The Lies of Locke Lamora: - I picked up Scott Lynch's debut when it first came out, and read the first 40 pages on an airplane flight. Before you raise your eyebrows, I had my child with me and he was mostly crawling in and out of my lap, else it would have been more. But it's taken me this long to get back to it and finish it, given that most of my pleasure reading occurs on airplanes and time not spent on the air is time spent on the Pyr submission pile. That 40 pages, however, was enough for me to recognize that Lynch was going to push all my right buttons, and I'm very, very glad to report that now that I carved out the time to finish it (ultimately justified as "research"), that initial assessment still holds true. I'm late to the table telling you that this is brilliant, briliant stuff. I kept thinking Ocean's 11 all through the read, having neglected to spot that comparison on the jacket flap, but really what it reminds me of more than anything else is Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser tales. And it was interesting to me to see how Lynch danced a tight line between a narrative that had enough of a New Weird vibe to appeal to readers of China Mieville or Jeff Vandermeer while maintaining enough of a traditional fantasy feel to appeal to readers of Raymond E. Feist or Guy Gavriel Kay as well. I'll certainly pick up the sequelwhen it comes out, though it will probably take me even longer to get to it, as I'm not flying anywhere anytime soon, and I think my next "research" slot has to go to Patrick Rothfuss. Or Brandon Sanderson.
Farewell My Concubine: I'm a big fan of Kaige Chen's 1998 film, The Emperor and the Assassin (or "Jing ke ci qin wang"), which is an incredible epic about the founding of the Qin dynasty, the first time in history China was united as one country. No less epic is "Ba wang bei ji," though it starts off in 1920s China and covers 50 years of Chinese history in its narrative. The tale of two youths trained for the Beijing Opera, the rigorous and unforgiving nature of the boy's training actually reminded me a bit about the thieves school in The Lies of Locke Lamora, though the narrative goes in a very different direction. As a boy, Cheng Dieyi is forced against his will into the role of the concubine in the eponymous Chinese opera of the title, and with very little else in life, essentially lives to embody the role. This doesn't sit well when Duan Xiaolou, who always plays the King to his concubine, finds love outside the theater. Nor is Dieyi prepared for the twisting fate of Beijing Opera across the Japanese occupation and the Cultural Revolution. This is a beautiful, brutal, tragic, awe-inspiring epic that left me emotionally wrecked while helping me to contextualize a lot of 20th century Chinese history. Highly recommended.
Crystal Rain by Tobias S. Buckell: Been wanting to read this for a LONG time. I've known Toby since meeting him at ConJose in 2002. Hung out with him quite a bit, love him lots, regularly check his blog, have hit him up for blurbs, etc... and so it's a crime and a shame that it's taken me so long to get to his debut novel. But damn was it worth the wait! I've read stories of the cut-off colony that forgets its roots before, but what makes this one so interesting to me is that most of such tales are set untold centuries after, when no one remembers the way things were or recognizes the bits of mystical ancient machines for the high tech they were. In Crystal Rain, however, there are characters still around from those days, people (and things!) born with the benefit of genetic engineering and biotech, who have lived the 300 or so years since the break with galactic civilization. These are people who have gone on to have children, knowing that the children will be born sans benefit of these technologies, will age and die at the "normal" rate. So you have parents outliving their kids and their grandkids. Maybe its being a relatively new parent at a relatively late age myself, but I find this really poignant and intriguing both. Equally welcome was the much-touted Caribbean culture. Airship battles with Aztec warriors doesn't hurt either. Though it was the quiet moments between the ailing General Hayden and Prime Minister Dihana that were the stand-out bits for me as I look back. This was a high action adventure novel that gave me some new twists on old ideas. Bottom line: Glad to know that my friend Toby can really write! I'm in for the ride on this series (of related stand-alone's it looks like.)