June 2012

Fascinating article in the Atlantic magazine showing pictures from the only official photographer in the Manhattan Project’s secret city.

The second Eddie LaCrosse novel following up The Sword-Edged Blonde. This is a slightly more assured book in style than the first. It’s a nice continuation of the character development while telling a fairly different kind of story. The magical mcGuffin of the first was a maybe-goddess incarnating amongst humans. This time it’s the perhaps mythical dragons of legend come back to haunt the waking world of “private sword jockey” Eddie. Some wry commentary on modern life slips in amongst the fantasy tropes here, adding a little bnit more depth to some pretty good escapism. Definitely worth a look if you like classic fantasy crossed with hard-boiled detective noir.

It’s somewhat ironic that Japan’s National Institute of Informatics requires paper submission of job applications. So, ten page application form, three copies of three papers (ranging from eight to 23 pages), covering letter and trwo references hand-submitted (their offices are five minutes walk from my current workplace, so I figured it was better to drop it of in person than run any risk with the post. I’m told they get 150 applicants per year for the one or two posts they appoint, so this is a long shot.

So, here I am again in the lounge at Narita airport. I spend far too much of my life in places like this and in this lounge particularly. Still, at least I’ve got access to the lounge. The thing I find about having to fly economy but having status is that access to the business lounge does reduce the stress of travel. It’s not the free drinks and snacks (my diet goes out of the window when I fly anyway so the snacks aren’t good for me) but the more comfortable chairs are nice. What’s nicest though is that they’re much quieter than waiting in the general concourse. Plus they usually have free WiFi. The one here wants my name and email address, but doesn’t check it so they get a fake one.

I was up about ten minutes before my alarm this morning so made an earlier train. The first Skyliner of the day, actually. That is only about fifteen minutes before the second one. I found out why when I got to Narita and had to wait in a queue for Security. Not unusual, but this queue was for the security check to open at all (it opened at 07:30 and I was in the queue at 07:25). I must remember that for future early flights. Not much point getting here before 07:20 at the earliest.

Security and immigration (sic – it’s really emigration but they still call it immigration) were as easy as they ever are in these days of security theatre and then I headed here to the lounge. There were only a couple of people here ahead of me and they were already ensconced in their seats with coffees or whatever. Just as I had dropped my bags by a seat with power nearby and was heading towards the coffee machines, one of them starting spurting water onto the floor from two nozzles in a steady stream. I was nowhere near. There were no staff in sight so I popped out to the reception desk to let them know about this. Unfortunately the English of the woman on the desk wasn’t good enough to understand, nor was my Japanese good enough at this time of the morning, so I just had to tell her there was a serious problem and to please come and see.

They got it sorted out without too much trouble. I’m just glad I wasn’t standing in front of the machine when it started spurting out.

Next stop, Frankfurt, then Tuebingen via Stuttgart on the train.

There’s a typhoon comng through Tokyo just now. It’s 23:30 and the wind is really picking up. It’s going to be tough to get to sleep with this noise which is a shame because I wanted to get an earlier night than before. Oh well, coming through overnight means les disruption to things like trains. I just hope it sticks to timetable and is really gone by tomorrow morning. I have an early flight out to Germany on Thursday and if there’s significant disruption to schedules on Wednesday there may be knock-on effects on Thursday. I got delayed by 16 hours (luckily at home nt at the airport) last year due to a typhoon and have twice been caught on Shinkansen trains (each time for about 5 hours) by them.

The people I fel sorriest for are those in the Tohoku area still in temporary accomodations from last year’s earthquake. Yes, there are still significant numbers in that kind of situation. While not as bad as last year’s season when a couple made direct landfall in Tohoku (this one mad landfall just south of Nagoya so will have spent the worst of its Fury on Shizuoka, Tokyo and Chiba before hitting Tohoku) it must still be adding more misery on top of a hard life up there.

Finally I think I’m up to date on my reading again. Just in time to go on another short business trip with long flights so I’ll probably be right behind again by the weekend, though.

This is an unusual sort of book these days. A fantasy detective set in the classic medieval fantasy world. Unliek Glen Cook’s long bestselling series, the elves and dwarves aren’t in evidence (so far) in this one, although there is a goddess and an immortal.

Another first book, but it’s solidly written and the combination of hard boiled wisecracking and fantasy tropes works pretty well. The main character is interesting and sufficiently tortured by his past to justify the interest. The personal and plot reveals along the way are satisfying and logical though not always obvious. A nice debut and I’m now onto the sequel (this was a re-read of the first before diving into that one).

The modern-day urban fantasy has more or less driven this kind (Tamara Siler Jones and Simon R Green has both done nice previous examples, alongside the Glen Cook Garrett Files which appears to be perhaps finished with Gilded Latten Bones) out of the market, which is a shame as I like the juxtaposition of hard boiled and sword and sorcery.

