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text 2014-10-11 23:37
Pandemonium - Daryl Gregory (Author)

Pandemonium reminds me of those times when my foodie friends are dragging me to a “fabulous new restaurant” where (mostly) familiar ingredients are deconstructed, spiced and recombined in a creative way. At least this time, instead of an unsettling mess, it resulted in one of those perfect, satisfying meals that fulfill a sensory need as much as a physical one. Not so unusual that I’m left with a disturbing aftertaste, and not so routine that it is immediately forgettable. To wit:


Salvatore’s award-winning pizza with wine-poached fig, bacon and gorgonzola. Unusual but delicious take on pizza. http://salvatorestomatopies.com/2012/08/24/salvatores-wins-the-first-annual-slice-of-sun-prairie-pizza-contest-with-wine-poached-fig-and-local-bacon-pizza/


Pandemonium is a lot like that. Somewhat familiar elements drawn from comic books, buddy flicks and mythology are blended together in a plot that moves quickly but respects each ingredient. Add in some complex characterization, dashes of dark humor and develop it with truly fine writing, and I’m served a book that satisfying on both intellectual and emotional levels.


The simple summary: Del is returning to his mother’s home with a dual purpose: confess a recent car accident and psychiatric hospitalization, and to meet a famous demonology researcher at a national conference. Demons are real, although their manifestations usually pass quickly, while the behavior follows certain archetypes: The Painter, the Little Angel, Truth: “The news tracked them by name, like hurricanes. Most people went their whole lives without seeing one in person. I’ve seen five–six, counting today’s.” When Del was young, he was possessed by the Hellion, a wild boy entity, and Del has recently developed suspicions that the Hellion never left him. The story follows Del as he attempts to understand and perhaps free the entity inside him.


The plot moved nicely with enough balance between introspection and action to keep me interested. What I loved the most, however, was the writing. There’s the vivid imagery:


A small white-haired women glared up at me, mouth agape. She was seventy, seventy-five years old, a small bony face on a striated, skinny neck: bright eyes, sharp nose, and skin intricately webbed from too much sun or wind or cigarettes. She looked like one of those orphaned baby condors that has to be fed by puppets”


the humor:


The question, then, was how long could a human being stay awake? Keith Richards could party for three days straight, but I wasn’t sure if he counted as a human being


and sheer cleverness (because I’ve been this lost driving in Canada):


For the past few hours we’d been twisting and bobbing along two-lane back roads, rollercoastering through pitch-black forests. And now we were lost. Or rather, the world was lost. The GPS told us exactly where we were but had no idea where anything else was.
Permanent Global Position: You Are Here.”


For those who might want a sense of the flavor, I was reminded of American Gods, of George R.R. Martin’s Wild Card world (my review) blended with Mythago Wood (my review), but done much, much better. While I had problems maintaining interest in each of the aforementioned, I had no such challenge with Pandemonium. Each bite revealed something almost familiar but somehow unexpected. There’s a lot to enjoy, and an equal amount to ruminate on after finishing. I’ll be looking for more from Gregory.


Oh yes: a sincere thank you to bookaneer for inviting me to dinner.

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review 2014-04-23 20:09
Pirate fun!
Iron Jackal (Tale of the Ketty Jay) - Chris Wooding

One can’t help but delight in the antics of Captain Frey of the airship The Kitty Jay. A swashbuckling rapscallion, he has an ego unsurpassed by his wit or his morals. Lately, however, he has found that his normally self-centered ethics are undergoing an uncomfortable transformation as he discovers he cares about his crew of misfits. The crew’s been together on The Kitty for awhile now, and they are finally feeling flush with success after their most recent exploits (The Black Lung Captain). The crew includes Crake, the “highly educated and eloquent” daemonist and his metal golem, Bess; Pinn, more muscle than brain, but determined to be an inventor; Harkins, a stellar flier with a severe anxiety disorder; Silo, a former slave with a mysterious past; Malvery, a doctor with a drinking problem; Jez, “who was half-daemon, and who was dead by most people’s standards”; and Slag, the irascible cat.


