Iron and Magic – Ilona Andrews – repost review

ironmagic-900TLDR: ….here’s the thing: books rate differently depending on what genre they are—and I can’t decide what genre this book is.

If it’s a romance, it’s a solid 5/5: it has a romance in the A-plot, but it also has an actual A-plot that doesn’t completely fall apart once the main pair start sleeping together.

If it’s a standard pseudo-medieval fantasy, it’s a 3/5: it has warlords who seem genuinely dangerous and leaders who lay plans and think ahead, act like leaders rather than 20th-century office workers.

If it’s a post-apocalyptic fantasy thriller, it’s a 2/5…because, damnit, that’s the setting, and therefore that’s the genre by default, right? But it kept slipping into stupid romance-novel cliches, or dumb fantasy cliches, or dumb Hollywood cliches, and insulting its own intelligence in the process.

Pros/Cons: My likes and problems with this book are the same as with the Kate Daniels series: it’s at its best when it focuses on the worldbuilding and characterization….and yet it resolutely doesn’t play to its strengths and eventually just gives up and coasts on a smooth lane of cliche.

Plot: Hugh d’Ambray, after failing once too many times at doing whatever he was supposed to do to Kate in the previous series (still not sure about that, and, it seems, so is Hugh), was placed on administrative leave by his ex-boss Roland (an evil demigod.) Hugh proceeds to get very drunk. Ex-boss has also decided to thin out those among his men who might be more personally loyal to Hugh than to him. These eventually get back with Hugh and demand he do something about it. So: Hugh has a small army, but no home base, no supplies, allies, or resources. Elara, leader of The Departed (no, they don’t explain it either), has a castle, farmlands, and four thousand people to protect….but somehow doesn’t have anyone to do the protecting. She and Hugh contract a marriage alliance. They also immediately fall in hate with each other (rather strangely, because there doesn’t seem to be any real reason for it….other than The Romance Plot Requires It), and spend the rest of the book bickering until they finally fall into bed.

Why does The Bailey of The Departed need protecting? Because Roland’s new warlord, Landon Nez, is expanding his territory throughout the Midwest, and small magical communities like Elara’s are his direct targets. So Hugh must fortify Bailey (his battle for use of the bulldozers is one of the most relatable…*wince*…parts) and prepare for the coming fight. Meanwhile, there’s also supernatural weirdos in strange armor systematically attacking and slaughtering the nearby settlements…who also happen to be anti-magic bigots who won’t accept the help of Them Thar Dad-gum Magical Folk, You Can’t Trust ‘Em None (Throw Some Rocks, That’ll Learn ‘Em To Stay Away.) I’m being entierly serious.

So, worldbuilding: I really liked these bits. Like, how do you dig a seventy-five by ten foot moat and make it waterfast? Well, bulldozers, and then line it with concrete. But where are you going to get the volcanic ash for the Roman concrete? And who’s paying for the fuel? And your precious moat is lower priority than our sewer system, and the concrete isn’t setting right so did you waste our money? And what, oh, you want generators now? You’re pulling people off the maintenance crew now? Where are we going to get the fuel for the generators and what if we need those men for the gardens? Yep. YYYYYUP. (I recounted this part to one of the maintenance leads at my first job. He wanted to know what the book was and why the author was mocking him.)

But then for the main conflict they use the laziest device ever: the keystone army that dissolves when you kill the queen. The authors needed a Danger to provide exciting action sequences, but needed it not to be too difficult, since the heroes have limited options and resources. Instead of spending some brainpower to come up with a suitable threat–say, roving band of warlocks from Canada; or a nearby settlement that decides Bailey is now a threat and wants to cripple them preemptively; or The Pack, or the IRS, or something–we get mind-controlled Neanderthals, from nowhere, without context, any kind of buildup or backstory, nothing. BORING. BOOOOOORING. Oh, and can you guess that once you take down the queen the rest of the threat stops in its tracks? SUUUUUPER BORING. Ugh.

