the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘noir

SAM_2634Wolfhound Century, by Peter Higgins

Published March 2013

where I got it: received review copy from Publisher (Thanks Orbit books!)

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Musicians, think about the 7th for a moment, a minor 7th, if it makes you feel better. To oversimplify for everyone else, the 7th is the musical cue to move on. A 7th can certainly take you right back to the beginning of the chord progression, or the key could completely change in the next moment. That’s the thing about the 7th, it’s all potential, all possibility. For a split second, you’re not sure where the song will go. For a split second, the song is free of it’s predetermined chords. But all that potential has to go somewhere, because a 7th is unresolved. You can’t end a song on a 7th.

I’ll be back to this metaphor in a bit.

In the alternate Russia of Wolfhound Century, angels have been falling from the sky for generations.  Along with control of the angel flesh, the totalitarian government controls everything, reports everything, defines everything. Mothers still tell the cultural myths to their children, but only in hushed voices.  The ancient words are not to be used, the Pollandore is not to be spoken of  or even thought of, because the Pollandore doesn’t exist. Lock something away for long enough, and people will forget it as quickly as they forget the events that birthed their own myths.

Higgins doesn’t just write, he doesn’t just put words on a page to get the reader somewhere, this man is an artist when it comes to prose. I’d quote passages to show you what I mean, but really, just open the book and choose a paragraph and random, and read it out loud. You’ll  be transported. This really  is some damn beautiful prose.

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Kiln People,  by Davin Brin

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used

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If this had been published today, I’m sure it would have started a frenzy of golem-punk stories. And who isn’t fascinated by the idea of golems? A non-person who exists for a fixed amount of time to do your bidding, and then melts away when they are no longer needed. The perfect solution to jobs that are too dangerous or tedious for humans, Dittos are certainly a sort of salvation.

In the near future described in Kiln People, technological advances are in the arena of the weighing and measuring of the human soul. “Ditto-ing” yourself has become so mainstream that many families have a private kiln and storage unit for clay blanks that are delivered daily. Simply lie down on the copier with your head between the tendrils, and a few minutes later a clay “you” sits up from the other table, ready to do manual labor, run errands, run your business, attend your classes, do your homework, or a myriad of other activities you might do during your day. The golem may be clay, but it’s still you. A you with your memories, your soul, your voice, and your mind. At the end of the day hopefully you return home to yourself for inloading, so the original flesh and blood you can get the memories your golem collected during the day.

Color coded to denote internal quality, golem society has it’s own stratified classist attitudes. Designed to only last 24 hours, if the golem can’t get home to inload at the end of the day, it reflexively seeks out a public recycling dumpster, to return to that which it was. The society Brin has created is incredibly fascinating, and was probably my favorite part of the book.

“Maybe we should suggest a 24 hour lifespan to the professor” “Nah, he’d never go for something like that. besides, what could possibly go wrong?”

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Osama, by Lavie Tidhar

Published in 2011

where I got it: received review copy from the author

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Sacred cows taste the best, and I wish more writers had a thing for sacred cows the way Lavie Tidhar does.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make Tidhar’s recent novel, Osama.  Was it a mystery? Parallel world noir? A dream like mirror?  Lavie Tidhar writes like he’s never heard of genre labels, and that is a good thing. Ever see the movie Dark City?  In texture, Osama reminded me a little it of that, but only a little.

Private detective Joe is on a new case. He’s been hired to find the reclusive author Mike Longshott, who just happens to be the author of Joe’s favorite pulp series, the Osama Bin Laden Vigilante series. Throughout Osama we get snippets of the Longshott books – mediocre pulpy writing with too much detail about people and places and weapons and times and carbombs, all those details that so many of us have desperately tried to live in denial of.

Joe’s world is not our world. In Joe’s world, terrorism does not exist. Carbombs, cell phones, unmanned drones, none of these things exist. Longshott’s books are seen as sensational garbage pulp, sold alongside cheap sexploitation novels.  From Southeast Asia to Western Europe, from market stalls to dusty bookstores  who specialize in “that kind of thing”, Joe gets closer to the truth.  Between seedy hotels and filthy taverns, Tidhar subtly hints that although this isn’t our world, something, or some one, is leaking through.

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Low Town (UK: The Straight Razor Cure), by Daniel Polansky

Published in Aug 2011

Where I got it: received review copy from the nice people at Doubleday/Random House

Visit DanielPolansky.com for more info

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review, the quick version:

Go get a copy of this book right now. all the hype surrounding it? completely deserved.  More than the sum of its parts, Low Town is the kind of dark fantasy novel you’ve been waiting your whole life to read. For three days Polansky fed every secret weakness I’ve got, along with a few guilty pleasures I didn’t even know existed.  Not a book for the faint of heart, Polansky took some major risks with Low Town. And every single one of them paid off.

review, the long version:

Surrounded by ridiculous hype, too big to fit comfortably in my handbag, with a title and cover art that didn’t tell me anything, and starring a drug addict/pusher thug.  I stared at Low Town as it sat on my shelf. And the damn thing just stared back.  Like it didn’t give a shit if I read it or not.

