Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Butcher Bird - It's sort of like Perry, but without the downfall.

Songs of the post Sponge - Plowed and Klepacki - Fantasy

No alternative titles today. This one's a reference to the Piers Anthony series about the various incarnations. Evil's office was held by a guy named Perry and his book focused a lot on his motives and reasoning. It also reminds me of the webcomics Skin Deep and Supernormal Step, but that's something else.

Today on the chopping block is Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey. Another book Amazon suggested to me on my tablet because of my habit of reading Glen Cook, Jim Butcher and George R.R. Martin. I'm a little confused why my Sherlock Holmes hasn't skewed a few things, but oh well. The story this time around is that a tattoo artist suddenly finds himself seeing creatures. Demons, monsters, mythological beasts, tolerable hippies and so on. Okay, maybe not so much on the last one. Covered in tattoos, Spyder Lee is sitting at a bar having an asinine conversation with a friend. Yes I hated his name with a passion, though at least even the strange critters tended to notice it as a strange name too, commonly asking if he belonged to the spider clan, hinting at a larger story. He's broken up with his girlfriend who studied religion and the sort and as such he does have some knowledge of a few of the beasties and demons at least so he's useful to the plot for being largely useless for a lot of the plot.

I'll be damned if I can remember his friend's name, but she's a druggie and more than a little messed up in the head. She stays fairly consistently messed up in the head, even trying to commit suicide and failing in a fairly macabre way. Our third mainstay is the titular character, Shrike or the Butcher bird. I really hope that's her name because as usual, I can't remember our Princess of the plot's name. Finally we have the Duke? I think. I remember him more for his spoileriffic revelation later on. Why no, Perry has nothing to do with it. No really. Right then...

So the plot. He's drunk, drinking with the friend and decides he's got to take a leak. Wandering into the alleyway like a good drunk, he's attacked by an insect-headed demon and saved by the blind chick he had been semi-hitting on or chatting with or something... Here's our main trio! I might be remembering wrong, but I believe they called the demon Nebiros, which bugs me since he's supposed to be a Crane, honorable and willing to teach, but again that's not really the point. Shrike guts the demon and they escape. Spyder wakes up confused, walks outside and thinks he's got some sort of head trauma going on. The telephone pole has various heads and fetishes attached to it, there are burning people, demons and monster and so on and they seem perfectly normal. He does take a moment to specifically notice what he thinks are lawyer sorts with black suits and ill-fitted skin suits. They smell funny too by descriptions later.

He hops in a cab to get to work, not wanting to ride his bike while obviously out of his mind and ends up scaring the cabbie so much he gets a free ride about halfway there. It's here that he notices his lifelong lesbian whackjob of a friend isn't completely human either. She looks like a corpse, dessicated and missing eyes, replaced instead with paper over the sockets and a skull's grin. She explains the men in black he saw earlier made a deal with her to help her clear her mind in exchange for her eyes. And when that wore off, another organ. And another and so on, until finally they take the victim to be a sacrifice in the name of 'balance'. Spyder, upset that she's probably going to be dead quite soon, offers himself up to help save her, setting some things in motion. He runs into Shrike again, begging her to undo whatever she did to him to let him see the freaks and geeks of the second and third worlds, though she explains it's not possible. Spyder goes home, has some problems thanks to another demon and through some events, ends up acting as a stand-in for Shrike's former partner while she reports for a job. They're ambushed on the way, hinting at more going on than they're aware of.

The woman for the job has been cursed, wasting away quite literally. With an oppressive stench, a penchant for surrounding herself with carnivorous plants and an obviously malevolent attitude, she drafts them to work. To ensure speedy work, she forces the key into Shrike where it will burrow towards her heart unless she nears the door it's enchanted to open. They're given a horn from a demon that slices and dices better than the average mail order knife and they're on the way. It's here that Spyder proves he has some useable knowledge and ends up sticking with her in the long run, especially since the demon's spread rumors that he's some kind of molester or somesuch. They begin the flight towards the gates to hell where they're attacked by a third party and watched by Angels. They're saved by the Duke or.. guy person. He teaches Spyder and Living-Dead Girl how to protect themselves, giving Spyder a Painkiller... erh a weedwhacker. (The Painkiller is the titular weapon from Painkiller. It's a blender on a stick with a laser attachment in a nutshell.). I don't remember what it's really called, but you get it spinning and smack things with it. A bit of padding later and they find the City of Lost things. Memories, objects, whatever. Spyder runs into his younger, dumber self and ends up beating the hell out of him before fleeing. They leave, get ambushed again and determine that one of them is offering a view of their surroundings. They assume it's Living-Dead Girl. They get to the mountain where the pit of hell resides, get ambushed again and realize it was Spyder. The munchkin demon thing that didn't talk much dies and then the Duke dies before they go to hell. Inside, Spyder's wearing a blindfold because otherwise he'd not be able to leave hell. Shrike's already blind so that's moot too. Living-Dead Girl's told her weird way of seeing doesn't count so she's their eyes. They encounter oddities, then a small demon with a giant wang. He convinces them eventually they need his help and he leads them right where they need to go.

