the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Steven Brust’ Category

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

published January 2017

where I got it: purchased new

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I went into this book thinking “Yes! More Ren and Phil!!”. Alas, that was not to be the case, as on page one, Phil gets shot and is down for the count for a little while. No adorableness between Ren and Phil? What was I going to do?

 

Enjoy the hell out of everyone else getting the spotlight, that’s what.

 

Ren, Phil, you two know I love you, right? Because I totally do.   But I am pleased as punch that Oskar and Irina (and Kate!!) get to be the stars of the show for once.

 

Wait, wait wait a minute. If you have not read The Incrementalists, full stop, go and read it RIGHT NOW.  firstly, because that novel is gorgeously awesome, and secondly because this review will make no sense at all and also will spoil tons of good stuff.

 

Me telling you that Phil, who is now Chuck, gets shot at the beginning of this new novel doesn’t spoil anything for you, and if you’ve read The Incrementalists you’ll know it doesn’t really spoil too much for Phil either.  Ren knows she’ll find him again,  but in the meantime she’s inconsolable yet still attempting to meddle.  As Incrementalists do when they are facing a crisis (because death, although annoying and impermanent for them, is still a crisis!), everyone comes together. There will be arguing, shouting, meddling, gardening, incredible meals,  probably some flirting, and does anyone but Irina ever remember to go to the grocery store?

 

One of the many things I loved about The Skill of our Hands was how the story is presented. That sounds so simple, I know, but hear me out.  This is Oskar’s novel, and as he observes Ren, Irina, and everyone else involved with planning what to do now, Oskar interrupts the narrative whenever he damn pleases to make sure you’re aware of his opinion, or aware that he agrees with someone, or aware that he is so deeply sorry that he didn’t trust someone or didn’t believe them. There’s a much bigger picture here that he needs you to see, even if he can’t point to it directly. You’d think his comments might be interruptive, but they totally aren’t. It works perfectly, and it gives the reader this really intimate relationship with Oskar. If  I ever have a crisis, I want to have an Oskar on speed dial. Alongside everything that’s going on, Phil’s memories are being explored, specifically his memories of being in Kansas in the mid 1850’s. This book has an earworm you’re going to love.

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I’m over at SFSignal today, reviewing Steven Brust’s newest Vlad Taltos novel, Hawk.   This is the 14th book in the series, but a surprisingly good spot for new fans to jump right in.  Still on the fence? Click here for a review I wrote a while back for The Book of Jhereg, which is comprised of the first 3 short novels of the series.

hawk

 

Even though Vlad spends most of the book saying “hello” to people, the entire novel has an undeniable underlying fatalism, an inescapable feeling that he’s really returned to Adrilankha to say “goodbye”. Vlad isn’t stupid. He knows there’s a chance he’s not going to make it to the end of the book. A really good chance.

Fatalism aside, Hawk allows me to say something I haven’t been able to say about this series in ages: For readers brand new to the Vlad Taltos series, this is an excellent place to jump right in and get a feel for Brust’s wry writing style, the way he does world building and characterization, and everyone’s favorite sarcastic semi-retired assassin, Vlad Taltos.

 

Read the rest of the review HERE.

issola BurstIssola, by Steven Brust (Vlad Taltos series, #9)

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used, or maybe paperback swap, I don’t remember.

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A friend of mine was going to read Dzur, and I hadn’t read that one before, so I decided to read it too. I picked up the book, and instantly learned two things:  It opens with the famous restaurant scene, and the story picks up immediately after the end of Issola, which I also hadn’t read.  So, promising to come back to Dzur as soon as possible, I grabbed my copy of Issola, which opens with the famous Klava scene.

 

It turns out Lady Teldra has been sent to seek out Vlad, who has been living rough for the past few years, in hiding from those who would do him or his family harm.  She needs his help, because her patron Lord Morrolan has disappeared, along with Aliera. Patron is certainly wrong word, but we’ll maybe get to that later.  There is nothing to imply Morrolan or Aliera were kidnapped or harmed, yet they are nowhere to be found. Lady Teldra is so very polite when she asks Vlad for help, and she’s come all this way, and if Sethra Lavode is involved he’s sure to be protected, and really, it would be very rude to say no to the Lady.

 

Peppered throughout the book are Vlad’s thoughts and his and Teldra’s conversations about manners and the unseen value of observing and respecting the etiquette and formalities of the culture in which you find yourself. An overly basic example is in the East, where humans like Vlad live, it is perfectly acceptable to “knock” on someone’s door to announce your arrival. But in the Dragaeran Empire? such a thing would never be done.  This is most certainly not a comedy of manners, but it is a commentary on how they are so ingrained in our culture that after a while we barely notice them, and when practiced, they become second nature.  It begs the question of what else becomes second nature while we weren’t paying attention?

 

There may not have been any overt signs that Morrolan and Aliera were kidnapped, but when Vlad and Teldra do eventually find them in a world that is not ours, they are chained to a wall, as guests of the Jenoine. And did I mention, there is a river of pure chaos flowing right outside their prison?  If you know anything about the Jenoine, you know this can’t end well.

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Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.

😉

I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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I did many cool things this past weekend. One of them was listening to the audio of The Incrementalists. It’s narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal and Ray Porter. I live under a rock and didn’t know who Ray Porter was.  Kowal was great (and she gets to read one of my favorite scenes), but this other guy, Porter?

This blog post is not a review of the audio.

You read my review of The Incrementalists and it doesn’t seem like your thing? Fine. I won’t hold that against you.  Still, get something else Ray Porter narrated. Do it because you trust me. And do it because this man’s voice does something you to. Something that words and ink and turning pages can’t do.