To prove that I was just as stubborn as the book was, one evening I picked it up, planning to read maybe 20 pages.  90 minutes and 75 pages later, all I could say was “holy shit is this good”.

Last night I wrote a thousand word emotional reaction to Low Town. Yes, it was that kind of book for me. But because I wisely hit “Save”, and not “publish”, hopefully today you’ll get a more rational style review, instead of a straight up unfiltered emotional reaction.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than a book that keeps me up all night the day after I finish it. Low Town was that kind of book too.  While flirting with being the bastard love child of Joe Abercrombie and Raymond Chandler, and written with the flowing invective style of Scott Lynch, Low Town is most certainly rated Super R.

Low Town is also one of those wonderfully subtle books where although the plot is thrillingly compelling, that’s not what makes this book so incredible.  Aspiring writers, you wanna know how to create atmosphere and worlds that breathe all on their own?  Wanna know how to write characters whose hidden depths ooze out their shadows to gently but surely addict your readers to learning their secrets? Wanna know how risk taking is really done? Read Low Town.

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Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer

Published in 2009

Where I got it: purchased new

why I read it:  have enjoyed previous Vandermeer books

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John Finch hates his job.  Hates watching his beautiful city of Ambergris crumble, destroyed, looted, rebuilt into something it shouldn’t be.  He hates his “detective work”, informing on his friends and neighbors to his grey cap boss whose smile is all teeth, the Partials who follow him everywhere, recording everything he says and does with their fungally recording eyes. Hates what a fungal parasite is slowly but irrevocably doing to his best friend Wyte, the only man who knows all of Finch’s secrets. Hates how he always falls back to playing both sides, in hopes he can keep his friends and loved ones alive.

But most of all, Finch hates that there is no escape. Not from Ambergris, not from the grey caps, and not from who and what he is.

His latest cast, a double murder, defies description.  Found in a nondescript apartment: One dead adult human male, one very dead grey cap of undetermined sex or age (if such a thing can ever be determined), amputated at the waist.  Grey caps are pretty hard to kill, maybe he should take notes.  The memory bulbs of the dead are useless, offering only hallucinations and impossible places.  Through his network of spies and snitches, Finch learns who the dead man was. Someone impossible.  Someone who couldn’t have been there because he’s been dead for a hundred years.

Finch and Wyte investigate and learn the mystery is about much more than  just the dead man, it’s about what the dead man can do.  Wyte is dying, has exacted a promise from Finch to help him, when the time comes. Wyte can’t fight the thing inside him much longer, and they both know he won’t go quietly.

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 Something From the Nightside, by Simon R Green

published in 2003

where did I get it: purchased used

why I read it:  was craving a skinny book, and it looked fun.
I always enjoy “other world” type stories, Mieville’s Un Lun Dun, Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a lot of Charles deLint novels, where there is another world, just below ours, where strange things happen. Simon R Green’s Something From the Nightside is such a story, albeit a creepier, darker, noir-er (noirer, is that even a word?)  one.  A little bit Dark City, a little bit Harry Dresden,  Simon R. Green’s Something From the Nightside follows John Taylor, child of the Nightside, bearer of a gift that will most certainly be the end of him.

It’s been five years since John left the Nightside, vowing never to return.  He makes his living in the real world as a Private Investigator working the seediest parts of London.  All children of the Nightside have some kind of paranormal gift, and John Taylor’s gift is that he can find things. lost objects, people, locations.  When his newest client Joanna Barrett tasks him with finding her runaway daughter Cathy, John simply can’t say no.  Doesn’t hurt that Joanna is wealthy, beautiful and pays up front.

When they learn Cathy has found her way to the Nightside, John is given no choice but to take Joanna with him, and introduce her to all his old haunts. In five years, the Nightside hasn’t changed much.    the nightclub that’s locked in the 60’s still serves original Coca-cola, Razor Eddie still owes John a favor, the Collector still collects, Shotgun Suzie still loves her guns over anyone else, and everyone is still petrified of John Taylor.  I wouldn’t want to live in the Nightside, but it sure is entertaining to read about!

As John and Joanna get closer to finding  Cathy John starts to suspect something is very, very wrong.  But time is running out, and his attention is elsewhere. . . . Read the rest of this entry »


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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.