Recent Trashy Reading Roundup

It's not all high minded nerdery here at Kaedrin. Sure, we'll take on classics on occasion, but sometimes you want to read a fictional account of "Bin Laden's assassination - by a vampire who stuffed a grenade in his mouth and then threw him over a cliff so he exploded in midair." Yeah, it's trashy, but it's fun. I've recently started a couple of series that promise to keep me busy, so long as I don't lose interest...
  • Storm Front by Jim Butcher - This is the first book in the long running Dresden Files series recounting the adventures of Harry Dresden, a modern-day wizard operating out of Chicago (i.e. that other wizard named Harry). Butcher is trying to mashup fantasy with detective fiction here, Dresden being something of a magical PI. This was a book club choice of my work companions and I was in the mood for something trashy, and this pretty much delivered exactly what I was looking for. I was already familiar with the world of the books from the short-lived TV series (which is obviously slightly different) and I thought it would be enjoyable. For the most part, I was right, though I will say that if you're looking for anything that will display restraint or rigor in its worldbuilding, this series may not be for you. I was willing to go with it in this first book, but things get pretty absurd at times, and while Dresden is a likeable enough protagonist, he's also a little too old fashioned for my tastes. I'm surprised the TV series never took off, because this book is something right out of the police procedural TV series playbook. But, you know, with wizards and shit. In that way, the book is somewhat predictable. I mean, Dresden suddenly takes on two completely unrelated cases, but yeah, we know better than that. Still, as a first entry into the series, this works pretty well.
  • Fool Moon by Jim Butcher - This is the second book in the Dresden Files. With the worldbuilding and character establishment out of the way, I was expecting something more assured... but this thing is a mess. I suppose I was somewhat biased here because one of the TV episodes kinda gave away the "twist" of this installment, but even then, the things that I hated here were many. The story basically surrounds a series of werewolf attacks, and yes, it's lame. One of the things I dislike about fantasy stories involving magic is that the rules of the magic are often vague and limitless. This tends to lead to an escalation of power that quickly becomes unwieldy. In this case, I felt like Dresden took way too much of a beating to be effective in any way, and the limitations of magic in the series seem arbitrary and inconsistent. Not ridiculously so, but enough that I was continually taken out of the story. I get that authors need to make things hard on their characters - otherwise there's no real conflict and thus the story becomes pointless and boring - but Butcher perhaps went a little too far, and didn't really allow Dresden to redeem himself. Butcher is trying to walk a tricky line with this series, and while he managed to get it working in the first book, I feel like he faltered with this one. I didn't particularly enjoy it... That being said, I may actually check out some of the later books in the series. I'll have to look into it, but I'm guessing the series gets better as it moves on...
  • Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth - Inspired by a review of the second book in the series, I decided to check out this first installment. In an interview, Farnsworth lays out the premise pretty well:
    ....he discovered an odd factoid in American history: a sailor who was convicted of killing and drinking the blood of his crewmates, then inexplicably pardoned by President Andrew Johnson. So Farnsworth provided a reason: The vampire sailor had taken an oath to serve the nation. The ideas for a series of novels were quick to follow.

    "I just thought it would be really cool if Jack Bauer were like a vampire," said Farnsworth.
    And indeed, it is pretty darn cool. The vampire's name is Nathanial Cade (fantastic and evocative name) and in this opening installment, we get a little of his background and see him take on a group of Frankenstein's monsters (or something like that). This book certainly does check off quite a few boxes: Supernatural secret agent? You bet. Newly assigned hotshot kid minder? Yep. Grizzled veteran agent teaching the hotshot? Of course. Insane Nazi doctor? Naturally. Zombies? Check. Hints of romance? Sure. Big explosions and car chases? Indeed. High level government conspiracies? Well duh! Where Butcher tried to walk a line with his Wizard Detective between magical and realistic, Farnsworth seems to be saying: What line in the who now? And that lack of restraint does infuse the book with a manic energy that works well enough. I mean, this won't change your life, but it's a nice travel/beach read, and a lot of fun. Despite all the insanity, it is pretty clear that Farnsworth is drawing on a universe he's thought a lot about. While this book does suffer a bit from the arbitrary escalation of magical power mentioned above, it never feels like Farnsworth is making this up as he goes along. I had a lot of fun with this and pretty quickly moved on to the next book in the series...
  • The President's Vampire by Christopher Farnsworth - This is the book that opens with Bin Laden's assassination, what Farnsworth describes as his "Captain America punching Hitler in the mouth moment." And it is pretty glorious. In this book, the world is fleshed out a little more. We get some insight into the mysterious Shadow Company, and there appears to be some sort of Reptilian conspiracy as well. As villains, the Reptilians are a bit lacking, but the Shadow Company guy is pretty great. And Zach, the young hotshot minder for Cade, has grown into his new role to the point where it doesn't feel silly when he contributes something (always an issue when you pair a supernatural being with a "normal" human). Cade is his usual stoic self and totally badass (of course). And Farnsworth seems to have injected more humor here than in the previous book (though neither is a comedy or anything):
    "He's too geed up to notice. Got a skinful of mahoska in him."

    Zach sighed. Cade had been around a long time. As a result, his slang spanned decades. Antiquated terms could come out of nowhere. It got to the point where civilians would notice, and Zach couldn't have Cade becoming too noticeable. So Zach had taken the rare measure (for him) of giving Cade a standing order.

    "Cade, what have we said about using slang?"

    Cade grimaced. He spoke mechanically, as if forced: "'It embarrasses both me and the person forced to hear it.'"

    "And...?"

    Cade frowned at him, but continued: "'And we try to avoid that kind of humiliation whenever we can.'"

    ...

    "Prador's on drugs?"

    "Antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and tranquilizers," Cade said. "He's under a tremendous amount of pressure, and he's used drugs to cut off almost all of his body's signals. I could smell it in his sweat."

    "I never get tired of hearing what you can smell."
    Again, this isn't life-changing stuff, but it's entertaining and fun. Farnsworth does seem to be burning through the ranks of the supernatural at a pretty high pace though. At the beginning of each chapter, there's often a reference to a past event that Cade dealt with or that was just strange, and you can recognize most of them. For instance, one is the mysterious death of a bunch of kids living on Elm street. Heh. So nothing unexpected here, just good old fun. The third book in the series came out just recently, and I'll probably be checking it out in the near future...
I seem to have gotten away from my Science Fiction comfort zone recently, though I don't think I've found anything that quite engages me on the level that SF does either. I'm sure I'll continue to hit up some fantasy novels now and again, but I'm hoping to return more to SF in the near future...