Sort of. They fight some demons again, finding out hell's been divided. And they're building something. The big badguy of hell is the badguy that screwed Shrike over so she wants revenge and blah blah blah. The guy messes with her again, undoing the curse that blinds her so she's stuck in hell while Spyder's blindfold is yanked off. The little demon then leads Spyder to the city under the guise of helping before he's stopped by the big man himself, Lucifer. Lucifer turns out to be the Duke. Person guy. Which is honestly why I don't remember his original name. He's not presented as evil, but more opposed. It's an interesting view similar to Perry from "For Love of Evil" with... less finesse. He's still enjoyable enough though. They talk, get ambushed again, Spyder does something phenomenally stupid that works and they open a pit to earth from Hell. The evil mostly-dead old woman in the Burqa is defeated. Most importantly, sort of is that Spyder's name is cleared, he harasses the demon and then they talk after ordering drinks.

I cut a lot out, some of it because it's basically filler, some of it because I don't think you guys want to know about all the groping and sex. It was awkward to read in book and it would be awkward to paraphrase creatively each time. The dialogue was a bit awkward at times and Living-Dead Girl got on my nerves as well. The setting is reminiscent of some of Gaiman's worlds, the webcomics Supernatural Step and Skin Deep, Anthony's Incarnations books and a few I'm probably missing. This isn't necessarily bad and with some work I could see the book being a lot better. While trying vainly to find the names for characters I discovered this book was actually written before the Sandman Slim books which I've also picked up to read later. Guessing by the impressions I got from this book, I'll probably quite enjoy the Sandman Slim stuff. Overall, not a bad book. Not a good book, not a shallow book, but definitely not a deep book. The characters ranged from likeable, underutilized, aggravating and underdeveloped, but there's a lot of hints at a creative mind that could do better with work. Hopefully that's all true and Amazon won't piss me off by trying to suggest things similar to Cook and Butcher.

Depending on the mood, I'd give this 2.5-3.5 out of 5 depending.

Editor's note: I'm reading Sandman Slim right now and it's definitely leaps and bounds ahead of Butcher Bird.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pennies for the Ferryman. IE The USS Cole, really?

Songs of the post Cry of the Banshee and  Children of the Grave

Alternate titles of the post: You got Edgar Allen Poe in my Fanfiction and You're better off swimming the rivers Styx and Acheron.

First and foremost. The last post on this book started out positive, it was an interesting idea of a book. The title of this one should hint at one of the problems I had. To get it out of the way now so I don't have to rant about it later is that one of the ghosts guarding our intrepid hero is one of the victims of the Cole. Up until then, he'd relied on mostly Civil and Revolutionary war ghosts with hints of others. That's fine, there's enough there that you can't just hit a search engine up and see one of the very limited number of victims and start feeling uncomfortable. There were other problems with the book and I'll actually make a few comparisons to Ghost Story, the latest book in the Dresden Files series.

The book starts out with an Iraq war veteran sent home after an IED attack. He's deaf in one ear, limps and requires therapy for both his injuries and suggested mental issues. It wasn't handled too poorly either, early on. As the book went though, it started feeling more and more off. Keep his supposed physical flaws in mind.
Mike, at least I think his name was Mike. (If it's not obvious, barring a select number of books I'm horrid with names. I'll do better eventually). Anyway, Mike has returned to school using his GI Bill, having had problems competing for jobs High Schoolers were after since he enlisted right after graduation. Considering posts I've read, this doesn't sound too far from the truth. He makes jokes about being a pirate, limps around and in general feels like he's actually got some flaws to him. On top of his injuries, he's got a quick mouth and a short fuse and tends to talk without thinking. If these had stayed consistent I'd probably be a lot happier with the book.

The events following are sort of messy. Most of the reviewers on Amazon say the book is better after the first half, I think it's worse. All of his flaws disappear, they're not even handwaved unless it's convenient for the plot. His personality is... a little more cemented which is tolerable enough. That said, it's here we find out that he's a descendent of Edgar Allen Poe and that Poe's brother is the beast in the graveyard everyone's afraid of. We also find out that Arlington terrifies ghosts and no one goes there because of bad things. If you're looking at a map, just imagine "Thar be dragons" and call it good. He no longer has to touch ghosts to hear them since another ghost poked him in the ear (Basically). The Civil War general is on his side now and it turns out his Sergeant buddy was actually a bad guy being manipulated by his skin walker girlfriend. Oh and get used to that term, they're ghosts that possess people and either eat their soul or suppress it. He destroys his buddy, calls the girlfriend to tell her she's a twat, then gets ambushed by her and left to die to the beast. He escapes by setting off a spirit bomb or something, they revive him saying he was hit by lightning and the book ends.