Characters: I have better things to say about the characters. All two and a half of them.

Hugh has to play a double role of warlord and romantic hero; but here’s the thing. A warlord isn’t going to be a hard bastard all the time; he has to have charisma, he has to demonstrate intelligence, and he has to be able to sweet-talk or reassure the people he can’t intimidate. I’d actually say that they hit the mark with this: Hugh’s code-switching is done perfectly, and you get a man whom men will trust immediately. Also dogs and kids. (Although the little girl was a bit of an overkill). And, given his powerset–he’s an immensely strong healer, as well as a master swordsman–he’s fun to watch in a fight…theoretically. There aren’t really as many good fight scenes as there ought to be. (Post apocalypse? Fights. Thriller? Fights. Romance novel? No fights.) As far as his character arc, it’s nothing new; we know he’s going to snap out of his drunken funk just as surely as we know he’s going to shape up into the man our heroine can sleep with; and we know he’s going to protect the Bailey and not back down. This isn’t a problem. Tropes are tools, and as long as they are used right–as they are here–it’s satisfying to read.

Elara Harper is also a pretty good heroine: a thoughtful, cunning leader who values life despite the rumor that her people engage in human sacrifice and that she’s the host of some kind of eldritch abomination from the elder days that not even Roland wants to cross…and even with this, she’s hampered by, again, the romance-genre tropes. Instant dislike to her new husband? Check. (I even re-read the scene again. There really is no reason for them both to start breaking out the insults while in the middle of negotiating for their people’s lives). “Fiery” personality that engages in charged bickering with her significant other? Check. Goes to extra lengths to keep him off because she’s really attracted? Check. Actually very soft-hearted and caring underneath? Check. Is any of this a problem? No; tropes are tools. These are just a little more obvious than they should be, and I noticed them a little easier.

Minor characters, such as boisterous, blunt berserker-bro Bale (I wonder if that is exactly what the author’s notes say about him) and the deaf-mute advisor girl who communicates in sign language (because she’s a banshee), remain minor but shouldn’t have. This is where the romance-genre tropes work against the book, by focusing things too much on the main duo rather than letting others get time in the limelight.

Action: is OK. My current gold standard for action writing is Larry Correia’s stuff. Hugh being someone who can heal himself or even his opponent as he fights is something that might come in handy for writing a really brutal fight scene….yeah, no. Well, again; if we call this a romance novel and not a post-apocalyptic thriller, then this isn’t a problem. (WHAT GENRE IS THIS BOOK?! It’s so good when it’s not a romance!)

The other problem is the use of that the really stupid Hollywood cliche “only the hero can do anything heroic on-camera.” It’s a cliche that shouldn’t be here, just by the book’s own logic.–there’s quite a bit of setup of how Hugh’s Iron Dogs work, are disciplined and competent…and should be able to do things like send out patrols and investigate suspicious happenings and report back to their boss, who is having dinner with some bigwigs and should have no reason whatsoever to be wandering around outside, getting in a fight with random monster scouts.

I will favorably mention one scene I thought particularly good: it’s simple, no frills, no magic, nothing fancy…just a child, a monster, a woman, and a shotgun, in a room.

Humor: is used deftly. “You’re handsome, a big, imposing figure of a man, and um…” Lamar scrounged for some words. “And they’re desperate.” Even the slap-slap-kiss romantic bickering is more amusing than annoying. Oh, and the post-apocalyptic wedding having an official DJ, photographer, and videographer? Pretty good. Preparing to host a self-proclaimed Viking with “one of those big barrels filled with beer, trust me, it works every time?” Hilarious. Like I said, the worldbuilding is one of the strengths of this book, and that includes throwing in funny, as well as verisimilitudinous, details whenever you can. If only the authors had done it more.

In conclusion: I liked this book enough to read it in one sitting, write 1500-odd words about it, and, four years later, have not read the next one and never will unless someone pays me.

Rated: What genre is it?! Really!

