Thursday, December 10, 2015

Rogues Book Review

by The Wanderer

Editors: Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Mostly Fantasy/SciFi/Paranormal
Series: Dozois/Martin Short Story and Novella Compilation
Pages: 832

Buy on Amazon!


21 Short Stories and Novellas

Rogues is a compilation of short stories and novellas put together by editor Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin.  Each author selected is renowned for their work in fiction, and each of these authors was tasked with writing a short story that features a rogue character.

In our review each short story is given a brief synopsis, analysis, and score.  The final score you see at the top of the review is an aggregate of all 21 short stories and/or novellas.

Total Average Score: 6.6

Tough Times All Over – By Joe Abercrombie

Synopsis: In the corrupt city of Sipani, Carcoff carries a mysterious and highly sought after package in a short story that resembles the children’s game button, button, who’s got the button?

This is a short story that’s like a relay race.  The plot follows a mysterious package originally carried by Carcoff as it switches hands between fourteen different narrators – the two most memorable being Carcoff and Javre.  While it’s an ambitious concept, there are only so many ways a package can be transacted: it can be given or taken, and since this happens with fourteen different characters the plot starts to get redundant.  Uncharacteristic of Joe Abercrombie the ending is also very predictable and after the first package transaction I was hoping that this type of ending would be avoided … alas I was disappointed.

Score: 6.4


What Do You Do? – By Gillian Flynn

Synopsis: Our unnamed first person narrator recounts how she went from being the best at giving hand jobs to being a great psychic.  Soon our narrator is contacted by a woman named Susan and is asked to help fix her troubles with her stepson Miles.

Gillian Flynn takes readers from a humorous, highly sexualized psychic shop to a creepy, creepy haunted mansion.  The narrator is a young woman in her early thirties.  She recounts her struggles in her early life and how these led to her giving hand jobs and then how she became a sort of psychic. These portions of the book are funny, but the funny stops quick once Susan and Miles enter the picture.  From there the creepiness factor builds and builds until Flynn has taken readers to an unpredictable and highly satisfying ending that should satisfy anybody looking for a thrill.

Score: 9.7


The Inn of the Seven Blessings – By Matthew Hughes

Synopsis: Raffalon has run off into the woods when he finds a mysterious object that creates an apparition of a God.  This entices Raffalon to rescue a sorcerer named Fulferin for a great reward.

This a rescue/reward story that I desperately wished to be rescued from and certainly found no reward reading. The world building is done with little imagination – this is a fantasy story.  None of the characters are developed in the least bit.  Raffalon’s a thief, Fulferin’s a wizard, and Ersinia’s a serving girl and there is almost nothing else about the lives of these characters that the reader will learn.  The prose and dialogue are terrible.  Consider this short exchange between Ersinia and Raffalon:
He stopped and peered forward, and in a moment he was sure. “There he is.” “He’s long-legged,” Erminia said.  “If he hears us coming, he may well outrun us.” The man took a moment to appreciate that scrubbing pots had not diminished this woman’s ability to focus on what mattered.
This story’s like that.  Plenty of cringe worthy dialogue, clunky strewn together sentences, and subtle hints of misogyny creep into that quote, and it certainly makes the already terrible ending a whole lot worse.

Score: 2


Bent Twig – By Joe R. Lansdale

Synopsis: Hap Collins and Leonard Pine find themselves in another dangerous situation after they begin investigating the disappearance of a young lady named Tillie.

This is a short story that comes from Landsale’s Hap and Leonard books, which I’ve never read before.  Fans of those characters and constant violence might be at home here, but I certainly wasn’t.  A white blue collar vigilante and a gay black vigilante teaming up to solve crimes may have been a more radical idea in the early 90’s when this duo first appeared, but now this isn’t really anything special.

This story is basically an excuse for Lansdale’s two main characters to get violent in a crowded public place. Rest assured they most certainly do – pumbling “bad guys” with fists, breaking peoples legs with axe handles, and shooting prominent members of local small town societies.  After doing all of the things above, the two main characters get off with a slap on the wrist and a “Hell, after all it is Texas.” Lansdale’s story feels like a doctrine for carry and conceal laws and using violence to solve all your problems.  Even worse is that he seems to believe the American judicial system whole-heartedly would support his violent vigilantist heroes.

Score: 2.5


Tawny Petticoats – By Michael Swanwick

Synopsis: Set in post-zombie-apocalyptic New Orleans two con-artists Darger and Surplus hire Tawny Petticoats to their team.  Together they look to pull off a high-stakes con.

A con-story with a predictable ending basically sums this one up.  The two main characters are pretty one dimensional with Tawny being the only real mystery here.  The setting is certainly interesting and the fact that the zombie’s are controlled and used as slaves is a nice twist.  A scene with an aurochs towards the end left an impression on me that was similar to the impression that Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment “horse scene,” left on me. Despite the predictable plot, there isn’t anything that’s really too bad about this story, but neither is it extraordinary.