Recommended if you like this sort of thing, though other examples are better ones to start with (Simon Green’s Hawk and Fisher particularly, if you haven’t tried it out before.

The third Morris and Chastain Investigation is more of a standalone than the first two which formed a duology, really. A demon wants tobecome president of the US, and another bunch of demons want to stop him. Morris and Chastain end up investigating and runnning into the spoiler team the opposing demons sent along as well as the possessed presidential candidate. Given the slate running for the Republican nomination this year, one would wonder if this weren’t a lightly veiled commentary on that race, except this was published well before it started in earnest.

This has a nice leavening of black humour in it. The first two had a few attempts but Gustainis finally gets the note right in this one, I think. Again, some shades of The Jennifer Morgue, in the interplay between the revived assassin sent by the demons to take out the possessed candidate and his succubus handler (ad boy, does she handle him). Still only for dedicated UF readers, but the series continues to improve.

No crossover howlers in here.

The second Morris and Chastain investigation closes the circle on the hanging plot lines from the first book. This was clearly in the author’s mind when he wrote the first one and they may even have been a single book in original conception, but separated out to set up and characters and because it would have been way too long.

In general this is a better written book than the first. Gustainins is clearly improving as a writer and finding his feet with the characters and the world. However, there is a big flaw in his world-building in that he succumbed to the temptation to tie in to another contemporary series. Despite the Dracula-link with Morris, that’s not too constraining because Dracula is so light on details of the undead and other aspects of that world’s weirdness. However, clearly influenced by Jim Butcher’s approval and willingness to allow it, Morris and Chastain visit Chicago on a fool’s erran trying to catch up with Harry Dresden (not mentioned by name) and hang out in Mac’s bar (mentioned by name). Now, I’m a big fan of the Dresden FIles, but this was a mistake. The Dresden Files has a significant and well worked out mythology behind it and Chastain’s White Witch is simply too powerful for that universe. She’d have to be a member of the White Council. Plus, the White Council would certainly be on the case of the main story here – the rich bad guy trying to summon up Satan into the world, in a very James Bond-villain way. I’m slightly reminded of The Jennifer Morgue, actually, with the JB motifs running through.

So long as I forget the side trip to Chicago, this is a worthwhile follow-up and kept me interested enough to get the third. Still only for the die-hard urban fantasy fan, though.

Almost caught up on the backlog of book blogging. The three books so far in this series are, I think, the only outstanding ones.

This is another modern day urban fantasy of the veil sub-type, i.e. the supernatural exists but is not acknowledged generally. It’s the start of a series of “Morris and Chastain Investigations”. Its basic conceit is that Quincey Morris’ (the American in Dracula) descendents are battlers against evil magic. His friend Chastain is a white witch. There’s a little bit of sexual tension, unrelieved. This is definitely not paranormal romance. There’s an interesting “Hero of another story” in Barry White, a New York-based Barry Love, who they run into at one point.

In parallel with the main storyline, there’s an interesting alternate linekd tale of an FBI agent and a South African visiting cop on the trail of a serial killer. This is an intricately linked sub-plot and the FBI agent turns up in later books. As does the background figure of the man employing the main antagonist of Morris and Chastain (a black with to Chastain’s white).

I’m not sure about the utility of using Quincey Morris grandson in this. It seems to make this a little like Dracula fan-fiction rather than a real book. It’s also clearly a first novel, with the common pacing flaws. It just drags a bit in places. It’s not a bad example of the type and well enough written that I’ve bought and read the next two in the sequence (re-reading this one to start me off). Recommended only if you particularly like this kind of thing, though. There are better modern urban fantasy series out there (though also many worse ones).

The third, and so far final, Drake Maijstral book. I got my hopes up recently when I saw a listing for “Ten Points for Style” (a catch-phrase in this universe about the necessity to pull off one’s capers with flair) but it turned out to be a book club compendium of all three novels and not something new. As mentioned in my writeup of House of Shards, it’s clear that Williams had a plan of these three right from the start and they form a satisfying complete story spanning all three. In this one, Drake is supposedly on holiday on Earth (which he’s never before visited). Now that he’s the top-ranked burglar in the ratings (following his successful contest in House of Shards) Earth’s authorities are understandably concerned about him practising his profession there. A minor comment on “crying Wolf” here in that Drake really is on holiday but he always claims not to be working for plausible deniability reasons so few believe him. When someone takes advantage of this to frame him for a series of thefts from his aristocratic hosts, he’s forced into working to clear his name. His own and his family’s past (including the details of his grandfather’s sordid past) mix together with Duchesses, superstars, alien (and human) Elvis impersonators (and clones of the King beisdes). Duels, marriage proposals and epiphanies of insight into one’s personality are added to the mix of slapstick humour and wry commentary on the human condition.

Still highly recommended. This sequence doesn’t jump the shark anywhere, and though I’d still like more in this vein, these three books make a nice short collection for raising one’s spirits.

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