milSF novel. Breeze, however, is a cliché - a misogynist one. She comes straight from central casting: the conniving woman who uses her sexual availability to manipulate the men around her, the REMF who's both a physical and a moral coward, the woman who's willing to make a false rape allegation against a fellow officer in order to pressure him into doing things her way, the woman who hates other women as competition.
Do I have to spell out how fucking lazy
and clichéd this is? Do I really?
Breeze is also the voice of the novel's heterosexism/homophobia, perfectly prepared to dismiss other women as "butchy" and "dykes" for not meeting her standards of femininity - and in a novel which does not appear to have any non-heterosexual characters or interactions, I dislike exceedingly the fact that Breeze's heterosexism is met without comment from any of the other characters. Seriously: maybe we can imagine futures where "dyke" is not a dismissive epithet (when said by an apparently heterosexual woman of another apparently heterosexual woman)?
military SF, dammit. I keep hoping for more of it that doesn't involve having to put up with an unacceptable level of being punched in the face. Coles shows a lot of promise as a milSF writer. But if he can't up his game and drop the misogynist clichés, next book?
Clearly he's not the kind of writer who wants my money.
92. Charles Stross, The Annihilation Score
. Orbit, 2015.
This book distracted me from work I should have been doing, and I DO NOT REGRET IT ONE WHIT.The Annihilation Score
is the latest entry in Stross's long-running Laundry series, and the first not to be told in the voice of Bob Howard. Instead, Dr. Dominique "Mo" O'Brien, part-time lecturer in music, combat epistemologist, Laundry agent and wielder of the white bone violin that eats souls (and kills demons), takes centre stage. Mo is promoted to take charge of the UK's new policing agency to deal with people who are developing superpowers as CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN continues. Bureaucracy snark! And also policing nightmares. And nightmare police.The Annihilation Score
is darker, tonally, than the previous Laundry books, and a little less humorous - although the Laundry series has grown progressively darker, this installment has a lot
more whistling past the graveyard than even the last couple. As a protagonist, Mo is more self-aware than Bob, scarred in different ways, and her voice is a touch more biting. Underneath the cynical jokes, engaging incidents, crises of beginning middle-age, and brisk send-up of the superhero genre, there's something pretty bleak. That layer of bleakness makes The Annihilation Score
stand out from its predecessors in a good
Gallows humour is the best humour, after all.
93. Stina Leicht, Cold Iron
. Saga Press, 2015. Copy courtesy of Saga Press.
Read for review for Tor.com
94. Zen Cho, Sorcerer to the Crown
. Macmillan, 2015. Copy courtesy of Macmillan UK.
Read for review for Locus. Clearly in dialogue with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
, and also the whole style of regency romance. But also very much interested in interrogating and overturning the hegemonic idea of white Englishness. Very engaging novel. Can recommend very highly, even though the things it is in dialogue with, and its formal, measured style, are not really my favourite things: Cho writes a novel here that compels attention.
(And if I am very lucky and my mind clears enough to review it properly tomorrow, will have a review in by Locus's deadline this month.)
95. Nicole Kornher-Stace, Archivist Wasp
. Big Mouth House, 2015.
ARCHIVIST WASP! ARCHIVIST WASP! Shit, this book. It's probably the second book I've fallen in love with this year, at level deeper than admiration - counting Bear's Karen Memory
as the first. (I really enjoyed several other books, like Novik's Uprooted
, Valentine's Persona
, Gladstone, Walton, etc but I don't foresee myself going back and rereading them to pieces.) Archivist Wasp
follows the trials of its titular character, Wasp, the Archivist - a role that marks her as outcast, and a role that she is forced to kill to keep. Wasp kills to survive. She deals with ghosts in a world that teems with them, long after a technological apocalypse: she tries to learn from the ghosts about the apocalypse before she destroys them. But the ghosts don't communicate.
Wasp's life is solitary and brutal and looks likely to be short, until she comes across a ghost that talks. A ghost that offers her a bargain - a bargain that will take her on a journey to the underworld. Katabasis.
And maybe back, to freedom.
It has great strength of voice. (If you liked Karina Sumner-Smith's Radiant
you will like this, and vice versa
, I can all but guarantee it.) And much to recommend it! (And I will stop talking about it here because I mean to write about it in a column and if I don't stop now I will have to write the whole column here.)
Short version: ARCHIVIST WASP YES READ IT YES.
96. David Weber, Timothy Zahn, and Tom Pope, A Call To Arms
. Baen, 2015. Copy courtesy of the publisher.
Meh. Seriously? Meh. I was hoping for a novel with the verve and energy of A Call to Duty
, which was one of the better Honorverse installments of the last few years. This isn't as much of a drag as War of Honor
, but it is decidedly on the disjointed side, and there is far too much boring villain and insufficient banter/explosions.
Also the final third is an expanded version of the novella/short novel "A Call to Arms," in one of the more recent Honorverse anthologies - was it Beginnings
? I think so - and the expansion looks decidedly like a disimprovement
when set beside the original.
Not recommended at hardcover prices.This entry was originally posted at http://hawkwing-lb.dreamwidth.org/645525.html. There are comments there. Comment where you like.