SFF Title Challenge (bingo)

BookForager has a couple of reading challenges up, one of which I stole simply for the purposes of seeing if I could make bingo with just books I’ve already read. Or at least have in my library and could plausibly claim that I can or will, or might, or might have at some time, read.

  • Downbelow Station – C. J. Cherryh
  • Isle of the Dead – Roger Zelazny
    • The Hills of the Dead – Robert E. Howard
    • Dead Beat – Jim Butcher
    • Dead Men Live – Maxwell Grant (The Shadow #18)
  • Wolf and Iron – Gordon Dickson
    • Through Wolf’s Eyes – Jane Linskold
  • The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
    • The Stars are Ours – Andre Norton
    • The Stars are Also Fire – Poul Anderson
  • Library – The only thing that springs to mind is Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series, which I…I have blogged about before.
  • The World Turned Upside Down – anthology edited by David Drake
    • Destroyer of Worlds – Larry Correia
    • The Rebel Worlds – Poul Anderson
    • And for good measure, Edmond “World-Wrecker” Hamilton in general.
  • The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz
    • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
    • What about a Warlock Inspite of Himself? (Christopher Stasheff)
  • Fierce – I’m not getting anything on this one without cheating.
    • ….or with cheating, either, it seems.
    • ?
  • All the Way Back – Michael Shaara (a short story, but still.)
    • Backup – Jim Butcher
  • Side Jobs – Jim Butcher 
  • A Song in the Silence – Elizabeth Kerner. 
    • Kjwalll’kje’k’koothai’lll’kje’k – Roger Zelazny, this counts, because it’s about a song, and its singer.
    • The Song of the Lioness – Tamora Pierce (quartet)
  • Woods – hm, have to cheat on this one….
    • North Woods Mystery – Maxwell Grant (The Shadow #96)
  • Mission to the Stars – A. E. van Vogt (something of a cheat, I haven’t read much of van Vogt’s stuff with the exception of Clane of the Linn and The Selkie, neither of which were his best work.)
  • Midnight at the Well of Souls – Hack Chalker (not a typo.) (Do not read.)
    • Durr, Soul Music – Terry Pratchett
  • How – Dude, what? At least have the decency to say “when” or “Who Goes There?”
    • Best I can do is Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones
  • Gate – Hm. I can’t find a plausible answer / a book I am actually familiar with, even with cheating. 
  • Life – Argh, ditto.
  • In the Bone – Gordon Dickson
    • Can These Bones Live? – Manly Wade Wellman
  • Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn – Tad Williamson, the Tolkien-aping, elf-maligning hack.
  • Ghost Story – Jim Butcher
  • Mission to Universe – Gordon Dickson
    • The Man who Used the Universe – Alan Dean Foster (on the readlist at the Father of Skaith’s recommendation.)
    • If you are noticing a pattern here, it’s because the Golden/Silver Age scifi Grand Masters knew how to craft a title with a sense of wonder attached, and Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson were at the top of that list.
  • A Fire Upon the Deep – Vernor Vinge
    • Fire Logic – Laurie Marks (this book confused me deeply when I first read it. Later I realized it was just that poorly written.)
  • The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov (Robots series)
    • The Proud Robot – Henry Kuttner
  • All the Way Back – A duplicate! But if you’re a HFY person, it’s worth mentioning twice.
    • House of Many Ways – Diana Wynne Jones
  • Lost Dorsai – Gordon Dickson
    • Citadel of Lost Souls – Leigh Brackett

Gunsmoke (1953) – Movie reReview

gunsmoke-movie-poster-1953-1020199995Audie Murphy and Susan Cabot, who collaborated at least two other times, in Duel at Silver Creek and Ride Clear of Diablo, are the leads in this lightweight but thoroughly well-made and entertaining movie. Also in it is Charles Drake, the white knight to Audie’s black knight in No Name on the Bullet. All of those are extremely good movies. Just about all of Audie’s works are on the + side of B or at least the – side of A.

This one is an easy A if you ask me.

