I'm trying to get caught up on reviewing some of the books I've read in recent months.
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, Lois McMaster Bujold
The latest in Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga revolves around the two titular characters, Admiral Oliver Jole, commander of the Barrayaran forces on Sergyar, and Vicereine Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan, the planetary governor. Three years have passed since the death of Aral Vorkosigan, and Cordelia has a plan for rebooting her life. Reproductive technology has been a consistent theme of the Vorkosigan books, yet Cordelia and Aral only ever had one child, Miles (at least directly and intentionally). But now Miles is Count Vorkosigan in his own right, an Imperial Auditor, with a beautiful and talented wife, and a growing brood of children, and he survived, eventually, the appearance of his clone-brother Mark. Galactic lifespans mean Cordelia still has time to raise a family, 76 is no age at all, and she and Aral had put by eggs and sperm in case of need.
Cordelia plans to have only daughters, to avoid any complications in respect to Miles’ title, but there are a handful of eggs that have been adjudged non-viable, for the production of Cordelia’s children at least. Those eggs could still host a fused nucleus, and Cordelia knows exactly the two parents she has in mind. Aral, and Oliver. We’ve known Aral was bisexual from the start of the series, but now we find out he actively engaged in an affair, with a certain Lieutenant Oliver Jole, with the full knowledge of Cordelia, ultimately evolving into a polyamorous relationship between the three of them. The relationship splintered with the death of Aral, but now Cordelia has a proposition for Oliver.
Oliver is poleaxed by Cordelia’s plan, a fairly typical reaction to any Naismith Vorkosigan plan, but the potential starts to grow on him, and as it does, it rekindles his feelings for a certain Vicereine. (All of this is on the table within the first chapter, when Cordelia has a plan she doesn’t hang about)
And so GJatRQ becomes a comedy of manners, as Oliver and Cordelia slowly romance each other. And the comedy element is completed when Miles arrives, hotfoot from Barrayar, with his entire brood in tow, because he’s finally found out what his mother has planned for the eggs.
This is Bujold in romance mode, Miles isn’t required to shoot anyone, and the deadliest threat to the core characters is a job offer. There are a handful of sub-plots, Oliver’s aide is being wooed by a rather ineffective Cetagandan attache, a ceramcrete company is trying to play the military for fools, and the plans for Oliver’s 50th birthday party keep getting more and more out of hand, but mostly it’s Oliver and Cordelia exploring each other, or trying to explore each other if their damned jobs wouldn’t keep getting in the way.
If only Miles in manic berserker mode works for you, then you should probably pass on this one, but if you liked A Civil Campaign, then put this on the list.
Gemini Cell, Myke Cole
US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer gets home from a mission on which weird shit tm happened, only to have a hit team kick in his door in the middle of the night. He kills a bunch of them before they kill him, but not before seeing his wife and son hit.
Then he wakes up, in a secret facility, with something sharing his head on the inside and spooks on the outside. After telling Jim his family was killed, the senior spook explains to him that magic is returning, and the Special Operations community have caught themselves an Afghani who knows how to stick djinn in dead people’s heads. The djinn gives Jim effective superpowers – he can now jump out of helicopters without bothering with a rappelling rope, manifest spikes and blades from his body and so on, which is ideal for the programme, which wants to use him as a killing machine against magical threats. And if he’s really good they might let him get revenge on the people who killed his family. As Jim gets used to being an undead weapon, he starts trying to talk to the djinn, who turns out to be the soul of a warrior king from somewhere around the Babylonian period, and after three millennia stuck in Limbo he doesn’t have much time for the niceties of warfare. Or for sharing control of the body. So with occasional intermissions Jim’s story becomes constant warfare between the two of them for control of his body.
Meanwhile his wife wakes up in the hospital with minor injuries, as does their son. She’s told Jim was killed, and Oh, by the way, we cremated him for you, here’s the ashes. Needless to say she isn’t happy, and attempts by Jim’s injured buddy to take his place don’t entirely help.
Then both Jim and his wife become convinced the other is alive, and things escalate.
Which is the point I stopped reading, there’s a place for tension in a story, but this seemed to be nothing but, continually ramping up the threat level. The writing is fine, Cole knows his way around the military and at another time I might have finished it, but when the option to switch to another book appeared, I took it.
Atlanta Burns, Chuck Wendig
Described as 'Veronica Mars on Adderall' I think this suffered from being on the go at the same time as Gemini Cell; two stories dependent on ramping up the threat level towards their protagonists at once isn't a good combination. But the dedication, To the bullied, shows that the intent is very different here and Wendig does a fantastic job with Atlanta's voice. According to the copyright text it's a fix-up of a novella, Shotgun Gravy, and a novel, Bait Dog, both of which were originally self-published, which explains the slightly odd plot structure.
Set in a run-down Pennsylvania town, by the time the story opens our eponymous high school heroine has already defended herself from attempted rape by her mother’s boyfriend using a shotgun to the groin. This gives her a certain reputation, and when she saves a Latino kid from the school bullies he enlists her to protect his gay friend, and a cycle of escalation starts. Before Atlanta quite knows what’s happening people are dead, she’s realised the whole town is run behind the scenes by a collection of closet Nazis, and she’s quite deliberately pissed off their boss.
With that plotline seemingly exhausted (i.e. it's the end of Shotgun Gravy and start of Bait Dog) she gets herself hired to take down a dog-fighting ring, and you know you’re in deep when your only source of adult advice is your Adderall dealer. That's the point at which I stopped, with Atlanta on the way to sneak into the dog fights, but unlike Gemini Cell it's a book I dislike not having finished and I'll probably go back to it at some point.