Note: Review #5 of the Drunken Monkey Book Club.
The Drunken Monkey Book Club hasn't met in a few months. Partly due to some confusion as to what was scheduled to be reviewed and when it was scheduled to meet. Since I did read the book I thought I would publish the review anyway.
Review by Daniel Ruth
Fast forward several months. This is the second half of the previously reviewed 'Peace Talks'. We didn't have to wait too long for this, telling me what I suspected. This truly was the second half of that book. That one ended rather abruptly, feeling like it was only half of the story. Well, here it is.
This jumps straight into the war preparation. As expected there is a lot of internal sniping and arguments, showing a truly huge amount of disunity. There's a few times they are criticizing Dresden as some of his subterfuges have been exposed. For example, people seem to know that he was around when Mabd was kicked through the wall but not precisely what he was doing. However, they know they don't like it. The constant criticizing him being the Winter Knight is also kind of wearing. It's not like it's a position he can retire from so why are they whining about it? It also seems odd that they are telling the second in command of the Winter Court (wait... 3rd?) what duties he can and can't do. Early on there are hints that he will get kicked off the council for... well, a conflict of interests. Which probably made the most sense of everything though they hint it's a plot from the Black Council.
When the fighting starts it begins hard and continues through most of the book. There should be a meme about Dresden constantly getting crippling injuries yet shrugging them off and fighting normally the scene. This is pretty odd since they repeat over and over that the Winter Knight magic only dulls pain and doesn't actually heal you. After a while, you get numb to it. I don't really buy it, but I suppose it makes good storytelling... or thrilling fights... kinda. The fights are fast and furious against overwhelming odds. They do explain in-story why he doesn't run out of magic energy in the beginning and when later he has to conserve energy but considering how long the battle lasts I guess they had to explain it somehow.
People die. People who you saw mentioned many books ago and you see again just long enough to remember who they were. I have to admit it crossed my mind that it may be a good way to clear out useless characters or reduce the sheer number you have to keep track of. There are also a few that really have an impact. Big impactful names. I won't spoil things but people who matter die too. It's hinted in a way since there is a war in the making and frankly everyone is wondering if they will die. The exact way they died is an interesting twist. I definitely didn't see it coming. Weeks after I read the book I still can't decide if the twist minimizes the death or brought home how fragile life is, even if the characters themselves feel larger than life. So... it made me think and that was good. It made my heart twinge and that was good.
The end of the book shakes things up bigger than a world-sized snow globe. The government now knows about the magic side of things. There is no going back on that. That ship has sailed. Interpersonal shake-ups, political shake-ups. Changes. I really approve. Nothing says that the story is progressing like changing everything. Most of the changes you'll just nod at. Others you might shed a tear at. One surprised me so much that much like Desden I just sat speechless for a minute as I let my brain catch up. A change so terrifying and powerful, yet made so much sense afterward.
Yep. This is the book where the old gets swept away and everything afterward is a new and shiny unknown frontier. Excelsior!
Note: Review #4 of the Drunken Monkey Book Club
Review by Daniel Ruth
I read about Vlad Taltos for the first time about 30 years ago. He's a smart, witty, rogue with a cutting tongue and a plan for every occasion. He's also an assassin. However, he's so friendly you may just forget that he may be the deadliest thing on two legs around. Well, except for his friends. They are far deadlier.
This book may have been one of the first in the urban fantasy concept. There are extenuating circumstances, of course, in that it takes place in another world. With an alien race similar to humans but with a lifespan of thousands of years. They also have characteristics of alien animals, of which each book in the series is named after. Despite the fantastical setting, this feels like an urban fantasy. It has all the earmarks of the genre, first-person perspective, witty stream of consciousness, and politics. Frankly, with the world-building integrated so smoothly into the point of view description, it just doesn't feel alien. It like your favorite urban fantasy detective stepped into the next world over started a business while you weren't looking. He just does "work" on the side.
It's hard to imagine an assassin as a hero. Or at least now it is. When I was younger pirates and assassins could be heroes and rescue the maidens with the best of the heroic legends. Nowadays, it's a bit harder for me to reconcile the two, but Vlad is just so darn likable. Sure, he kills people but, at least the ones you know of, they were bad people. There are unpleasant hints that this wasn't always the case but the events in the books are, for the most part, heroic tales. The darker side of the story exists, but with Vlad's inner conversation whispering in your ear, he convinces you... and himself, that he has the moral high ground, or at least it was done for the greater good.
This is true throughout the entire series. The world he lives in has vibrant politics and conflicts and it's hard to find what you would consider a truly moral person. The various alien "Houses" each have their own morals, which we find out is actually firmly embedded in their genetic code. This makes some interactions extreme, yet understandable once you know the rules. It's actually interesting to see how humans interact with species that have certain behavior partly hardwired into them. Once you understand the world he lives in, you also start to understand how Vlad turned out to be that cheerfully witty killer, doing the best he can in a rather brutal world.