Crake was less than impressed. He’d been expecting someone fiercely intense, a wild-eyed savage of some kind. Instead he’d found a giant bearded raisin.


Characterization is exceptional, though undoubtedly many readers will recognize crew members as character archetypes from other sources. I couldn’t help but imagine Frey as Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean as I read, but many reviewers cite Captain Mal Reynolds in Firefly as well. It’s a compliment to Wooding, really, that he can weave a such glorious tale of adventure that it calls to mind other stories and characters we love. While the narrative largely follows Frey, it also spends time with each member of the crew. As they each undergo their own personal crisis, there’s opportunity for emotional development outside of Frey’s more egotistical perspective.  Wooding nicely captures the feel of a band of misfits choosing to trust each other even as they make contingency plans: Crake thought [Pinn] an odious, immoral dimwit with the intelligence of a cough drop, but he was crew, so that was that.


One of the challenges with characterization is how to have them handle conflict without endangering sympathy for the character. Wooding gauges the line nicely, creating Frey as a Jack Sparrow-like weasel whose morals usually come through in the end. When his crew questions him about the latest heist, Frey finds himself flailing as he tries to justify the plan:

“‘Aren’t we the bad guys?’ Pinn asked suddenly.
They all stared at him. He shrugged. ‘Well, I mean, we’re robbing them, right?’
‘We’re never the bad guys!’ said Frey, horrified at the suggestion. He was surprised the moral objection had come from Pinn rather than Crake. Pinn didn’t have any morals, so he probably just wanted the attention.
‘Plus,’ he raised a finger, ‘those on that train are gonna be armed guards. They’re paid to get shot. If people like us didn’t try to rob trains, they’d be out of a job.’
‘We’re providing employment opportunities now?’ Crake asked, deadpan.
‘Exactly!’ said Frey. ‘Greasing the wheels of foreign capital, and that.’
‘Cap’n,’ said Crake. ‘I do believe you know as much about economics as Pinn does about hygiene.’
Malvery mopped his pate, which had reddened and begun to peel. ‘Look, as long as we stop short of killing women and children, and we ain’t shooting adorable little puppy dogs in the face, I’m in.’


Plotting is fun, with a typical heist scenario leading to one complication after another. Much like a movie, Iron Jackal opens with a shootout and foot chase, Frey outdoing his normal cowardly efforts as he chases Ashua, a former street urchin with valuable intel. Once Ashua is on board, the heist proceeds, only to lead to unfortunate consequences, unsurprisingly caused by Frey. The crew rallies round him even as each faces doubts and set off after the MacGuffin. But what an entertaining journey along the way! A variety of setting and political situations keeps the action from feeling repetitive. The end engagement is a unexpected, complex situation that points to the direction for the next book –but is not a cliff-hanger for this one.


Tone and voice are wonderfully balanced, able to maintain a degree of suspense and uncertainty while cracking jokes along the way. Witty dialogue is tempered by emotional turmoil, which places it a step or two above many action-focused stories. Frey and Ashua have a Beatrice and Benedick repartee (Much Ado About Nothing), while Crake frequently makes word jokes that only Ashua (and hopefully, the reader) understands:


“‘Why do I need a dictionary?’ Frey complained.
‘No reason,’ said Ashua. ‘Now let’s get down there and mortify some guards.’
Frey was caught in one of those moments when he didn’t know what somebody meant and couldn’t decide whether to pretend he did or not.
Pinn groaned, as if explaining things to Frey was extraordinarily tiresome. ‘Mordant means dead, don’t it? So mortify means kill, obviously. They even sound the same. Right?’ He looked at Ashua, who nodded encouragingly.
‘Oh,’ said Frey. “Oh! Let’s mortify some guards. I’m with you now. Didn’t hear you right the first time, that’s all.’
Crake and Ashua exchanged a glance, though it was hard to tell its meaning behind their goggles. Malvery tutted to himself. Frey had the distinct impression that a joke was being had at his expense, but couldn’t for the life of him figure out what it was.’


Extremely readable, it’s one of those books that swaggers into your afternoon, says, “don’t mind if I do,” kicking off boots and placing feet on coffee table. For the right mood, priceless.