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You never forget your first time.

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Ray Porter’s voice moves over you like a summer storm. Unstoppable, his voice contains the roiling tension of the incoming storm front, the thunder you feel through your feet before your ears know what it is, the shadow that falls as the clouds roll in, everything to that surreal moment when your breath catches in the silence and the stillness before the storm hits.  And then the skies open up, and in his voice are the rhythms of the rain, from gentle caresses to a pounding need to being in every pore of the parched ground beneath; the tympani pulse of the thunder that resonates in your chest; the rain becoming an ocean and drowning feeling like heaven.

And as his voice fades, you are left with the shattered remains of the sated clouds that slowly lie down in repose, their edges set on fire by the glorious sunset.

The storm has passed. And all you can do is reach out with your quivering, cloudy fingers and whisper “you must come back. my ground is still thirsty for you”.

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Or I suppose you could just hit play again on the file.

Stay tuned, I have more cool stuff for you tomorrow and the next day. Photos! Links!  the awesomess that was ConText! book reviews!  you know, more of the cool stuff and less of these weird misguided attempts at prose-y things in which I tell all the rules of writing to fuck off because I’m having a moment.

Way back when I didn’t know epic fantasy from high fantasy, or an orc from a soulsword, my husband gave me a book and said something along the lines of “This is weird, but you might like it.  It’s fantasy, but it hasn’t got any orcs or quests or stuff. It’s about a guy who is an assassin, but he doesn’t like, like it. It’s just his job, and he doesn’t nejoy being so good at it, and there’s some cool magic. It’s by that same guy who wrote that book you really liked, The Sun, The Moon and The Stars“.  This was like eight or ten years ago, but it really did go something like that. My memory for these kinds of things is awful.

That book was The Book of Jhereg, and I have been a huge fan of Steven Brust ever since.  I have yet to find another author whose voice affects me so strongly. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I am working on it. A little while ago Steven tweeted that he’d be interested in being interviewed about his upcoming novel, The Incrementalists, co-written with Skyler White.  After all the big-name famous bloggers chimed in, I quietly raised my hand.  One day I’ll realize my favorite authors are just regular people. But until that day, they can stay up on their pedestal and remain superheroes. Before I say anything too much more embarrassing, let’s get to the interview, shall we?

Feeling lost? Go check out my interview with Skyler White, my review of The Incrementalists, or if you have some time on your hands check out all my Steven Brust reviews. You might notice I asked both authors some of the same questions. that was on purpose.

Photo swiped from Wikipedia.

Photo swiped from Wikipedia.

Q: I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years. I’m nuts for Vlad Taltos, nearly ended a friendship because she thought Greg from The Sun, The Moon, and The  Stars was an asshole, and I pretty much follow you around twitter. But  everyone else reading this might not be like that, so would you introduce  yourself, and tell everyone a little bit about yourself?

A: This is tough for a Minnesotan; we get really uncomfortable talking about ourselves.  Um.  I’ll do my best.  I’ve been writing for 30 years, full time for about 26 of them.  I’m an amateur musician and poker player. Politically, I consider myself a Red.  I’m not an incrementalist.

Q: How did the idea for The Incrementalists come about?

A: I was involved in a sort of complex shared world open source creative commons multi-media project a while ago.  Being that far over my head (I understand almost nothing about any of those things), I went out asking for advice.  One of the people I asked–because one always asks him–was Tappan King.  In the course of the conversation, he mentioned the idea of a secret society operating through all of history and dedicated to making things a little better.

The idea stayed with me long after the collapse of the other project.  I was hanging out with Skyler talking about writing process and writer tools and tricks and How To Do It Gooder and stuff, and she mentioned how much she missed the collaboration that is inherent in theater.  I remembered what a joy it had been to write with Megan and Emma, so I mentioned Tappan’s idea.  We drank whiskey.

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The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Available Sept 24th, 2013

where I got it: NetGalley

you can read an excerpt over at Tor.com.

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In a garden as old as humanity, disguised memories become the seeds of change. The residents of this garden archive the smell of your grandmother’s soup in the curve of a vase, or the feel of your first kiss in the color of piece of yarn.  Memory is a funny thing, you don’t even remember what happened until the smell of a particular white wine brings it all back like a flaming spike to the head.

A genre-bending cerebral thriller masquerading as a mainstream novel, The Incrementalists enchanted me in the first chapter, and in return I devoured the rest of it. I read this book in one day. Like Bastian in The Never Ending Story, I ignored the world, skipped the pop-quiz, hid in a corner and climbed right into the lives of Phil and Ren, and Celeste and Irina and Oskar and Jimmy, staying very quiet so they wouldn’t notice me listening in on their conversations. And I am still listening, because they told me where to look.

Who are the Incrementalists? A secret society of nearly immortal people who make the world a better place,one tiny change at a time.  No pay, no thanks, no credit in the history books, their work is as invisible as a fading dream. They are the ones in the garden. And when their human bodies die, someone new must be found to carry on the work, and carry around the personality of the recently departed Incrementalist.

It’s been a few months since Celeste’s old body died, and her ex-lover Phil thinks he’s identified a good Second for Celeste’s stub.  He approaches Ren with the offer, and unlike most  Seconds who take at least a week to make up their minds, Ren agrees almost instantly that this is what she wants. She doesn’t give Phil a chance to tell her it’s a painful experience. She never gives him the chance to warn her that once she’s accepted Celeste into her mind, there’s a good chance Celeste’s personality could completely subsume Ren, effectively killing her.  Ren says Yes, Phil says OK, and from that moment on the chemistry between them is palpable.

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.