Category: audiobook or book

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians is the first book in a kid’s series written by Brandon Sanderson.  I wish had more of this series available, but it doesn’t.  Basically, this is Brandon Sanderson’s attempt to spoof Harry Potter.

He does a good job.  It’s light fun, but without much of the rigid structural world building Brandon Sanderson is well known for.  Personally, I think there’s a rigid structure to the magic system written down somewhere in Sanderson’s notes, but it’s not described at all in the actual book, leaving the reader with the same sort of vague understanding of magic that you often got from Harry Potter and lesser works.  The same is true for the Evil Librarians.  We’re basically told that all our understanding of technology is backward, and this is a plot by the librarians to keep us under their control…  Any attempt to actually make sense of that notion is skipped over.

Mind you, the book is very self-aware of its ridiculousness.  One of the great magic powers in the book is “being late for things”.  That’s intentionally ludicrous, but Sanderson makes it work.

If there was more of this series in audiobook form I’d eat it up.  Unfortunately, I think Brandon Sanderson’s desire to move the publishing rights of this series have stalled the creation of more audiobooks.  I could be wrong on that, but I can’t think of any other reason, given how good the first book was.


Monster Hunter International

Monster Hunter International is the first book in a series (of the same name) written by Larry Correia.  It’s about an “accountant” who also happens to be a violent thug.  He gets hired by a Blackwater-like organization dedicated to killing monsters (thus the name: Monster Hunter International, or MHI).  But don’t worry; just because the main character is a rightwing NRA extremist thug who works as a mercenary for a private militia, don’t go assuming this book is about a bad guy.  No, here, the private militia, the bounty hunters, the tax evaders, and the lobbyists are the good guys…

Compared to that, the vampires, werewolves, demi-gods, and holy Mormon hand grenades come off as pretty routine.  In fact, if it weren’t for the rightwing garbage that pops up a lot in this book, it’d probably be among the best urban-fantasy books I’ve listened to.  This book is very engaging, and despite the unnecessary forced romance, I enjoyed the plot from beginning to end.

But I’m afraid I just need to vent a little more about the rightwing logic (or lack) in this book.  I’m used to reading books with characters that don’t live in the same world I do.  This might be the first time I’ve read a book where I question whether the author lives in the same world I do.  Let me give an example:  One of the characters, after bragging about her tax evasion tactics, says she’s not a racist; that the real racists are the politicians who “pimp poverty”.  That statement is never explained, and it took me some time to figure out what she was talking about.  Welfare.  If you’re giving money to people who are in poverty, you’re paying people for being in poverty, so that’s their job: being in poverty.  Thus, politicians who are in favor of welfare promote poverty (or “pimp poverty”).  And, since black people are disproportionately impoverished, people who “pimp poverty” are racist.  In extremely conservative circles, that logic makes perfect sense.  The problem is that the book assumes that logic makes perfect sense to everyone else too, and that when the character talks about politicians who “pimp poverty”, we will all understand what that means.  Sorry, but most of us don’t see it that way.  The welfare system in America sucks for a lot of reasons, but the fundamental idea of giving charity to the needy is a rather moral and Christian one, regardless of the the races involved.

Let me also go back to the point about tax evasion: As much as characters bitch about the government in this book, not once is it presented as ironic that the organization these people work for (MHI) is almost entirely funded by the government.  These mercenaries admit to having private contracts once in a while, but it’s clear most of their money comes from government bounties and contracts.  Even within a universe he created, the author couldn’t find a better way to fund this organization than through tax dollars.  And thus the irony comes to bite us again, as the characters brag about their tax evasion, when taxes are the main reason these people get paid in the first place.

And one more thing: Buying congressmen and senators is not libertarian, as it’s presented in this book.

But don’t let all that scare you off.  Despite the occasional cringe-worthy political comment, this really is a good urban-fantasy book.  In fact, I’m probably going to listen to the next book in the series too.  I just hope the author turns the political talk down a notch.

The Alloy of Law

Continuing the theme of Brandon Sanderson books I’ve listened to recently, the new Mistborn book has finally come out.  The Alloy of Law, while often listed as the forth book in the Mistborn series, is more accurately described as the beginning of a new series taking place in the same universe.  About three centuries have past since the end of the original Mistborn trilogy, and all but the blatantly immortal characters are long dead, and the couple that are still hanging around only make momentary cameo appearances at best.

I was slightly apprehensive about this book.  The Mistborn trilogy was so well tightly buttoned up in the third book that I wasn’t sure I even wanted more.  The trilogy just got more epic with each book, and I didn’t see how another novel could continue that trend.  Knowing that, and given what I knew from the description on the cover, I was left with the impression that this book wasn’t going to compare well to the original trilogy.  However, comparing this book to the original trilogy does it a disservice.  That story has been told; it’s history; it’s over; move on.

The Alloy of Law is an extremely fun book, with lovable and engaging characters.  I think having spent some time writing Matrim Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series gave Brandon Sanderson more confidence to be funny.  This is not the epic story of the original books, but it doesn’t need to be.  On its own, this book was more fun and enjoyable than any of the other books in the series, even if the other books had grander stories.  Don’t come to this book expecting the next great steampunk epic.  Come to this book expecting to have a great time.

The Wheel of Time…books 7-13

With all due respect and reverence for Robert Jordan, I think Brandon Sanderson managed to make books 12 and 13 evocative and gripping in a way Robert Jordan could only merely come close to.  The overall story of this series is awesome, and Robert Jordan deserves all the credit for that.  The trajectory and progress of these characters has been awesome, but I can’t image another author who could wrap up this story better than Mr. Sanderson.  My only complaint about the last two books is that I had some minor chronological confusion about when some things were happening relative to the other characters in the series.

