Reviews by eknapp
Ultra-derivative urban fantasy.
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In a slightly alternate history version of New Orleans, a rogue vampire is slaughtering cops and hookers and hermits and yuppies and vampire royalty--pretty much everybody, really. It's bad for PR and tourism and vampire-human relations, and goshdarnit something has GOT to be done. So the vampire council of New Orleans brings in professional vampire-slayer Jane Yellowrock to hunt down the rogue. It's an awkward relationship.

Skinwalker is a total hack of Patricia Briggs's Mercy Thompson series. Let's see, vampire killer...check. Droll and deadly...check. Last of the Indian skinwalkers--who have special skinwalker vampire-killing qualities!--big fat check. Badass combat-trained female shapechanging hero, chackorama. Recent vamp community-revealing alternate history, check check checkitycheck.

And doesn't Anne Rice own the rights to the New Orleans-vampire setting? The way Stephen King owns the rights to the small-town-in-Maine setting?

Anyway. Not much meat here but it's easy enough to read I guess. There's loads of chaste flirting with dangerous-bad-boys-with-good-hearts and a weak who-is-the-rogue mystery plotline.

Yeah, I KNOW that everything is derivative to some extent. There are only four stories, no new ideas under the sun, yadda yadda. But in this case it was ridonkulous. And not even as GOOD as Briggs. Maybe that's the worse of the sins.
Probably great if you get all the references.
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Comic strips about history and literature. As a reasonably well educated guy with an interest in history, I thought this well-reviewed collection would be an easy home run. But for every strip about the third Austen sister or Susan B Anthony or Burke & Hare--which I got and enjoyed--there are five that went right over my head: Canadian history, Anne of Green Gables, a flying pig-pony, Macbeth. I don't do Shakespeare. Disappointing.
Excellent time travel plotting.
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A portly, balding, and very skeptical poetry scholar is hired by a billionaire to guide a tour to attend a reading by Samuel Taylor Coleridge himself in a 19th century English pub. He's shocked when the time travel works as promised. He's more shocked when he's kidnapped in 1811 London and misses his one chance to return to contemporary America.

He's dogged by a 3000 year-old sorcerer whose goal is Egypt's return to world supremacy, a murderous billionaire who thinks our hero stayed in ye olde London on purpose, a demonic beggar king who dresses like a jester and maims his underlings so that they will inspire more pity, and an insane body-switching ex-wizard who wants the protagonist's body. It's quite the menagerie. At various points our paunchy academic finds himself tortured, shot, working as a professional beggar, tortured some more, living as a cobbler, inhabiting a new and far superior body, traveling to Egypt, traveling to 1632, and composing verse.

Coherent time travel books are hard to do right. The Anubis Gates succeeds.
British special ops ace Tara Chace returns for a series of missions in Uzbekistan. [some HUGE spoilers ahead]

[Seriously. I'm giving the big finale away. You've been warned.]

After taking a couple years off to have a baby and brood over the death of the father (in the previous book, I inferred), Chace is roped back into the game for an off-the-books attempt to replace the vicious, rapey president of Uzbekistan with someone less evil.

The subtitle could have been "The Horrors of Torture". The reader is treated to beatings, maimings, gang rape, and death by boiling (though none of it is gratuitous.) It's an attempt at indictment. I say 'attempt' because when Rucka makes the obligatory assertion that torture is ultimately useless (the victim will say anything to make it stop), he later on the SAME PAGE has it be successful, with the torturer getting the information he wanted. Oops.

When it wasn't turning my stomach, Private Wars was dazzling. Excellent, realistic spycraft and logistics, complex and believable international politics, realistic action sequences. And just a wonderful, awful ending--Chace is forced to kill the 'good' guy, while his 2 year old son clings frantically to his legs, to prevent him from taking revenge on the Uzbekistani president who had his wife raped and tortured to death--that demonstrates how terrible duty can be.
Wins and losses, but mostly wins.
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Book three of the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy. Our human female and neanderthal male protagonists decide to use technology to have a baby, and a dastardly human plots the extinction of the neanderthals and colonization of their world.

Hybrids is aptly named as it mixes a lot of win with a lot of silliness.

Wins:
1) The wonderfully logical neanderthal civilization. Sawyer imagined a technologically advanced hunter-gatherer society, as opposed to our agricultural society. It's tremendously different but all of the pieces fit together, they have reasons for being. Unlike John Scalzi's Old Man's War series, for example, in which the alien civilizations are just different to be different.

2) Challenges to the ethicality and practicality of the neanderthal ways of doing things. Their single planetwide government, their sterilization of violent criminals, their methods of population control, their Big Brother-like justice system, it all gets picked apart, examined, and put back together. Do the idyllic ends justify the oft-unsettling means? The discussions are fairly sophisticated, with no easy answers.

3) Exploration of religion as a purely electromagnetic phenomenon. A scientist is able to induce life-altering sensory experiences by generating an electromagnetic field around the temporal lobes of the brain. This raises some thorny issues and uncomfortable conversations for the protagonists. And for the reader.



Stumbles (and a couple minor plot point spoilers):
1) [minor SPOILER follows] To fit into her adopted "Barast" society with her male neanderthal partner, our human hero is pressured to also take a neanderthal woman-mate like all Barasts. Her conversion is abrupt and contrived: Sorry, not a lesbian, can't do it, just not wired like that, nope, nope, OH GOD I LOVE WOMEN! Oooooookay.

2) [SPOILER follows] I was put off by how the author followed up on the castration of the rapist from the second book. In Hybrids he is initially enraged by his maiming, then over weeks becomes calmer and calmer, comes to regret his antisocial actions, rejects his hatred of women, saves the world from evil, and dies contentedly an unrecognized hero. Really, the only difference between a serial rapist and a noble bastion of honor and dignity is the absence of testicles?

3) The lack of physical trade-offs. Sawyer's "barasts" are on average more intelligent than humans, due to selective breeding, and they're far stronger because, well, Sawyer says so. But they're also running 3-minute miles, in spite of being built like short bow-legged dump trucks. And super-coordinated.

Would neanderthals really be physically superior in every conceivable way? Bombers trade the speed and maneuverability of fighter jets for range and cargo capacity, adult trees endure through strength while saplings do so through flexibility; if you could fit all features in one package, we would. But even the unimposing nerdy quantum physicist protagonist is a bona fide kung fu action hero whenever he visits our Earth, just by virtue of being neanderthal. BAM! POW! Human miscreants, malefactors and evil-doers go flying at every turn. Sawyer needs to stop channeling Batman.

At the end of the day though I had a lot of fun with the book and the series.