Hard Case Crime Files: In Heat
Random Tangents: Sir Richard Owen

30 Book Reviews, 30 Words Each

The challenge: Review a book in thirty words. 

The fun part: Do it thirty times.

The caveat: I have no idea how articles, hyphenations or contractions count, but according to Word, each of these reviews is exactly 30 words. That'll have to do.

Purty Spacer

Lest darkness fallNightmare by Edward S. Aarons (1963)

A naïve bank worker is framed for robbery and murder! Which beautiful woman will save him - redhead, brunette or blonde? It is charmingly sleazy and the mystery actually surprises.

Embedded (Dan Abnett) (2011)

An obvious SF analogue of Iraq that manages to avoid all discussion of the morality of war. Deliberate statement or just oddly superficial? Good fightin’, but curiously absent of depth.

Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp (1941)

Alternate history ‘classic’ sends an academic to Ostrogothic Rome. He rebuilds civilization from first principles - essentially, hard SF. Would be improved with more character and plot, less self-congratulation and racism.

Ghosts Know by Ramsey Campbell (2011)

An arrogant radio host is suspected of murder. Is a charismatic local spiritualist to blame? Or is this the karmic result of being a dick? Not spooky but still tense.

Brodmaw Bay by F.G. Cottam (2011)

Londoners’ perfect yuppie lives are disrupted by brutal plebs. But this scenic coastal haven seems ideal… Hot Fuzz without heroism or humor. Protagonist is a global warming skeptic – instant alienation.

One Second After by William Forstchen (2011)

For fans of Jack Ryan and Newt Gingrich: apocalyptic escapism for middle-aged white men. America’s enemies zap the homeland with an EMP - fortunately, right-wing southerners have been ready for years.

Year of yesCassidy's Girl by David Goodis (1951)

If Cassidy could only control his drinking... Heartbreaking noir follows a doomed couple as they destroy themselves over and over again. It makes me need (and fear) a stiff drink.

The Year of Yes by Maria Headley (2006)

A proto-hipster’s search for love and positivity leads her to ridiculous situations. Overall story quite squishy (but true); the sympathetic attention lavished on New York’s eccentrics is more genuinely heart-warming.

Hounded by Kevin Hearne (2011)

Modern druid and his helpful wolfhound intrigue with witches and battle gods. Don’t be fooled by the cover; the story’s not emo scruff – it is funny, adventurous and oddly cute.

Switched by Amanda Hocking (2010)

Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it. Easy to belittle self-pubbed bestseller, but her shamelessly derivative moonstruck teen paranormal romance has a popcorn readability that outstrips its ‘properly published’ competition.

Prince of ThornsPrince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence (2011)

Legendarily grim hooded man fantasy. An ambitious book, but one I found impossible to enjoy. ‘Rapiness’ controversy distracts from larger issue: lead character is irredeemable, uncomfortable and rabid. Tough reading.

Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove (2012)

Futher godpunk mayhem as British Batman battles Aztec theocracy. Wild crescendo of set-piece battles culminates in power-suited deity-bashing. The bonkers denouement shows that Lovegove is giggling along with the reader.

Famous Gunfighters of the Western Frontier by W.B. "Bat" Masterson (1907)

Dodge City lawman Bat Masterson shot, arrested or drank whiskey with every notable gunfighter of the era (if you believe him). This is a great read from a mediocre writer.

Germline by TC McCarthy (2011)

Stunning throwback to Vietnam fiction. Burned-out journalists are stereotypes, but hero’s journey through the nightmare of a future war is engrossing. (The ninja ladies are deliberately problematic, but still discomforting.)

IslandersShadow / Pattern / Memory (Scavenger Trilogy) by KJ Parker (2001 – 2003)

If Engineer Trilogy features a man playing god; Scavenger is reverse. Awesome, complex saga of predestination and apocalypse. Metaphors include: buttons, volcanoes, religion, metallurgy, swords, foundries, bells, crows and libraries.

The Straight Razor Cure by Daniel Polansky (2011)

Fantasy drug dealer - just naughty enough, but still a good guy? Lynch-lite and the mystery is predictable, but this skirts the edge of being compelling noir. Overall, an impressive debut.

The Islanders by Christopher Priest (2011)

Interlinked, slightly soap-operatic SF mystery set in (but not requiring knowledge of) Priest’s Dream Archipelego. Reaches lofty heights, then crashes down in atrocious and regressive final chapter. Not for entomophobics.

Vivisepulture edited by Andy Remic (2011)

The best book yet from this new publisher. Weirdness, gross-outs and horror abound, with exceptional stories from Jordan Reyne (sensitive, sentient windmills) and Ian Sales (occult Nazi scientists in Metropolis).

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (2011)

Promising Western pastiche quickly hijacked by systematic gobbledygook. Please stop writing magical IKEA catalogues and just make the characters work. Equally promising female character also degenerates to pure fail. Sigh.

CainCain by Jose Saramago (2011, orig. 2009)

Retelling of the Old Testament featuring a nihilistic, time-travelling Cain is oddly hilarious. Aggressively deconstructed language underpins the distinction between story and truth. Truly amazing SF, and a modern classic.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan (2011)

A self-loathing outcast teenage protagonist in a dystopian future? Yawn. But the author tries to underpin the character with real issues, ones that fit the SF setting and Gothic influences.

Death Hulk by Matthew Sprange (2006)

A one-dimensional English captain battles an ancient (and well-deserved) curse while well-intentioned officers wrangle a crew of ruffians. Things play out predictably with Frenchmen and zombies taking turns as cutlass-bait.

The Giant Thief by David Tallerman (2012)

A charmingly insincere thief aids a ramshackle rebellion. The plot to steal a meaningful rock is overshadowed by his uncertain redemption. Some loose ends, but overall, an excellent fantasy debut.

Daughter of smoke and boneDaughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor (2011)

Improbably perfect Mary Sue explores an intriguing and Baroque setting. Goes off the rails with reincarnation-related love story. Why can’t he just like her for her? For Gaiman fans.

The Bloody Medallion by Richard Telfair (1959)

First Monty Nash adventure - Cold War espionage involves shagging beautiful women, drinking too much and near-infinite betrayals. Jingoism offset by genuine emotional attachments between characters and several unexpected twists.

Malekith by Gav Thorpe (2009)

My first Black Library was a pleasant surprise. Epic-level adventure of immortal king’s rise, fall and deep-seeded Oedipal complex. Setting undoubtedly resonates more with wargamers, but story is self-contained.

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar (2010)

Somewhat abstract alternate history adventure in a quasi-steampunk empire that’s saturated with external literary references. Tidhar’s original contributions are fascinating, but his creativity is unfortunately overshadowed by his encyclopaedic namedropping.

Among Others by Jo Walton (2010)

A sensitive homage to SF fandom as it doesn’t exist, speaking to an audience that’s not me. As insecure teens go, Walton’s is convincing – but I’m heartless (and therefore bored).

Double Dead by Chuck Wendig (2011)

In the land of zombies, the vampire is king. But undead catfights quickly tire, and cinematic set-pieces can’t fill all the gaps on their own. I’d suggest Ewing’s books instead.

The House of the Wolf by Stanley Weyman (1890)

A young noble visits Paris on a matter of chivalry; wades neck-deep into schemes. The protagonist’s stupidity grates, but it becomes apparent that the (titular) villain is the real hero.