So, this one is about a young gun, Reb Kittridge, drifting into Billings after having made a quick and escape from Johnson County. He’s got a job lined up in Billings, but the situation grows rapidly murky when someone takes a potshot at him before he even gets into town, he meets the daughter of his presumptive target, Rita Saxon (Cabot), and then declines a gunfight with Old Man Saxon (since he hasn’t actually been formally hired yet.) This sort of behavior endears him greatly to Old Man Saxon–who used to be a hellraiser himself, and remembers what it was like to be a young gun who wants out and just needs a leg up…

Anyhow, the bad guy wants the Saxon ranch; Saxon doesn’t want to sell; Kittridge kind of wants to be done with this whole gunslinging business, blah blah blah…so Saxon “loses” his ranch to Reb in a game of cards (“complete with morgage,” heh.)

So now, the burden of the plot is on Audie to get his cattle to market by hook or by crook, with Telford (the bad guy) breathing down his neck and Rita’s bushwacking fiance also causing trouble. Also, Reb’s erstwhile friends have now become business rivals and are now trying to murder him. Better yet, the Saxon ranch genuinely is in a peck of trouble, mortgaged, facing a tight deadline, and low on men and beef both (“That’s your problem, son.” Hehhh.) Oh yeah, and there isn’t even enough money to make payroll for all the men who are about to quit, HAH.

And even better still, Miss Saxon is not at all pleased with the change of management in her home.

And so the fun begins…

– It’s actually kind of a bad look to be picking a fight with a man six inches shorter than you, Curly…
– That being said, Audie (briefly) going berserk on some stuntmen is a definite highlight.
– Rita in some really 50s’ underwear and an incredibly pointy bustier, is also, as Kittridge points out, also worth looking at. I mean…corsets, man. Just…corsets.
– Old Man Saxon has a pretty good role, fatherly, calm, and stalwart…but also slyly running the whole show from the back seat the whole damn time.

There really isn’t all that much more to say about this movie, other than it’s well-written, is acted with distinction and great prowess, moves quickly, is fun and occasionally, genuinely clever. It’s a credit to its genre and you ought to give it a watch.

Rated: See ya round, Johnny.

Primarily, Avatar

Dracula (1979) – Frank Langella as Count Dracula, Donald Pleasance as Dr. Seward, Lawrence Olivier as Prof. Van Helsing. I actually watched this a couple weeks ago and was favorably impressed. I might add that I had a fever at the time, but as adaptations that senselessly change things go, this was still fairly….dignified. Olivier and Langella both do very well. Jonathan Harker also has a prominent role that would have been even better if he had been framed as, y’know, the hero.

– My Cousin Rachel (1952) – Eh.

– Shadow of the Vampire  (?) – I watched a bit of this and then wandered back off, it missed the mark.  The vampire actor asking for more makeup was amusing, though.

– I’ll stick this one here because otherwise it might get missed: Tower of Silence – Larry Correia – the 4th book in his Saga of the Forgotten Warrior – has been released in eARC form. This is an un-copyedited, un-modified draft as directly turned by by Correia to his publisher, so there were some noticeable spelling glitches, etc; the official release is in April of this year. Without getting into spoilers: this book is excellent, mostly because it is the beginning of the end. Answers are beginning to show up; the plot is starting to coalesce; Crown, Mask, and Demons are assembling; Voice and Priest are in position, and the General is on his way. Now, if there wasn’t that small problem of Thera’s not quite-ex-enough-husband showing up….