Although this was the first book in the series, the later books are not written in chronological order. Despite this, the book is self-contained and has everything you need to get to know who Vlad is and start to peek into the world around him. Every book is mostly like this, each one making the world's lore and politics richer and more real. You don't need to read these in chronological order to understand the world, but if you want to, the author has a handy timeline to help you out. The books have been republished from their original form into several omnibuses in the order they were published. If you choose to follow the timeline it is still easily done.
No matter how you choose to read this series, the world will delight and flood your senses with many morally ambiguous heroic actions. I am sure you'll be able to convince yourself that everything he did was absolutely necessary just as Vlad convinces himself.
Note: Review #3 of the Drunken Monkey Book Club
Review by Daniel Ruth
Reading about Dresden in this new book "Peace Talks" is like seeing an old friend again after he's been visiting foreign lands. I say this because the last few books have been good, even great, but one was a murder mystery of a dead man and the other was mission impossible adventure saga. Both were different and definitely stretched character development, but they were exotic and flashy and the typical Dresden characters didn't show up much. I didn't realize how much I missed them until they were back. Still, it wasn't all smooth sailing.
The story picks up not terribly long after the heist and you get to see what people have been doing since that little escapade. Some of its good stuff, most of its bad. It was nice to see his relationship with Murphy progress and see his physical recovery from being dead and atrophied. There is also a lot of fallout when there is news that the peace talks with the enemy are happening and they are happening in Chicago. To be honest it had been so long since the last book I couldn't recall who that was until they talked about it a bit. I was thinking "Isn't the Red/Black Court dead?".
Then a lot of shit lands on Dresden at once. Its a bit hard to take in everything going on for Dresden at once. It comes across as a bit forced, though his analysis of the situation helps us understand that it is not just a bunch of random events but he is being actively plotted against. It is still a bit hard to accept. One disappointment is that there is actually a perfect opportunity for Dresden to re-sharpen his detective skills. Not to go into details but something bad happens to a person he is close to. That person is forced to do something very stupid and is going to pay a high price. As a detective, you would think one of the first things he would do was to find out who forced this person to do these horrible things. Nope. It doesn't even cross his mind. It is so absent in Dresden's stream of thought that it is obvious by not being there. Now the book takes place over about two days so it is not like there is a lot of time. Dresden is constantly moving through some hectic events so its doubtful he would have been able to do anything to follow up even if he wanted to. But it didn't even cross his mind to find out and use it as leverage to save the situation.
As many have noted, the book feels like half a book. It's a decent length, so I can see how the author wouldn't be able to include the entire story without it growing out of control, so I don't think this is just a money grab. However, it definitely ends in a cliff hanger. It is what it is. It doesn't have a lot of fighting but it definitely has a ton of action and so much happens that I can't imagine how you could fit it into a smaller space without losing more than you gained. But... it's still half a book.
Never the less, it's the same old Harry. By turns self-righteous, heartwarming, and sacrificing, bulling his way through situations by force rather than finesse. As always, he has a lot of heart and he says a lot of things he probably shouldn't and stirs up more shit than he probably should. Sometimes it seems like he's holding the idiot ball and then it's handed to someone else. Then you see other people start doing completely moronic things and your thinking "In what world do people think this isn't going to make things worse?". Part of this is just the Harry vs White/Black Council conflict that has been happening since book one. Part of this has to be that plot against Harry that is mentioned early on, because if people acted that stupid all the time they would die trying to tie their shoes. And finally, part of this is Harry and his Grandfather. You can see a lot of anger in this relationship and much of the time your thinking "why don't they just shut up and listen to each other?" and then you start to think about real family relationship and how angry you get with the people you love. Then you think, "Okay, I can sorta see this."
Overall I liked it. It's flawed by various degrees but they are things I can understand. Some of the conflicts seem forced but it doesn't break anything. A lot of times I just shrugged my shoulders and chalked it up to Harry... being Harry. However, if you don't like being left with a cliffhanger its been long enough that the next book is out and it should bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Just go out and buy it. I know I am.
Note: Review #2 of the Drunken Monkey Book Club
Review by Daniel Ruth
James Corey is an excellent writer in so many ways. The details he describes in the scenery and the lore and history he includes is breathtaking. He really brings to life the the feeling that you are in a world several hundred years in the future. The science is real enough that you can see it as a solid extension of what we have now. There are no flights of fancy or thoughts of "that could never happen". Everything is well considered and fitted into an extremely realistic world. You can absolutely see the politics and culture coming alive before you.
Now the flipside. It is also extremely dry, slow-paced, and largely dull through most of the story. It begins with the point of view of a woman attacked and kidnapped by pirates. A very strong beginning hinting at action and adventure. Unfortunately, that may be the best chapter of the book. From then on the book splits into two points of view; a washed-up policeman and a captain of ice hauler (captain because he inherited the command). In the beginning, the book can be mistaken as a police investigation in space on one hand and a very slow escape from pirates on the other hand.
