Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Books of the Week: 5/22/12

Ahhh... Finals are almost over. One math test this afternoon, and I'm free. Free, do you hear me? FREE! Sorry... Anyway, I've somehow managed to keep up with my reading, so I can continue to provide you with "high-quality", occasionally entertaining, book reviews. Lucky you! This week, we have possibly the most varied trio of books yet: Metro 2033 (the game is based on the book, not the other way around), Assault on Black Reach (the ever-present Space Marine Battles novel), and Butcher Bird (a one-shot urban fantasy). New to this review is Krunk's Korner, where the famous (or infamous) Krunk delivers his own take on each book I review. If you've met Krunk, well, you know what to expect. If you haven't met Krunk--KRUNK AM ALWAYS GLAD TO MAKE NEW FRIENDS!

Metro 2033
Dmitry Glukhovsky

I suppose, technically, this is a videogame novel. If so, this is the best game novel I've read so far. Metro 2033 is a tale of a post-apocalyptic world, where survivors of nuclear bombs eke out their existence in the subway tunnels beneath Moscow. 

Metro 2033 is set in an well-imagined world. Glukhovsky obviously thought out the politics and economics of the various metro stations carefully--each station has its own specialty, and there are larger groups of stations melded into alliances (Communists, Fascists, independents, and traders). There are all kinds of different monsters and dangers, from human raiders to mutants to floods of ravening rats. I really enjoyed how different characters tried to explain the various metro phenomena, each in their own way. It left things just a bit ambiguous, adding a hint of mystery and the unknown. This vision of the future is a strange combination of mysticism, cynical worldliness, and science, and it's pretty dang awesome.

While the writing in Metro 2033 occasionally becomes stiff or tedious, I'm more inclined to blame that on the translator. Given the obvious care Glukhovsky put into world-building, I doubt that he would have allowed his writing to become stale. That said, however, Metro 2033 is not a book to read in one sitting. At times, Glukhovsky delves into philosophy. These philosophical benders tended to be the least interesting segments, and I started skimming over them. 

The ending was shocking and it felt a bit...incomplete. Almost as if Glukhovsky had written and written and he didn't know how to stop. And when he did stop, he didn't know what to do with the ending. 

In the end, Metro 2033 has an amazing, immersive world and story, but the bad translation and heavy philosophy in the later section of the book drag on you. I'm not sure how to rank this. On one hand, I absolutely loved the world, but I feel like any book I have to take breaks from must have some flaws. 

Krunk's Korner: Metro 2033 am have immersive world with fascinating background and strange combinations of science and mysticism, but philosophical discussions am confuse Krunk and feel out of place. This story am remind Krunk of him time among the mole-people of Grublax. They am dead now. Krunk am kill them all in fit of rage. Krunk sad now...

Assault on Black Reach
Nick Kyme

Where did I GET all of these Space Marine Battles books? A company of Ultramarines (Yes, that's their name. Conceited much?) descends upon the ork-infested world of Black Reach to cleanse the planet in the Emperor's name. Yup. That's it. That's the plot. Simple even by Space Marine Battles standards.

This was a short book, which was fine by me. After the 1400 pages of Metro 2033, I needed a palate cleanser. However, Assault on Black Reach was also stupid, which is not a forgiveable offense. Kyme is a competent writer, mechanics-wise, but he tries to hard to be fancy schmancy, fails, and ends up sounding dumb. If he'd stuck with blunt and simple, he'd have succeeded.

Assault on Black Reach is essentially a one-battle novel. Again, that's fine. Kyme does a decent job of this, and manages to show off all of the various classes of Space Marine. In that respect,  Assault on Black Reach makes a good introduction to Warhammer 40K. You meet two of the primary races, and the major subdivisions of these races. However, there are some inaccuracies, so don't treat this as WH40K canon. 

I found the names of the ork submarines pretty funny, even though they did remind me I was reading a book. (Yes, orks can make submarines. How, I don't know.) We have Red Orktober--as in Hunt for Red October--and Dak Bork--or, Das Boot. If you don't get those jokes, well... I thought they were funny. 

All in all: meh. Ok writing, ok plot, short, and rather unsatisfying. A decent introduction to Warhammer 40K, but there are better choices for new readers. *coughs* Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts *coughs*

Krunk's Korner: This am book with lots killing, which Krunk am like, but book am stupid as Krunk's Uncle Lenny, who not comprehend Newton's 3rd Law, which am clearly state: For every action, there am an equal and opposite reaction. Krunk am wonder about him family sometimes...

Butcher Bird
Richard Kadrey
I don't know how or where I stumbled upon Kadrey's writing but I'm very glad I did. Butcher Bird is a strange, hallucenogenic tale of a tattoo artist pulled into a trip to Hell, with a few pit-stops along the way.

Butcher Bird is set in an amazing, creepy, vivid, unique world. Earth is only one of the many locations Kadrey takes you to, and each one is both different, alive, and amazing. There are hints of many, many worlds and stories besides the current one. I felt like there was a mythology, even though you are never explicitly told so. 

There's betrayal, deceit, and you're never sure who can be trusted or what will happen next. The characters in Butcher Bird are unique and quirky, 3D people who feel real. 

Kadrey is one of my favorite urban fantasy writers. I don't know what it is, but his style is perfect for all occasions. From chronicling a "worst deaths" competition between two characters, to describing the strange, wonderous, possibly drug-fueled lands that the story wanders through, Kadrey seems to be up to the challenge, no matter what. His plot is great, his characters are great, his descriptions and writing are great.

Look, I don't think I can adequately capture the weird awesomeness that is Butcher Bird, so: Look up at the book's cover. Now add that picture to the mental image this review should have given you. There you are. That's PROBABLY what Butcher Bird is like.

*Deep breath* Anyway, Butcher Bird is an amazing one-shot novel. Great writing, vivid world and characters, a plot that never telegraphed what would happen next, politics, swearing, and betrayal. Lots of betrayal.

Krunk's Korner: Krunk am like this book. It am funny and unique. But, by Krom, the characters am swear a lot. This book am remind Krunk of the time Krunk am take peyote with several tabs of LSD. That were one strange night. It were fun, though! And this book am fun! Buy this book, or Krunk am has to hurt you...