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review 2014-04-13 02:30
The Minority Council
The Minority Council - Kate Griffin

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.


Well, sort of. Take two dislikeable tropes, refrigerator females and the drug scourge, and put them in the hands of a fine storyteller, set it a city with a millennia of history, and fill it with fascinating characters, particularly a reincarnated schizophrenic sorcerer, and you get something pretty amazing with a little side helping of ambivalence. 


The Minority Council is the fourth (and last?) book in the Matthew Swift series; however, he does guest appearances in the Magicals Anonymous series. Charmingly, the next book, Stray Souls, is hinted at in a couple of places. At any rate, Matthew Swift is a former sorcerer, reincarnated along with the electric blue angels who escaped from the phone lines. He becomes the reluctant hero, the Midnight Mayor of the city, charged with protecting London from magical destruction. Matthew, however, has a problem caring about the larger issues, and does much better on the concrete, individual level. He only ends up managing the Big Concerns when individuals he comes to care about are affected. The Minority Council doesn’t break this trend; in the first few pages, he meets Meena, a magic user of stunning power, and when she calls him for help, he finds himself involved in London’s underground magical drug trade. At the same time, a local council worker, Nabeela, is trying to storm into the Mayor’s office, intending to bring her cause to his attention. Little does she know that the scuffily dressed man sneaking in the service entrance is, in fact, the Mayor. She convinces Matthew he needs to see one of the teen hooligans who has been somehow changed and the investigation gains momentum.


I continue to love Griffin’s voice. She uses a first person narrative starring Matthew/the electric angels (he switches from ‘I’ to ‘we’ regularly), which does fascinating things with characterization. But it is the overall voice, a mixture of pensive and resolute, wonderment and observant that I enjoy, a voice that perfectly fits with Matthew’s split character.  I found myself wondering if Matthew the sorcerer is indeed ‘there’ at all, or if his personality is merely the electric angels impersonating humanity. It could be because I’ve been reading Richard K Morgan’s downloaded personalities, but I can’t help but see the electric angels as the same sort of phenomenon.


Then there’s the writing itself. Griffin uses words well, specific, slightly unusual choices that highlight and play with meaning. At times, shades of Douglas Adams. At times, flat out great. “At first I hadn’t realised that the voice had been addressed to me, but when I felt an expectation next to me, I looked round, and there she stood.


The overt plot of the book largely surrounds the relationship between Matthew and his Alders. Having been on the receiving end of the Alders’ willingness to use lethal force, Matthew isn’t inclined to cut them any slack. Matthew sums up the problems between himself and his Alders early on: “In theory they serve the Midnight Mayor, soldiers in his army… They were magical, they were dangerous, a lot of them were dabblers in high finance, and if all of this wasn’t enough, they liked to wear black and talk in short sentences to let you know just how mean they were. They were the banes of my life and it was of only some small satisfaction to think that we were, in our own quaint way, the bane of theirs.


A note of levity was introduced with Kelly, Matthew’s new Alder P.A. I’m afraid I’m becoming quite fond of her, always dangerous in a Swift book. But she of the eternal optimism made me laugh out loud when she points out: “‘You say that, Mr. Mayor!’ she exclaimed. ‘But you say it in your special brave voice and, you know, I’m really not sure if I can trust your special brave voice these days because, if you don’t mind me saying so, Mr. Mayor, there’s a very thin line between being brave and six months of physiotherapy and liquid foods.‘”


My problems with the series are hard to describe. As much as I wish it wasn’t true, bookaneer’s observation of Griffin’s use of the refrigerator female is sadly apparent. I admit to disappointment, particularly in a female author who ought to be aware that she’s killing off most (all?) of the strong women characters, good or bad. My other challenge centers around Matthew’s naivete. This is book four in Matthew’s reincarnation, and I started to feel like it is entirely too easy to use him as a cat’s paw in a larger scheme. He may feel like he is an actor, but remains largely an agent. Realizing that was one of the moments that made me question whether a sorcerer of Swift’s knowledge and experience was actually in the body at all, or if it was only the electric angels believing they are Swift–what other excuse explains the simplistic way they react with only shreds of intuition and little information?