Score: 6.1


Provenance – By David W. Ball

Synopsis: Max Wolff, an aging art collector, stumbles upon an original Caravaggio.  He discusses its origins with the wealthy and corrupt Reverend Joe Cooley Barber whom he plans to sell the painting to.

This is an excellent historical fiction story.  Ball begins by introducing readers to some greedy art collectors before beginning on the history of Caravaggio, a painter who lived by the oh so popular mantra: “live fast and die young.” From there the story follows one of his paintings as it finds its way into the hands of a Nazi family during World War 2. Short scenes from some of histories most violent and dark moments follow this painting’s journey – including an ultra-violent sequence that’s narrated by an S.S. officer – until it finds it’s way into Max’s hands.  I was able to figure out the ending early on, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story. Definitely recommended for fans of art and history, or if you’re looking for a dark short story.

Score: 9.2


Roaring Twenties – By Carrie Vaughn

Synopsis: In a Roaring Twenties speakeasy called the Blue Moon that’s hidden by magic, M and her assistant Pauline are planning a mysterious stratagem that will aid their underground activities.

Pauline narrates in first person as she performs a random assortment of tasks that are all part of a design by the witch M whom she’s working with. The setting’s great and comes with a jazz band and a lot illegal booze. The addition of mythological and popular monsters like zombies and sirens works well.  The tension builds and builds, keeping you on your toes until it delivers a pretty vague and underwhelming ending.  This is a well written story and I enjoyed it, but again to beat a dead horse, I expected so much more from all the build up.

Score: 7.3


A Year And A Day In Old Theradane – By Scott Lynch

Synopsis: The city of Theradane is an outlaw haven, allowing convicts sanctuary so long as they agree to pay a hefty fee and never commit any crimes again.  The consequences for such are dire.  Unfortunately for Amarelle, she’s pissed off the powerful wizard Ivovandas, and is now being blackmailed into stealing a street in order to bring down her most hated political rival.

A Year and a Day In Old Theradane is a pretty straightforward heist, with the exception of what the heisters are tasked with stealing. Amarelle is an entertaining protagonist. How she ends up blackmailed may remind some readers of some bad “black out drunk” moments that they’ve either had and/or witnessed.  The dialogue is pretty vulgar in this one, but it’s realistic to what I’d expect from experienced criminals who’ve made a career out of seedy thefts.  With a limited number of pages, Lynch makes the most of it, which includes a bar made out of a crash landed dragon, a talking robot, and plenty of hypnotizing toad statues.  The political atmosphere pins Amarelle and company in between two warring wizards and creates a lot suspense until the story’s conclusion.

Score: 9.4


Bad Brass – By Bradley Denton

Synopsis: Substitute teacher Matthew Marx returns to Texas where he moonlights as a petty criminal.  He gets involved in an illegal contraband scheme involving brass marching instruments that turns his outlook on who he thought the “good kids” were.

Music blending with comedy.  It’s a great thing when it’s pulled off – South Park movie anyone – or it’s a complete disaster.  This unfortunately falls firmly in the latter category.  There’s no depth to the humor, the characters that aren’t Marx are barely developed, and the musical instruments being treated like they’re drugs isn’t as humorous of an idea as Denton thinks it is.  Along with some terrible musical puns and some dumb Texas pride jokes, not unlike the Lansdale story earlier in this anthology, I think Denton would be better off leaving comedy to the comics and music to the musicians.

Score: 1.8


Heavy Metal – By Cherie Priest

Synopsis: Kilgore Jones is a large man with an even larger faith in God.  After being exiled from his church for believing in monsters, he travels to confront real life “ghosts” which brings him to small town where a string of murders have happened.

This is well written, gritty story, with a fairly straight-forward plot.  Kilgore investigates the murders, finds the “spirit”, and confronts it. The large man’s faith is less traditional for a protagonist, and so is the ending, which was not completely expected, but it felt anti-climatic. All in all I liked it, but again this mostly due to the writing style rather than the plot.

Score: 7.1


The Meaning Of Love – By Daniel Abraham

Synopsis: Asa is sleeping with the fugitive Prince of Lyria, Steppan Homrey, and she’s fallen in love with him.  Unfortunately he’s fallen in love with another woman, and he’s asked Asa to help save her from being sold into slavery.

Another well written story, and one with a whole lot of different events being crammed in the limited page space.  There’s a lot of scheming, deception, and poison as Asa manipulates a number of events to get what she wants. Asa helping the woman she despises find the man who loves her is an obvious nod to the title of this story.  The meaning of love may be one of the most cliched subjects in fiction writing, but Abraham gets a nod of approval for this great quote:
“Love … is like a pigeon shitting over a crowd … Where it lands hasn’t got much to do with who deserves it.”