Now here's what I liked. I liked the concept at it's core. I like the idea of a character with legitimate flaws, both physical and mental dealing with other people of varying degrees of good and bad. The fact that he not only researches and experiments to find out what works and what doesn't is great too. I liked the fact that for the most part his various problems weren't just an excuse to be a dick and I liked his mercenary attitude in helping the ghosts.

What I didn't like is that the characterization for most of the characters is threadbare at the best. His mother is basically a set piece and plot macguffin depending. His absentee dad wasn't really a dick that emptied the bank accounts and skipped out, he was possessed! Which.. I actually think hurt his characterization. Yes it's cliched, but having the guy be a legitimate prick would've been a break from the norm and offered a good contrast to the nice old woman he met on one case, his mother the prop and a few of the friendlier spooks. I'd have liked more varied ghost powers and fewer physical prowess moments. He's supposed to be fairly beat up both from the IED and injuries sustained throughout the book. They only seem to slow him down when the plot demands and not when it would be truly inconvenient.

I mentioned that I would compare this book to Jim Butcher' Ghost Story. I know a lot of Dresden Files fans didn't like the book, but I thought it a good return to the norm. I'm also in the minority in that I thought Changes was twelve shades of stupid, but that's neither here nor there. In Ghost Story, Dresden wakes up dead. He meets Murphy senior, gets told something's up and goes to investigate how he died and what's happening. He can't directly interact with others other than Mortimer, he's in an environment where he's not able to use his magic and he's not able to just brute force his way through things. He meets varied ghosts, soldiers, psychos, lost souls and so on. They establish that ghosts too badly damaged become hollow, sticking to one core duty and being all but mindless. They're introduced by a number of soldiers that can't quite be made out properly. That their last duty is to protect others still is a lot more tragic than the messes that happen in Pennies, especially when you see it happen right in person. It's made worse when you find out that they were keeping the psychotic evil ghosts in check. There's a bit of mindfuckery in the fae realms and a few other interesting bits too.

Now, there is a problem with the ending I'll admit, but overall I enjoyed it, I thought the characters that depended on Dresden slipping towards something darker fascinating and in alignment with the overall theme of things and in general made it quite interesting, albeit slow.

The difference between the two books is we're shown both worlds. We're shown multiple characters, all who have their flaws and in the six months since Dresden died, developed new ones. We see fallout from his previous actions and we learn a bit more about Dresden's past. Dresden makes mistakes, doesn't always win and doesn't know what's going on. He has to ask for help, test and learn, much like Pennies. Both feature similar themes of an incapacitated person handling both the living and the dead sides of 'life'. Both have to learn, deal with short comings and work things out. The differences are that Dresden's fairly consistent in things. If he's given a limitation, without a given reason it sticks. This doesn't happen in Pennies. Ghost Stories also incorporates imagery better and definitely incorporates other stories better. It has more atmosphere and more tension and doesn't rely on things such as "Even a sailor from the USS Cole" to suddenly grab your attention. 

Overall, I didn't outright hate Pennies and I actually enjoyed it at first, with a bit of hesitation about some of the ideas. As it went on though, my mind kept being yanked out of the story, either through laughter or frustration. So, of the books I've reviewed so far, it's the best, but that doesn't mean particularly good either. Your mileage may vary on this one though and I could easily see someone else enjoying the book. It was tolerable enough that if I'm ever bored enough I might even give the second book a passing shot. Maybe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

New book reviews inbound

Well, not that there's that many of you out there, but I figure I'd offer an update anyway. I haven't stopped hating myself enough to stop reading bad books for everyone else's entertainment. The two books on the chopping block for now are Butcher Bird and a proper review of Pennies for the Ferryman. I've had quite a bit of schoolwork and what little free time I've had has been absorbed in Sherlock Holmes and A Cruel Wind by Glen Cook. If any of you are bound to comment, feel free to request a review of the latter.

The first review to go up will likely be the one for Pennies for the Ferryman. While Butcher Bird wasn't great and had some cringe inducing moments, for the most part it was tolerable fluff. Bad enough I could poke fun at it easily, but interesting enough in some ways to have fun. I might also have some more game reviews to throw up. Might even make a youtube link showing off some of the more interesting ones or the particularly bad ones. We'll see how it goes.