– Avatar: the Way of Water (2022) – I watched about 1.5~2 hours of this and got bored and left. It’s extremely pretty, yes. If you ever wanted to watch a nature documentary set on a hostile world, this is the movie for you. Watch it in theatres. Oh, also, I liked Quarich (the rough, tough, super-macho military bad guy) way, way, wayyyyy better than any other character in the entire movie…first movie, and second. Neytiri actually also wasn’t bad? Surprisingly. Also-also, the military-Na’vi avatars wearing Oakleys cracked me up. Anyhow, I didn’t like the movie because:

  • It’s extremely dumb. (Y no bulletproof glass in your helicopters? NO, SERIOUSLY, WHY DO YOU NOT HAVE BULLETPROOF GLASS IN ANY OF YOUR VEHICLES? I CANNOT EMPHASIZE ENOUGH THAT THEY DO NOT HAVE BULLETPROOF GLASS IN THEIR MECHAS, HELICOPTERS, MAGLEV TRAINS, OR SUPERGIANT BULLDOZERS. ON AN ALIEN PLANET WITH AN ACTIVE INSURRECTION…..WHY?!?! Why send small guerilla force unfamiliar with local hostile terrain to combat large guerilla force familiar with terrain and extremely hostile? Y not have anti-flying hostile bird guns mounted on important stuff, like trains? Why are your trains transporting weapons that the guerillas can take and use against you, excuse me, WHAT. The brain, it melts trying to comprehend the stupidity of the scriptwriters, who think that this is logical behavior for functional human beings.)
  • The story, such as it is, is also extremely poorly thought out. The leader–the warleader , without whose tactical knowledge any resistance against the more high-tech opponent will fail–runs away with his tail literally between his legs when his family is threatened. Not: he sends his family away to safety and stays himself. Not: he whups the snot out of his dumbass teenagers who walked themselves and the younger kids directly into a trap. No, he abandons his post, his people who rely on him (and wasn’t he the one who started the all-out war in the first movie, anyway?), and he runs away to go swim with the fishes. Meanwhile, humans–who have functional FTL travel, and cryosleep–have decided that a marginally habitable planet WITH AN UNBREATHABLE ATMOSPHERE AND ALSO INTELLIGENT ALIENS PERFORMING AN ACTIVE, VIOLENT INSURRECTION  is going to be the new home of humanity. Guys. Guys. Find another planet and move the fuck on.
  • It appears that unobtanium is no longer a thing.
  • It’s anti-human propaganda. I could rant about this for a while, but: it’s anti-human propaganda. There is no greater condemnation. Do not consume.
  • Unless you really, really, want to watch the pretty. Traitor.

Read/watchlist: non compos mentis

So over the course of the last week or so, I’ve watched:

Mary Reilly – 1996 – film starring John Malkovitch as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Julia Roberts as his housemaid. Also Glenn Close is in it. There are some movies which, it turns out, are perfect for watching in a feverish drowse, and this is one of them. It might even be pretty good whilst sober, IDK. I also read the book, which was improved on by the adaptation.

Con Air – 1997 – a film not directed by Michael Bay, which suffers from it. (I wasn’t quite out of my mind enough to watch this all the way through, but Nicholas Cage’s fake southern accent was kind of hilarious.)

Mission: Impossible (the one with the actress who got horribly miscast as Jessica in the new Dune movie), whichever that is, it’s pretty bad. There were motorcycles in it, I believe.

Top Gun: Maverick (again)

– Some episode of Xena: Warrior Princess (did this show just get completely memoryholed? Does no one remember that there was a Strong Female Character TM who was extremely popular and OP? It seems like more people debating the First Strong Female Lead Character Ever TM should be a bit more respectful.) I mean, it’s….completely cheesy and without lasting value, but! this show is absolutely amazing. When you’re also too lightheaded to drive.

Ayiyiyiyiyiyi.

And read:

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik wrote a pretty great fantasy fiction, mostly by not allowing the romance tropes to overtake the intrigue and action. But leaning harder into the pure, high fantasy-epic tropes would have been nice regardless.

– Tales from the White Hart – Arthur C. Clarke chronicles the yarns of fictional raconteur Harry Purvis at the eponymous London pub, in an adorably ’50s cozy-scifi way.

– The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas. Hell, it turns out, is finding that your premier paperback copy is actually abridged and Project Gutenberg insists on not providing a better alternative. Like Dracula, it would be kind of awesome to see an actual adaptation of this book….because I don’t think it’s ever actually been done.