You may have heard of the "unreliable narrator"? This is usually used in first-person perspectives where you see and feel the main character explore and interact with the world. Because you only are fed information from that person you may believe the heroes are villains and vice versa. It's whatever the character believes. I have never have seen this applied to a third-person perspective and I frankly do not approve. I won't go into details but the situation is described in one manner and then the character has an epiphany and you realize nothing you read was true. I have never seen this technique and I wasn't appreciative of it. Innovative, yet annoying.
Although the world and politics are described well, the characters are paper-thin, two dimensional, and rather incompetent. Perhaps that is too strong... perhaps ordinary is a better word. Although they are caught up in extraordinary circumstances they don't really overcome, more, they merely survive. It's an ode to mediocrity in a futuristic world. One of my friends said that he liked reading about average or below-average people and their struggle, however its just not my thing.
I mentioned below that the pacing went from exciting to the painful. The last quarter or so speeds up significantly and it was pointed out to me that if the length of the book was reduced by about a fourth then it may be appropriately paced story. Even so, it still wouldn't be something I enjoyed. As the author was describing the surroundings in excruciating details I found myself... really not caring and wishing he'd get to the point.
In conclusion, this story is technically well written and a saga that ticks all the boxes but the overwhelming flow of descriptions and slow pace, combined with uninspiring characters ruined it for me.
Note: My friends and I formed a book club. Time on our hands during the pandemic.
Review by Daniel Ruth
The premise of the book is that a man from our general era has arranged to have his head preserved upon death. In the future, he is to be revived once medical science has advanced to a sufficient degree. He dies almost immediately after and things take a turn for the worse as he wakes up in a future dystopia where his mind has been translated into software. He makes the best of it by becoming the heart of a spaceship probe sent to explore and ready planets for colony ships to be sent afterward. Things fall apart.
I won't go into plot details, though it is fairly straightforward. There is a twist in the beginning but its, not a huge surprise if your paying attention. On the surface, the story is a bit fluffy, it's almost typical Kindle Unlimited fare, where there is a minor crisis, a major crisis, and then the end (broadly speaking). Rinse and repeat for the next story in the series. Still, it was enjoyable for what it was. I thought it was a bit short and read the entire trilogy in a day and a half. My sensibilities on length may be suspect though since I saw the hardcopy my friend ordered and it was a respectable size.
There are several elements worth mentioning. First is the meaning of life. Really. If you clone someone and kill the original its murder, right? The original is dead and the clone is, at best, a twin brother. Lets take it a step further. If you copy that original into software and then delete that software, is it murder? What if you copy it first? If you are that AI and copy yourself to go into a hazardous situation is it morally right? All these questions are explored. Without the 'soul' or religious context, it is simplified a bit but it's still an interesting conversation.
The second element is transhumanism. The next step in human evolution. Generally, this is portrayed by cyborgs but this book isn't the first to go the AI route. Some of the issues he explores take a bit of twisting to the world in order to fit right, generally leading to a pretty depressing view on humans. Since many of these situations mirror our present reality it can be argued how realistic they are. Overall, the protagonist gets a pretty poor view of the human race.
The third element is what I found most striking. What does immortality mean? I mean everyone wants to live forever, right? What if everyone died around you? What if only you and clones went on? It could get pretty grim... but who doesn't want immortality even if you have to deal with that? It's an interesting journey and I like the slow evolution of his philosophy as this situation slowly sinks in. It doesn't show up so much in the first book but later in the series this becomes the core. When this is resolved in the third book and it ends it feels like an excellent wrap up of a trilogy even as some of the events march on. Perhaps too much so. I almost feel that if a fourth book comes out I may not really need to read it. I would, of course, but it just felt perfect.
There were aliens. Some good and some bad, but it wasn't really what I was reading the book for. The interaction with the primitive civilization may be fascinating if that's what you're interested in but its just not my cup of tea. It wasn't bad and as time marches on it reinforces the isolation of immortality but not my thing. The evil aliens were... evil. They were genocidal and irredeemable. A fair villain if a bit two dimensional. The moral implications were only lightly touched upon, but that wasn't terrible. No one wants to feel bad for defending yourself and despite the darker tones of the novel and exploration of what it means to be alone together (OMG a pandemic reference), I didn't really pay attention to the grimdark until it was pointed out.
Generally, I hate novels that split the point of view. I want a single POV or, at most two, so I can develop a rapport with the main character. This novel did split the point of views but it was understandable since they were all Bob. Sometimes it got a bit confusing on which Bob was doing what, and I occasionally wondered if I had some dyslexic tendencies when I stopped I tried to figure out why the Bob I thought I was reading about turned out to be another. I think that might just be me. There were a lot of Bobs.
On the whole, this was a pleasant read. Dark undertones aside it was... not a wild ride, more like a steady tour of a small section of the universe. There was fighting, philosophy, and the meaning of life. What more could you want?