However, Griffin does an excellent job balancing the drama of the story with humorous touches, one reason the series stands out among urban fantasy. There’s sophistication in the moral issues, and it isn’t always entirely clear that Matthew is right, however understandable his thirst for vengeance might be. The magic and magical creatures continue to impress, updated to a modern recognizable version–the magic of crime scene tape, bus passes, fairy dust, the vestments of the homeless. Overall, highly recommended, but this is one series I strongly suggest be read in order.

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review 2014-03-22 05:45
Broken Angels isn't broken
Broken Angels - Richard K. Morgan

Recently I’ve been told I’m tough to please.


Here’s what I know about books: their experience is highly subjective. Not only to book details like plot, setting and characterization, but also to the reader’s place and time, their mood, the book format and surrounding distractions.


I had minimal hopes when I picked up Broken Angels, despite enjoying Altered Carbon immensely. I’m the sort of reader that previews some reads through reviews, and I noticed that many people felt this wasn’t as strong as Altered CarbonThey were wrong; for me, it was much better.


It’s the twenty-fifth century (no, not Duck Dodgers) and humanity has advanced its technical knowledge enough to be able to digitize personality by means of a small ‘cortical stack’ placed near the spinal column. It holds personality and memories up until death. If the cortical stack is undamaged, after death it can be placed in another body, whether vat-grown or organic, and the person resumes consciousness at the point they died. Significant other technological advancements include colonizing solar systems, thanks to star and planetary maps discovered in abandoned Martian ruins. Takeshi Kovacs was born on one of those far-flung worlds, served in the military, and joined the specialized and highly trained Envoys (think enhanced SEALs), left after disillusionment, and then become self-employed, more or less. He is currently contracted as a soldier on the backwater world of Sanction IV as a member of Wedge Command, an elite mercenary force employed by the government. A man named Kemp is leading an insurrection, but the intergalactic Protectorate has yet to officially interfere, as the local government insists this is a ‘domestic matter.’ While in a hospital ship recovering from his latest injuries, Kovacs is approached by a pilot who wants his help finding and selling access to a hidden Martian stargate and the abandoned spaceship on the other side of the gate. Successfully selling their knowledge could mean a ticket off the war-torn world and financial riches. What follows is a classic plot of putting the team together, pursuing their quest and then protecting it until they can stake their claim on it. They face a variety of obstacles including the civil war raging around them and adversaries who know more than they should.


True to the action tradition, plot is fast-moving and evolves quickly. By chapter three, Kovacs is putting team together. It held together well, with the question of success ratcheted up by violence, unclear motivations and technological twists. Although it may seem that the cortical stacks bring a level of safety, resulting in a need to bring video-game level violence to the equation, Morgan is still able to create tension and fear in the reader in a number of ways.

Kovacs’ disenchanted, battle-scarred characterization is a strong point of the book. Morgan states he was strongly influenced by the noir tradition, as well as the political setting during the Reagan-Thatcher years, and Norse mythology around heroes. He states in the same interview, “there was a sense of moral bankruptcy in the air, a sense of failed ideals, and Kovacs walked right out of those ruins.” It is absolutely one of my favorite things about his writing; however unsubtle the violence may be, the finesse with which he creates Kovacs’ state of mind is fabulous. Although not all characters are complicated, Kovacs is one of the more ambiguous anti-heroes I’ve seen.


The space setting ended up being an unexpected standout. While I first expected the Martian ruins to be a quest MacGuffin, I was soon proved wrong. The value of the ruins proved to be a philosophical discussion point, true, but they also became just kick-butt cool.



Morgan created a sense of the Other/alien that, while delightfully unexpected, felt terribly, hauntingly real. The twist was a satisfying way to wring the last bit of emotion from the scene, and drive home the point for humanity (but it won’t).