Review: Dracula – Bram Stoker

9780141439846So, there are several things that jump out about reading the OG Dracula novel.

One is that it would be really, really cool to see a movie adaptation of this book that is actually an adaptation of this book. It’s somewhat famously been stated that most adaptations are of the stage play, and now most are just straight-up based on previous movie adaptations, what’s a stage play?

Jonathan, Seward, and especially Mina are the main narrators of this novel, and they’re quite interesting protagonists in their own right: Jonathan is intelligent but naive, and develops into a man of absolute will and iron nerve, fired by the need to protect his beloved wife and avenge his own hurts. Seward is cool and analytical, but not nearly as much as he wants to be or thinks he is, and struggles with things outside of the settled science that he understands. And Mina is very much the unsung heroine who glues the plot together…and provides much-needed brainpower at times.

It would also be cool for said faithful adaptation to focus on the horror of vampirism, rather than the OMG DID YOU KNOW VAMPIRISM IS A CODE FOR THE SEX? TEE HEE angle that every. single. movie. and the thrice-damned urban fantasy genre in general ever has gone in necks-deep for. Yes, there is a definite aspect of addictive pleasure to vampirism: Jonathan has a moment of temptation with the Brides, Lucy has a personality shift post-death. But it’s played for more of the addiction angle: it’s something that subjugates the real personality to another’s thoughts and will, something that enthralls rather than bewitches, something that’s not titillating at all when its soulless eyes are leering into yours and offering you a fix. The Count’s predation on Lucy slowly destroys her physically, kills her mother, turns her into a monster that preys on children, and forces her to tempt the man she loves into a similar fate, even though she’s absolutely horrified by this in her lucid moments. The Count is not portrayed as a mysterious, tormented lover: he’s a stalkery thug who picks random women who catch his eye and physically injures them just because he can and wants to.

Being a vampire is nothing desirable. It’s terrifying to the victim, who can feel their will being overridden and the pain of their body being physically attacked and weakened, drained of blood. It’s horrifying from the outside, to the people who may not even know why their friend or child–or lover–is in such pain. And then it’s horrifying because now the person you loved is going to do the same thing to someone else, and is going to laugh about it.

Back to that hypothetical very cool movie adaptation: there’s a lot of scary, atmospheric, horror-type scenes, too, that never make it into the movies. The apocalyptic voyage of the Demeter, with crew disappearing one by one and the captain finally lashing himself to the wheel for the final trip through shoal and storm could be it’s own movie all by itself (has there been?) Then, there’s the Count’s final attack on Lucy–beginning with a howling wild wolf smashing through the window while she is too weak to call for help, her mother dying in her arms, leaving her trapped in the same bed as the corpse. Or the invasion of Carfax Abbey, when the hunters are suddenly swarmed by a horde of rats (to be rescued by a reserve team of terriers….) Those scenes are scary! And cool! They deserve to be seen on film!

[Complete sidenote: there is a very low-budgeted indie horror-Western movie called Shroud….which, well, we’ll discuss it some  other time, but it’s almost worth watching the negative-budget stunt fights for the twist at the end. The twist at the end makes you just want to pat this movie on the head and tell it nice things because, awwww, it has ambitions, lookat d’cute li’l dumb thing.]

There’s also some pretty darned thrilling action scenes that I don’t think have ever been adapted, either: the hunters confronting the Count in his London lair–Jonathan lunging at him with a kukri and then following him through a broken window–or even or Quincy Morris shooting at an eavesdropping bat. There’s the tension of the race to Europe after the Czarina Catherine and then, afterwards, tracing the Count’s river journey back towards his castle.