Honestly, I’m not going to say this is the best series I’ve listened to, but the overall experience has nevertheless been fantastic.  I greatly enjoyed this past month and a half.  The series has its ups and downs, but it’s more than worth the time it takes to get through; and given how long the series is, that’s saying something.

I look forward to the last book in the series with enthusiasm.

The Wheel of Time…books 4-6

Good news everyone.  The Wheel of Time is actually worth reading.  In fact, if this series continues to improve the way it has, it could turn out to be among the best fantasy series I’ve listened to.  All the characters have finally become real people (with the possible exception of Rand al’Thor, who is still irrevocably driven by the plot, but I’ve finally come to accept the explanation for that).  Also, Robert Jordan has successfully ejected the travel plot from his books, and the series has immeasurably improved as a result.

Each of these books is very long by my standards.  Book six was 41 hours and 37 minutes.  By comparison, The Name of the Wind was merely 28 hours, and The Way of Kings was about 45.5 hours.  The fact that, thus far, there are twelve books in this series makes for a nice long listening experience.

I only have two complaints that still stand at this point.  The first is that the narrators aren’t very consistent with each other.  They’re the same narrators from The Way of Kings, and I love them, but they run into the same problem the narrators from The Kane Chronicles did: they present two different auditory interpretations for the same characters.  In The Way of Kings, the male and female voices rarely interacted with each other, so we didn’t run into that problem.  Here, these characters interact all the time, and sometimes it can get confusing.  It’s not a major problem, but I thought I’d mention it.

My second complaint is the biggest one:  I really wish the first few books hadn’t been so dull.  This series might have actually been worth recommending to non-fantasy nuts if it weren’t for that.  This is turning out to be a great series, and it’s a tragedy that the only people I could possibly recommend it to are already huge fantasy fans.  Anyone with a mere passing interest in the genre isn’t likely to get passed book one, to say nothing about book two and most of book three.

Obviously, I’m going to continue listening to the series.  However, I don’t think I’m going to post about it again until I’m all caught up.  I don’t like these little progress reports.  However, I might take a break at some point to listen to the most recent Mistborn novel by Brandon Sanderson.  If I do, I’ll certainly post about that.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Wheel of Time…books 1-3

I’ve pretty much posted about all the audiobooks I’ve listened to recently, which means I’m going to have to start posting about the books I listen to right after I’ve finished them.  The problem is I’ve only gotten through three books in The Wheel of Time series, and I really don’t feel that’s quite enough to say whether I like the series yet.

The first two books were pretty mediocre.  There are a couple interesting characters, but the plot was mostly just Odyssey / Lord of the Rings travel drudgery.  I feel that the travel plot is often used to give the appearance of plot momentum when there really isn’t any (I like LotR, but it was a slog to read).  What’s more, the main male protagonists aren’t all that interesting.  Rand al’Thor is so dense it’s a surprise he’s physically malleable enough to bend his own joints.  Perrin Aybara is just Rand’s wolf-man equivalent.  Matrim (Mat) Cauthon is completely useless for anything till book three .  In fact, in the first two books, the interesting characters are the female characters, who seem to have believable personalities and character arcs (relatively speaking).  Everyone else seems brainlessly driven by the mediocre plot.

The third book, however, finally starts to make Perrin more interesting, continues to develop the female characters, and actually manages to turn Matrim (Mat) into one of my favorite characters so far.  That said, this story has only just barely started getting good.  I can’t really say I’m hooked yet, but I see a whole lot of potential, and given that Brandon Sanderson is doing the last few books in the series, I’m willing to keep going in the hopes that things continue to improve.

The Hollows

It’s been a while since I listened to a book in The Hollows series by Kim Harrison.  I’ve listened to them all, but the last book came out back in February.  Overall, The Hollows is definitely one of the better “like Dresden Files, but from a female perspective” book series out there.  Unfortunately, that’s not saying much.  This genre is littered with books like this, and while Kim Harrison is one of the better female Urban Fantasy authors, I can’t say I’m anticipating the next book quite as much as I used to.

A part of it is that I’m male, and these books were most definitely not written for men.  The romances are idyllic in a way that they’re frustrating to an average male reader.  The dude is either obscenely rich, literally time traveled from the “age of chivalry” (which never actually existed), or his personality is just perfect in every other respect.  She never has a boyfriend (why does she need one in the first place?) that an average male reader might identify with in any way.  No, strike that.  The first boyfriend in the series was a perfectly good character for male readers to identify with (arguably the only one in the whole series).  Unfortunately, he gets retconned halfway through the series into being an asshole retroactively…  Honestly, I could rant about that ad nauseam.  On top of that, the sex scenes (which the author has started including in every book) are completely pointless in every respect.  They neither propel the plot, nor provide anything of slightest interest to the reader in any other way (and it’s not just the audiobook issue; half the time, I literally don’t know what these people are physically doing in these scenes).  Many of these problems get worse as the series goes along.  In fact, most of these problems didn’t exist early on; they’ve only recently started to overwhelm the good parts of the story.

And while I can rant about my problems with this series, I’m still going to get the next book.  I’m as frustrated as I am because I actually care about these books.  The story, apart from the repellant romance stuff, is actually really good.  It’s clear the author had an idea of where she was going with it from the beginning, and I still want to know what happens next.  I suppose I’d like the series more if Kim Harrison took a lesson from Jennifer Estep: plot before romance.  I thought The Hollows was like that earlier in the series, and I hope she gets back to it.