Nothing incrementally enjoyable about The Incrementalists — so far

The IncrementalistsThe Incrementalists by Steven Brust
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Unfortunately this book seems to go nowhere … slowly. The idea has promise, sure, but you have to make something of a promise or it remains unfulfilled; the book less and less noteworthy, more and more of a plod. Plus, it’s told in the first person, usually a no-no for me. Rather, it’s told in the first person alternatively, by two different characters; presumably also by its two authors alternating either with or without consultation. If that makes it a jam, fine, but the results, at least so far, are awfully bland. It’s set in Vegas but other than it’s hot and one of the characters likes to play poker it could be set in Anytown USA. Maybe it gets better incrementally, but if I had insomnia it’d cure it.

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Supra-doings genre review 1 — “The Violent Century”

Back in mid July 2014 (http://phantacea.com/blog/?p=1012 – Mixed Swag, Point 2) Jim McPherson made mention of a detectable rise in the popularity of a Fantasy/SciFi sub-genre he called supranormal storytelling.

While he’d no doubt want to claim credit for inventing it with his Phantacea Mythos, it goes back multiple centuries. For what is mythology except supranormal storytelling?

Here’s a review he put online of one of the books he noted back in July. Comments welcome at bottom of page:

The Violent CenturyThe Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A step up from last book of his I read (“Osama”). More comprehensible, with at least a degree of action. Loses some of its (potential) impact because it’s mostly told in flashbacks. At least there’s no first person narration, time travel or trans-dimensional crossover nonsense.

Does take chances in that he features actual people acting as they might have if they lived in a world with actual ‘ubermenschen’ (‘over’ or ‘supermen’) in the howsoever dim public spotlight. Occasionally uses point form (which I like) and avoids quotation marks, despite there being a lot of dialogue. This last, the lack of quotation marks, takes some getting used to but for the most part works.

Of a seemingly increasingly popular fantasy genre, what might be termed “real world super heroes”. (My own Phantacea Mythos might fall within a similar category, except it’s set in a world that doesn’t realize they’re out there.) Has an appreciable, international perspective, albeit with a mostly European focus, that strays into Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Middle East territory for short periods.

(Tidhar apparently lives in Israel but does strive for nonreligious impartiality. The Polish betrayal, Nazi Death Camps, Air America, CIA intrigues, opium production, Bin Laden and extreme Islamism feature as backdrops to some of the set piece action sequences. Then again the innate Jewishness of comic book icons Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel and Stan Lee are are also noted a couple of times.)

Borrows somewhat from George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series, especially when it comes to depictions of Americanisms like flashy costumes, brassy exuberance and over-the-top egocentricity,. Also postulates an event, some sort of occasionally transformative worldwide wave, that results in an exceptional few, unaging, though hardly undying, supranormals, to use the Phantacea term.

Unfortunately there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the characters he’s come up with, imaginative in terms of the abilities he’s given them or exciting about the situations he places them in. Indeed, there’s more than just an element of plodding, world-weariness about the whole novel.

Overall I suppose it’s meant as something of a parable. He’s saying that, even if there were super heroes, it would have still been a violent century. That’s a single sentence, not a book. What we have here could have, should have, been said with a whole lot more verve.

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Supra-doings genre review 3 — “In Dark Service”

Sometime ago I detected the increasing popularity of a comparatively new genre in the fantasy/SciFi field. I referred to it, somewhat unimaginatively, as ‘Supra-doings in the real world’.  It isn’t really, After all it is fiction, which by definition isn’t real, but it isn’t Batman & Robin novelized either.

This book doesn’t really qualify as supra-doings so much as derring-doings but it’s by a writer I’ve enjoyed previously. Comments welcome, even if you haven’t read the book.

In Dark ServiceIn Dark Service by Stephen Hunt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m tempted to use words like trope, nous or meme in this review but then I’d have to look them up. Yes, it’s British, although Hunt was born in Canada and does the occasional con north of the 49th. I haven’t met him but I have read his steampunk novels set in the Kingdom of Jackals. This isn’t on a par with any of them but it’s not bad.
Arguments could be made that is one of the most cynical fantasies ever. And there are apparently two more to come in this series. It’s like he sat down with his agent or Gollancz, his latest publisher, and together they drew up a list of semi-standard characters, hooks and motifs, chose a few that haven’t been totally overused, at least in their minds, and then went to town on them.
Funnily enough it mostly works. Unless, that is, it was just summer and a bench off the beach suited the material. It is massive, however, and there are some massive bloopers that almost spoil the read. They aren’t an abundance of the usual typos either. No, these are characters’ names getting mixed up or, in no less than (at least) three cases, changing in mid book. Plus, the badge or bible in the breast pocket, which a master marksman couldn’t help but hit because he always aims for the heart, was a mite much, I have to say.
Do a few Jakelians prior to picking up “In Dark Service” is my best advice. But keep in mind next time a beach read beckons.

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Supra-doings genre review 2 – “Necessary Evil”

Jim McPherson reviews the other book he mentioned in the Mixed Swag post back in July (http://phantacea.com/blog/?p=1012, point 2). Straight copy from Goodreads. Lynx to more on bottom, though might have to be a member in order to read.

Comments welcome here on pHantaBlog at bottom.

Necessary Evil (Milkweed Triptych, #3)Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be warned. Features time travel. Also at least partially written in the first person. Note the ‘at least partially’ proviso. Note also that the time travel is a onetime thing, not an ‘if at first you don’t succeed in killing Hitler simply go back and try again’ ridiculousness.
Despite two personal no-nos and a couple of other strong reservations I’m recommending it — and not just because I liked the first two books and pretty much had to like the finale or acknowledge wasting time reading the series.
“Necessary Evil” does have a precognitive character in a major role. That’s one reservation. Fortunately, she isn’t perfect, otherwise there would have been no book to write. The other major reservation are some near-omnipotent characters known as Eidola (plural of ‘edolon’, meaning an insubstantial phantom — my Phantacea Mythos has eidola too, only they’re very much substantial).
I’m always wary of the all-powerful but in this case both the precog and the eidola are, um, necessary evils. Wouldn’t have a series without them. And it is a good book, a fitting end to a good series.
The writer, an American to judge from where he lives, sets the action in World War II England and Europe. He’s done some research, so handles the time and place aspects nicely. He deals with that old bugaboo, ‘characterization’, unobtrusively; thankfully manages to avoid triteness, over-familiarity, which is a definite plus given the genre.
Superheroes in the real world is the easy way of identifying the type. As a genre it’s becoming increasingly popular in books as well as on the screen. It’s not really comic book stuff either. Despite the first person narration there is a sense of menace and threat. There are also a couple of really effective set pieces.
We’re not talking about Superman or Batman, there are no costumes, there are no bullet proof guys and gals, and the amazing escapes are not altogether due to gals and guys who can’t shoot straight. Maybe the fact that it works is what make this series worth reading.

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