In fact, most of what I consider the strongest part of the novel–the point-by-point investigative work, tracing the Count to Carfax Abbey and then back again outwards from it, finding where he’s hidden his other spare coffins and systematically destroying them–just seems to get completely left out. Which leads to my second point:

The second point about this book is that there is a really taut, thrilling, action horror pulp novel in there. Problem is, it’s covered up with generous. nay, heaping dollops of melodrama that really don’t play as well to the modern eye as perhaps it did to the pre-modern. There’s a lot of weeping, hugging, emotionally swearing brotherhood, eternal trust, holy vengeance, more weeping, eternal brotherhood, emotional hugging, weeping, promising of trust….et cetera. The problem isn’t that any of this stuff is there, because some of it is a vital part of character progression and development. The problem is that there’s oodles too much of it and it gets in the way of the interesting stuff that happens.

There’s also the fact that roughly half of the characters aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in the rest of the book, and as such, are prone to making the stupid and repeated mistakes of deliberately excluding Mina from the war council after Mina has provided crucial intelligence for the cause, ignoring Mina when she’s obviously suddenly anemic, ignoring random bats outside the war-council-room window, ignoring your canary in the coal mine when he warns you that Mina is in danger RIGHT NOW, and then, after finding out that (GASP) Mina has been preyed upon and vampirized by the Count….then and only then deciding that you are going to trust her utterly and include her in all councils hereafter. (Mina herself has to be the one to tell them not to do this.) Van Helsing has the paper-thin excuse that he thinks Mina might be pregnant and needs to stay out of it, but Seward knows how vital, useful, and well-informed Mina is, and Jonathan has zero excuses to make.

So, this book is a deeply uneven read. When I first read (listened via librivox, which is a great resource if you didn’t know about it) this book, I loved it for what was actually quite a small portion of the book: the investigation parts, where Jonathan, and Arthur Holmwood are at their very best, tracing the Count’s movements and and lairs (with some baksheesh), and then using social engineering to outright freaking burglarize a vampire’s legally-purchased house and destroy his earth box coffin lairs in broad daylight plain sight. I also loved the three-part chase: the Count fleeing by boat up-river, and the hunter’s company trailing him by river, horseback, and by carriage, each group armed with rifles of the same caliber so the ammunition is interchangeable, and the horseback group including a saddle with a removable horn that can be adapted for Mina. I mean, logistics! What more can you ask for?

But these verisimiltudinous touches keep getting interrupted, and worse, spread out by the aforementioned oozing emotional melodrama, taking up way too much page time, telling and not showing, removing the focus from the laconically thrilling medical mystery-slash-detective vampire hunter story, and padding the wordcount (probably.) Oh, and speaking of verisimilitude, the epistolary format allows for the inclusion (via Mina collecting and pasting them into her journal, dont’cha know) random POV snippets such as the random reporter who interviews the zookeeper about a missing wolf, or the invoice receipts from shipping companies. It’s all about logistics, I’m telling you. 

Well, logistics….and ignoring Mina. However! I have an elegant and simple solution for this particular problem, and it is thus: have Mina not be there. When the action moves to Carfax and the asylum, have Mina remain in London–and move into Lucy’s former home, to help administrate the estate while the trustee (Arthur Holmwood) is out of town. Thus, Mina is living in the house that the Count has the ability to enter; it keeps her at a remove from the men who should recognize instantly that anemia, pallor, and lethargy  = vampire; and it could allow the timeline to be tightened up a bit.

Honestly, though, my only other main criticism is that the main characters’ voices are all fairly similar, with Jonathan’s being the most distinct only inasmuch that he tends to downplay his emotions (while Seward denies that he’s actually wallowing in them…whilst in the midst of wallowing in them, and Mina just straight-up either cries or makes everyone else in the room cry.)

All that being said, this is a good book and it’s a shame no one ever made a movie of it.

Rated: I stand with him. To close you out.

rad7d52f20181030_103624

The Shadow # 35 – The Black Hush

shadow_magazine_vol_1_35So this one was published in August of 1933, written by Walter B. Gibson alias Maxwell Grant, cover art by George Rozen.

This is just a really superior Shadow story. It’s just really good and perfectly pleasing, and it made me feel happy.

It’s kind of hard to say more than that, so instead, I’ll talk about how Maxwell Grant (nee Walter B. Gibson) made his hero effective by focusing on the villains.