(spoiler show)



Down-rating comes from sex scenes that largely felt gratuitous and not particularly important to plot or character-building (but no doubt pleasing to the cinematic eye). They were largely ineffective to building a sense of emotional engagement between Kovacs and the character, particularly as Kovacs keeps referencing the dash of “wolf splice” in his soldier genetic make-up that accounts for fierce loyalty to the group. I also felt like the transitions between chapters were rougher than they needed to be. While I’m a fan of immersive world-building, chapters initially felt a little like river rocks that required a jump from one to the next, instead of linked steps on a bridge. I also felt like the spiritual component was less well-done, lacking clarity of intention and meaning. However, I may change my mind on re-read.


While Altered Carbon takes readers through the ins and outs of the ramifications of digitizing personality and body-switching, Broken Angels focuses more on the social and personal costs of the manipulations of the war machine by government and corporations. Perhaps the shift in style is why some felt it was inferior to Altered Carbon, which hailed from the noir school of the anti-hero private detective and focused more on individual economic disparity.  Personally, I found both to be very well done, with above average science fiction components. No doubt Broken Angels will make its way to my physical space-impaired library, because this is one I want to re-read.

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url 2013-10-07 07:56
Tana goldfields news reviews three things you should - SlideShare

Since the price of gold and silver have been increasing at astounding rates, more and more people are looking at gold, silver and platinum coins as investments. There are many honest and reputable coin dealers that can help you purchase these investment instruments at fair market prices. Unfortunately, there are also those that are looking to rip off the uninformed and sell them overpriced gold coins.
Before you invest of any of these precious metal coins or bullion, you should do your research and obtain your knowledge from somebody other than the person trying to sell you the coins. "If you don't know your gold, silver or platinum coins, you'd better know your coin dealer to help you make responsible decisions," advises Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) President Jeffrey Bernberg of Willowbrook, Illinois. The Professional Numismatists Guild is a nonprofit organization founded in 1953 and is composed of the country's top rare coin and bullion coin dealers. PNG member dealers must adhere to a strict Code of Ethics in the buying and selling of numismatic and bullion merchandise.
"To make an informed purchase of gold, silver or platinum, investors need to be aware of three crucial marketplace factors: the actual cost per ounce of the precious metals; the bullion value versus any collector value of the coin; and timely delivery of the merchandise" continued Bernberg. In order to help investors understand the precious metal marketplace, PNG has published the following guidelines to help you become a wise investor.
Gold Investors should be aware that gold bullion coins trade at a small premium over the actual spot gold price because they are minted by sovereign governments that charge a fabrication fee. The spot gold price is based on 100 ounce or larger .999 fine gold bars. Gold bullion coins ranging from 1/10 oz to one ounces trade at 3% to 15% premium over spot, based on the coin, it's size (for example, 1/10th, 1/4th, 1/2 or 1 full ounce), and the quantity being purchased.
Many major gold bullion dealers typically will sell a single, one-ounce gold American Eagle gold coin at approximately four to five percent over the current spot/melt value (and purchase them from customers at about two percent less than their selling price.) American Eagles, Canadian Maple leafs and South African Krugerrands are some of the most popular gold bullion coins. Investors should contact several creditable precious metal dealers and shop for the best price.
Bullion vs. Collector Coins
Investors should distinguish between bullion coins whose values generally fluctuate according to the current price of gold, silver or platinum, and "rare coins" that can carry a significant collector premium based on historical supply and demand.
Some U.S. gold and silver coins may be readily available in circulated condition for a modest premium over their bullion content, but those same coins in superb condition may have significantly higher value -- perhaps thousands of dollars above their melt value. The market for accurately graded, high-quality rare coins is quite strong now.
Under normal conditions delivery of coins you've purchased should be received with 10 to 14 days. However, if at the time of purchase the seller may be aware of a mint delivery problem it should be disclosed to you that there may be a delay. The PNG does not recommend having coins stored by dealers, instead, verified storage at an independent, accredited depositary is acceptable for many investors, especially if it involves a large quantity of gold.
The Professional Numismatists Guild
Members of the Professional Numismatists Guild must adhere to a Collector's Bill of Rights and a Code of Ethics that prohibit use of high pressure sales tactics and misrepresentation of the value of items being sold. PNG members must demonstrate knowledge, responsibility and integrity in their business dealings. They also must agree to binding arbitration to settle unresolved disagreements over numismatic property.


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