Saturday, January 1, 2011

Some books I enjoyed in 2010

Planet Stories: The Walrus & The WarwolfPlanet Stories: The Walrus & The Warwolf by Hugh Cook

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Swordsmith's apprentice Drake Douay is sentenced to death by drowning for vandalism and destruction of property. As Drake is swimming back to shore, he chances upon Zanya, a red skinned, red haired beauty, and decides he'll do anything to get into her knickers. Can two ships of pirates, revolution, and all manner of disgusting monsters stop Drake from being reunited with Zanya and giving her the rogering of a lifetime?

Drake Douay is a lying, cowardly, slimy, drunken fornicator. And I love him! This is one of the easier books I've ever had to rate.

The Walrus & the Warwolf isn't your typical fantasy. Drake Douay is no Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, that's for sure. Drake's a follower of the Demon God Hagon and worships accordingly: drinking and fornicating. His sister is a temple whore so he gets a good rate. Yes, incest is played for laughs in this story. Not only is Drake a scoundrel, he remains true to his lying cowardly self for the entirety of the book. The lies just keep coming and Drake gets into bigger and bigger trouble.

The Walrus and The Warwolf are the names of two pirate ships and the nicknames of the captains that sail upon them. The captains are well rounded and hilarious. Some of the pirate dialogue was so rough that it almost offended me. You have to love a story where one of the milder insults used by the characters is "octopus rapist." The supporting cast is also full of gems, like King Tor, and Muck, a man who's syphilis caused him to start his own flame-worshipping religion.

The world of The Walrus and the Warwolf is one of fantasy and little understood technology of a lost age. While some of it is serious, like teleportation gates and a flying ship, I laughed hard when one of the pirates smashed a Rubik's Cube in disgust.

The story is equal parts pulp fantasy and humor. The tone is full of dry wit and reminds me of Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time at times, as well as Glorianna, also by the esteemed Mr. Moorcock.

This was the easiest five I ever stuck on a book. If you like fantasy, British humor, pirates, or really offensive language, this is for you. If you don't, buy it anyway. God knows you don't have enough books with the word Walrus in the title...

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Old Man's War (Old Man's War, #1)Old Man's War by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

John Perry enlists in the Colonial Defense Force on his 75th birthday and gets whisked off to war in a new and improved body, defending Earth's colonies against alien races. Will John be one of the few that survives his first year?

John Scalzi's blog is one of the few I've followed in 2010 and I'm pleased to say that if Old Man's War is any judge, his novels are just as entertaining as his blog.

I've been pretty omnivorous in my reading tastes the last couple of years and I think that's why I liked Old Man's War so much. While it's a sf book inspired by Heinlein's Starship Troopers, it's also really funny, somewhere between Christopher Moore and Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series. It's narrated in the first person and John Perry is a pretty funny guy.

The Scalz has a lot of great sf concepts packed into Old Man's War; you've got the new bodies the senior citizens are given upon enlisting, the beanstalk, the skip drives, alien species that aren't humanoid, the list goes on and on. While the concept of 75 year old military recruits sounds like comedy fodder, it's actually pretty well explained. Getting a new body, even though it will be repeatedly shot at, would be very tempting at 75.

There were so many things I loved about this book that I can't possibly mention them all without giving away large aparts of the plot. Let's just say that this one is definitely in the top 10 of 2010.

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The Hunter (Parker, #1)The Hunter by Richard Stark

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Four men collaborate on a heist and everything goes well until one man decides he can't share and tries to off the others. But Parker doesn't die and comes looking for revenge! But will revenge be enough for Parker ...?

Wow. I'd been looking forward to reading Richard Stark's Parker books for quite some time and I'd say I'm hooked with the first one. Parker's a relentless force of nature with few redeeming qualities. The writing shows just how versatile a writer Donald Westlake was, powerful yet sparse. Westlake didn't waste words on this one.

The plot isn't revolutionary but the writing and the execution make it a home run. The viewpoints shift back and forth from Parker and his intended victim. It could have been a simple revenge story but it escalated into new levels. The book itself is a little thin but that's because it's all meat and no filler.

If you're into crime books and are looking for something great, give The Hunter a try. You won't be disappointed.

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Hardcase (A Joe Kurtz Novel)Hardcase by Dan Simmons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After eleven years in the clink, Joe Kurtz, eager to get back on his feet, signs on with the mob to investigate who is highjacking their trucks. But can Joe figure out who's stealing from the mob before someone from his past guns him down?

Wow. Dan Simmons knows how to spin a yarn. Hardcase is an homage to the Parker books for Richard Stark but manages to steer clear of ripoff territory.

Joe Kurtz is a former PI that winds up working for the mob and gets caught in the middle of a power struggle. Simmons' style is reminiscent of Stark's; spare and powerful. The story is full of twists and turns, especially in the last forty pages or so. The action is fast and brutal and Kurtz is far from unscathed when the story draws to a close.

I can't say much more without giving too much away. The title is accurate; Joe Kurtz is a Hardcase of the highest order. If you're looking for a great crime novel, come and get it.

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The Sins of the Fathers (Matthew Scudder, #1)The Sins of the Fathers by Lawrence Block

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When call girl is murdered and her roommate/killer hangs himself in prison, the girl's wealthy stepfather hires Matthew Scudder to investigate the girl's past and find out why her life ended the way it did. Scudder's investigations lead him through a web of sex and lies...

Wow. Lawrence Block always keeps me entertained but this was one hell of a read. It's less than 200 pages but one of the more powerful pieces of detective fiction I've read in years. I figured Scudder would unearth some bad things in his quest. Come on, how can you not unearth bad things when you're investigating the death of a call girl? Still, I was surprised by all the twists.

Scudder himself is a great character. He left the police force after a ricocheting bullet of his killed an innocent girl and has been operating as something of a PI ever since. He tithes to the church and drinks a lot. He has a sense of law and order and justice about him that keeps him interesting. For instance, he tells the story of setting up a guy he knew was a rapist by planting heroin in his apartment while he was gone and then informing on him. This is the first Scudder book and I think I'll be picking up the others as I find them.

For fans of noir, you can't go wrong picking up this book.

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  1. Nice list. I gotta get that Old Man's War.

  2. I have ordered these from my library and I will let you know what I think of them!