Think about standard plot structure: the hero wins, the villain loses. Most authors begin with this premise and work outwards from there. They craft from the top down to create situations where the villains lose. This is why the Death Star had a conveniently-placed ventilation shaft, why the hive swarm goes immobile instead of berserk when the queen is deactivated, why Sauron poured so much of his own being and power into the One Ring that destroying it destroys him utterly. At the more tactical level, it’s why the gangsters playing poker in the front room keep their backs strategically to the window, or a sentry decides not to investigate the rustling and muffled cursing noises from that bramble patch–but does go chase a pebble down the dark hallway. Most authors position their villains for failure. Then they allow the hero to win (sometimes after a stiff struggle getting through the trench run, sure, but still.)

However, Gibson reversed this. He planned how his villains should win, and then engineered a way to prevent them. For instance: mobsters under command of a ruthless mob leader and supported with a dark ray that will suppress alarms and opposition (so no witnesses, no police, no watchmen), and equipped with explosives, guns, and getaway cars are at one point preparing to take on the New City Bank. They’re a tough, picked crew and they know their stuff. Fifteen minutes are all they need. What can The Shadow possibly do to stop them? Well, he could get there first, so they don’t ever even get their fifteen minutes, and then he could have backup arrive to provide cross-fire.

So, he’d need to know where they’re going and when. He needs to have access to Goldy Tancred’s inner circle, and Goldy isn’t accepting visitors. So: Clyde Burke and Burbank bug Goldy’s apartment, and, this not even being enough once Goldy develops an entirely new, healthy respect for operational security measures, The Shadow drops in and goes through the waste-paper basket. So Harry Vincent befriends the unlucky young engineer-inventor who seems to have gotten mixed up in this whole mess and tries to find out what he knows about the Black Hush. So The Shadow knows the target, the time, and their general plan. So, when the (remaining) gangsters flee to their countryside lair to lick their wounds and plot subsequent days’ revenge, The Shadow knows where they are and also (sigh) that Harry Vincent needs rescuing.

Villains are never stupid, although the monomaniacal supervillain-types do tend to be somewhat dense, admittedly. As a whole, they are adaptive, clever, and increasingly well-prepared for the physical threat that The Shadow represents (multiple cars with machine guns, and plenty of hand grenades: standard anti-Shadow ordnance.) Goldy Tancred, for instance, discovers the wiretap almost immediately and begins using it for counter-surveillance, flushing out Clyde Burke as a spy, and from then on putting all orders in writing and then burning the notes.

Pity he didn’t try re-sweeping the whole apartment for bugs after nullifying the first one….

Gibson’s Shadow stories have an enduring fascination, because, instead of making the villains weaker than the hero, he made the hero stronger than them. He lets the struggle play out on a level just slightly higher, and slightly better thought out, than the zero ground most heroes (i.e., BATMAN) operate at.

All that being said, what’s this one about, and is it just another pulp action story, told at breakneck speed so the incongruities of plot don’t register until later?

So we start off in a swanky hotel, where two groups are gathered. One is a group of mobsters, prominently starring one Goldy Tancred–who has requested police presence, just to keep things peaceable–and the other a conference of electrical engineers. The hotel is suddenly hit by a strange, complete, darkness that deactivates electrical and mechanical devices and can only be barely pierced by acetylene torches–such as are being carried by a small hit-squad that brutally assassinates…a random engineer at the banquet. The obvious conclusion is that Goldy Tancred and his ilk, in the west ballroom, were the targets, and the engineer in the east room was killed by mistake. Goldy certainly seems to believe this, as he promptly goes into seclusion, but although New York’s finest ace detective considers the motive clear, The Shadow thinks differently, and moves to investigate.

What is Goldy’s real game? Where is the source of the Black Hush? How is Harry Vincent going to screw up this time?

Read it and find out…

Rated: There’s also a thrilling death-from-above entry via autogiro, it’s kind of awesome.