On the blog "Judge a Book by Its Cover": Oh. My. God.
Still slogging through (that sounds more negative than it is) "Maximum City." It's a good, if troubling read, but taking me longer than I thought it would -- partly because it's not, as I'd thought (and as it starts off as), a memoir. Instead, it's reportage, meaning we've got the author interviewing and writing his impressions of many different people at differnt levels of power and social strata in 21st century Bombay. Different characters, different narratives, therefore way too easy to find stopping(-and-getting-sidetracked-by-
another-book) places. I'm being good, though -- I'm taking it AND NOTHING ELSE on the subway, so it's my commute reading.
Last Sunday, I read "The Forest Of Hands and Teeth," which was... full of impact. Good lord. I'm going to do a separate post on that one, actually, but what stands out to me is that the prose is so nicely crafted that I find myself overlooking that I hate both the plot and the genre. Further, there are what I think are some significant plot holes, and an overall side effect that I'm not sure was intentional -- and yet I still have to recommend it. (How much am I willing to overlook just for stylistic prowess? This might explain why I can't plot for shite.)
Yesterday I (almost) finished the short anthology "Mean Streets" by Jim Butcher, Simon Green, Kat Richardson, and Thomas E. Sniegoski, the last two of whom I had never heard before. Was rather unmotivated to read Richardson's piece for reasons I couldn't explain if I tried, but I'll give it a whirl later on.
Sniegoski, "Noah's Orphans" -- this guy is interesting. I think I have a slight bias against his piece as it deals with a trope I more or less surfeited on back in my 'Sandman'/Vertigo/James Morrow years, i.e. fallen angels running around and doing things on earth, interacting with humans (trying not to spoil there). I think the piece might have been stronger if it were longer. I do love the ideas. I'm under the impression that he's done novels in this vein -- I'm gonna check them out. His prose is competent, if not as transportive as others I've read on the subject (but that's not fair, I know). In sum -- a grieving incognito seraph solves the murder of a very long-lived Noah. Yes, that Noah. (See? This is a hook!)
Actually, "stronger if longer" would be my complaint against all three stories. I think Green's piece, "What a Difference a Day Makes," suffers the most from the truncated length. There's not much there there, and there's really
not much for the main characters to even do, so John Taylor winds up...talking a lot. In sum: an out-of-place, noir-genre-typical dame comes to the Nightside looking for her husband. They go find husband.
Some might argue that this is all that ever happens in the Nightside books -- dame needs help, case gets solved, Green's imagination is freaky and twisted -- and they would be right. That will appeal to who it appeals to; the problem here is that in short form, the action that would make up the bulk of a full-length novel plot feels both short and tacked-on. John talks a lot. A LOT. Not only is he the narrator, with all the exposition that entails, he also has to explain everything to Distressed Dame, and comes off sounding unbearably smarmy. When he's narrating a book, he still doesn't come off as the nicest guy, but in a novel there are still things for him to discover -- here he's pretty much just an obnoxious know-it-all from start to finish. Especially in the sum up. It's just John talking some more. You don't even see the resolution -- John just tells us what he's going to do and what it all means. Not even as the narrative voice -- it's quoted speech to another character! Overall it just reads very awkwardly and perfunctory. The Nightside is not a series of Great Depth or anything, but this one lacks a lot of the characteristic joy. It doesn't feel like Green was having much fun.
I've read another Nightside short story by Green, which was from the POV of a different character -- as a reader, you don't know this guy, you don't know his game, and you don't know if you're supposed to support him. It's freaky as hell and much better than this one. I'd like to see Green do more of that -- explore other characters.
Jim Butcher, "The Warrior." Again, I've a bias. I'd just finished reading "Small Favor," and so with this story, I knew exactly where I was; this piece follows chronologically, and pretty much directly. Butcher uses his characteristic straightforward prose to tell us what happened to Michael's sword after he was shot...see? I'm talking about it like this is stuff you already know. Which might be the root of the problem -- this is probably not the best entry point to the Harry Dresden universe. Taking that into consideration, it's a solid story. In sum: somebody is threatening Harry's friend Michael, a Knight of the Cross, in regards to Michael's sword (one of three holy swords made from the nails of the Cross). Harry solves this.
I very much like how Butcher characterizes Michael throughout his series. Michael is a Christian -- a real, literal, sincere, non-ironic and non-bitter Christian, who has the courage of his convictions without ever seeming inhuman. The character isn't used to bash or to preach -- Michael is no Flanders, and no Inquisitor either. He's not self-righteous or hypocritical, or an overbearing evangelist, or even someone you have to mind your P's and Q's around (although you should try not to "hell" and "damn" too much, especially around his numerous kids), and while he's got a wise word or two, he's NOT a walking homily by any means -- he's a guy who loves his family and fights monsters for God and whose faith is strong enough to actually protect him, and comfort him when it does not protect him. His wife is strong and admirable, even though un-magical. His kids are happy and well-adjusted, even the rebellious oldest daughter. It's really lovely. The whole family is. (Especially once we got past that "Nobody trusts Harry, but he can't earn trust by just TELLING THE DAMN TRUTH because he has to keep his magic secret" trope that infested the first few books. That is not my favorite trope, can you tell?)
The story does wind up being validation for Harry in a "It's a Wonderful Life" vein (see, again this references the previous book, although I think it's explained pretty well in-text), and that felt a little bit twee to me, as well as slightly jarring since I'm just coming down off my Narnia kick of December to March: According to Aslan, no one gets to find out someone else's story. ~__^ But I liked it. It was heartwarming.
There's nothing here so far that makes me want to proselytize this book in all caps or anything, although I do feel like Dresden fans will be missing a piece of the puzzle if they don't read Butcher's story. But it's a diverting read and I do ultimately recommend it.