Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 31 -- The Number of the Beast

by Robert A. Heinlein

Started: Sept. 1
Finished: Sept. 19

Notes: I've always appreciated and enjoyed Heinlein's work, but I've never read him as much as I probably should, so it is with some joy I jump into this one.

Mini review: I hate to say it, but this is the first time I felt Heinlein let me down. The basic plot is interesting enough, four more-or-less mathematicians/scientists use a device one of them created to travel to different universes (and eventually timelines), but from there everything seems to go wrong with the story. The story itself seems to take forever, with nothing overly interesting happening in the first two-thirds of the tale, and the characters themselves are their own biggest problem. Speaking of the characters, I might have found them interesting and maybe funny in my youth, but now they just came off as silly and often pompous to me. While the plot seems to have no real driving force and seems to go nowhere for the longest time, in the last third of the book this changes, but to no improvement. Suddenly appears a climax of sorts, but it really doesn't seem all that important. For one thing, there never seems to be any real danger to the characters. Then the last part of the book mixes various realities with fictional realities and characters, all becoming so self-referential to Heinlein's own works (thank goodness I've read enough to get most of the connections) and the works of other science fiction authors that it becomes rather trite and annoying. I think Heinlein meant all of this as sort of a love letter to science fiction, especially pulp fiction as this novel is written in a style more common to early pulps of the 1930s, but it fell flat for me. Maybe it was a novel for its time, or maybe it's a novel I should have read when I was younger (which would have been Heinlein's time), but whatever the case, this one didn't work for me. That doesn't mean I won't read more Heinlein. As an addition, I'd like to point out that this book was Heinlein's first after a seven-year illness that had temporarily halted his writing, so maybe he wasn't fully up to snuff. Or maybe I'm just dull enough not to find it interesting.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 30 -- Starfinder Core Rulebook

by Paizo Publishing

Started: Aug. 29
Finished: Sept. 2

Notes: This is the new science fantasy tabletop role-playing game from Paizo, based somewhat upon the rules for their Pathfinder game, also expanding on the timeline of that universe far into the future. Though fantasy has always dominated the RPG market, I do have a fondness for science fiction games, the old TSR Star Frontiers game of the early '80s being a favorite, so it seemed a natural for me to check this out.

Mini review: It's not likely I'll be playing this one, or that I'll become a fan of it, much for the same reasons I'm not a big Pathfinder player. For me, it's simply a too-detailed game, destroying imagination instead of building it. I'm not saying it didn't take imagination to create the game, only that there are so many rules concerning every single little detail of character creation and character actions and possibilities, that for me it takes away much of the fun and imagination potentially available for players and instead makes this a game of points and math, a game of simple numbers, of beating opponents just because you've got higher numbers in damage dealt, armor class, etc. Not that this won't possibly be a popular game, as there are plenty of rpgers who want every little detail spelled out for them, who love the intricate character creations, etc., but I'm not one of them. Maybe I'm just too old, too busy, or maybe the streamlined (sometimes called "dumbed down") Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons has spoiled me. Then again, I didn't think I'd like 5e D&D when it came out and now I'm a huge fan, so my mind can be changed.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 29 -- Bloodstone

by Karl Edward Wagner

Started: Aug. 28
Finished: Sept. 1

Notes: I've read pretty much every short story Wagner ever wrote, but I've not read many longer works by the man, not that there were very many longer works. Anyway, as always, it should be interesting to jump into another tale of Wagner's Kane character.

Mini review: Holy geez, that was a good book. Kane seeks out an ancient power, finds it, puts it to his own use, all while embroiling himself in a war between two city states and sort of, kind of falling in love. All that in less than 300 pages. It has some of what I think of as the "goofiness" common to much fantasy from the mid-60s through about the mid-70s, some telling instead of showing, the overuse of words that sound like Lovecraft made them up, etc., but KEW is a strong enough writer that none of that is really distracting. Yes, I can heartily recommend this one.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 28 -- Swords in the Mist

by Fritz Leiber

Started: Aug. 18
Finished: Aug. 28

Notes: This was another recent acquisition, and a first edition to boot, from one of my favorite used book stores, sadly one that is soon going out of business. It's quite probable I've read some (or even all) of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser tales collected here, but it's always fun to delve back into their stories.

Mini review: The back copy presents this one as a novel, but it's actually a couple of short stories and a novella with short set pieces between to link everything. Yes, I had read these before, as who could forget such great tales as "The Cloud of Hate" and the laughter-inducing "Lean Times in Lankhmar?" "Adept's Gambit" is the final tale, the novella, and it's never been a favorite, being overly wordy in my opinion, but it still features some fine writing and tale spinning. Any fan of Sword and Sorcery should read these tales.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 27 -- The Swords of Lankhmar

by Fritz Leiber

Started: Aug. 8
Finished: Aug. 18

Notes: I was fortunate enough a few months back to stumble upon this first edition, as well as several others, during a foray to quite possibly the best used book store I've ever encountered. "Best" at least for fans of sci-fi and fantasy from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, this book store is going out of business before year's end. On the plus side, the owners have informed me they still have plenty of stock in their warehouse. Which means I'm visiting every few weeks to see what they've got that's of interest to me, and so far I've found quite a lot. Anyway, it's not impossible I've read this novel or parts of it in one collection or other, but I don't believe I have.

Mini review: Rats, rats and more rats! Yes, an army of rats invades the fabled city of Lankhmar, and its up to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser to do something about it in their usual rambling, sporadic, even comical manner. I still don't remember having read any of this before, though the Gods of Lankhmar seemed familiar, yet maybe they've shown themselves in more than one tale. Sword and sorcery fans will find much here to love, though I was a little disappointed at how much time Fafhrd and the Mouser spent apart from one another.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 26 -- The Hero, The Sword, and The Dragons (The Chronicles of Dragon: Book 1)

by Craig Halloran

Started: Aug. 6
Finished: Aug. 8

Notes: This is another one from an indie fantasy author who has done fairly well over the last decade. I not only like to read authors new to me, but I also like to study their writing style, to see how they do what they do.

Mini review: An easy enough read and somewhat fun. In this world, young dragons have the form of humans and only begin to grow their scales once they reach a certain level of maturity, and the main character here is such a dragon. In fact, he's the son of the most powerful dragon in the world, a dragon who protects the world and its races. Unfortunately for that main character, he has a tendency to rashness and has not grown his scales as of yet. Some interesting ideas with decent writing, but overall this felt a bit generic to me. However, the material was good enough I might be willing to give the author another shot at some point.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Books read in 2017: No. 25 -- A Quest of Heroes: Book 1 in the Sorcerer's Ring

by Morgan Rice

Started: July 30
Finished: Aug. 6

Notes: This prolific indie author has done quite well during the past decade. I've heard some good and some bad, but figured I would read at least one novel to decide for myself.

Mini review: A village boy shows signs of having magical powers, lands himself in the king's Legion, is told by a powerful wizard hints of his destiny, and becomes embroiled in courtly intrigues. I can't say this was awful, but I also didn't see much here to recommend. The writing is fair, reminding me somewhat of teen or young adult fantasy (and maybe that was the author's goal), but my major complaint would be the main character who is so ignorant of practically everything that's going on in his world that he sometimes comes off whiny. His biggest fault, however, is how he never opens his mouth when he should, and far too often he allows others to dictate his actions. Too often he reacts instead of acts. And, oh my gosh, the fantasy tropes pile up faster than perhaps anything I've read this side of Etragon. That's not all bad, however, as many casual fantasy readers love those tropes. Not for me, but not the worst I've read.