Score: 8.9


A Better Way To Die – By Paul Cornell

Synopsis: Set in a alternate history of 19th Century Britain, Jonathan Hamilton confronts a younger version of himself with deadly stakes at hand.

The “egotistical secret agent” syndrome is at play here via Jonathan Hamilton, a kind of alternate world James Bond.  There’s just no character substance, I couldn’t have cared less about what happens to Hamilton or his younger self because the author gives me no reasons to care.  The paradox of Hamilton meeting his younger self is explained in some boring exposition along with some other shoddy ideas that are an excuse for some badly needed worldbuilding. This story is what apathy looks like.

Score: 3.2


Ill Seen In Tyre – By Steven Saylor

Synopsis: Set during Roman times, young Roman Gordianus and his Greek teacher Antipater are on journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World.  They come across a small shop in Tyre where a man tries to sell them an invisibility potion.

I like history, especially Roman history so this type of story definitely held some appeal for me.  Gordianus and Antipater aren’t exactly the smartest of characters, and that’s fine, so long as the pay for it … which they certainly do. It’s straightforward and predictable, but what’s really interesting is Antipater’s telling Gordianus the legend of Fahrd and the Grey Mouser. Those are characters created in the 20th century as some of the earliest sword and sorcery stories by Fritz Lieber, so having their presence in a historical fiction novel was certainly unexpected.

Score: 6


A Cargo Of Ivories – By Garth Nix

Synopsis: Sir Hereward a knight and his companion the 1,000 year old wizard puppet Mr. Fitz are tasked with robbing a cargo of fourteen ivories.

This is a straightforward heist story with some interesting characters and/or creatures that occasionally pop in.  My favorite is the pygmy moklek, which is a sort of magical swimming elephant.  The characters have personality, but I didn’t get a feel for their motivations or why they were doing what they were doing.  This is a story that’s really about worldbuilding and suspense more than anything, and there it largely succeeds.

Score: 7


Diamonds From Tequila – By Walter Jon Williams

Synopsis: A former Hollywood star named Sean is on the brink of reviving his career. It gets put in jeopardy after he finds his fake girlfriend’s dead body in her apartment.

Looking at that synopsis I didn’t think I would enjoy this story, but it turned out to be pretty fun. Sean is as shallow as shallow gets.  He’s dating a girl named Loni to boost his celebrity profile, and when he finds her corpse his first reaction is to call his agent.  Now in his defense he is a drug user and he’s in Mexico, nevertheless the selfishness that dominates his personality makes for an interesting character.  The pacing is consistent and balanced, assuring that this off-kilter story never goes completely off the rails. The constant parodying of Hollywood is a nice touch, and kudos to Williams for slamming Transformers.

Score: 8.2


The Caravan To Nowhere – By Phyllis Eisenstein

Synopsis: Alaric the Minstrel joins up with a caravan that travels across the desert.  Not only does the desert offer dangers, but the caravan leader, Piros, and his dealings in addictive drugs doesn’t do much to make the journey safer.

This is a well written story with a real slow plot.  I immediately got a feeling for the setting, but I had a harder time identifying with the major characters. The plot really didn’t do much for me.  It moved slowly then did some quick shifts at the end, which felt like shifts that were only there to make Alaric look like a morally sound protagonist.  At the very least he can teleport, which was pretty cool.

Score: 5.9


The Curious Affair Of The Dead Wives  – By Lisa Tuttle

Synopsis: Lane and Jesperson are called to solve the mystery of a missing woman who died, but was later seen alive.

Modeled after Sherlock Holmes and Watson, Lane and Jesperson is a nod to the stories of Aurthur Conan Doyle, but Tuttle adds a nice gothic/ghost story touch to them.  The supernatural elements tend to stand out here, but the writing tone is steeped in realism.  Some of the major conflicts in the story ended up being really anticlimactic, despite have some intriguing lead ins. Bad conflict climaxes can really bring me down, but what saved the story was the last sentence.

Score: 6.3


How The Marquis Got His Coat Back – By Neil Gaiman

Synopsis: The Marquis de Caradas is tied to a pole in a room that’s slowly filling up with water when he begins to wish that he had his coat back.

Gaiman begins this short story somewhere in the middle of the plot, explaining how the Marquis got there, and taking it from there to the eventual conclusion that’s revealed to readers via the title. The bar I set for writers is high, the bar I set for Neil Gaiman is in the stratosphere.  None of his books on our site score lower then a nine, so I’m going to say that this was some what of a disappointment for me.  It was still good, but I’ve come to expect more from this author. As one of the shortest stories in the anthology a little more time emotionally engaging the Marquis to the reader would have been helpful.

Score: 8.3


Now Showing – By Connie Willis

Synopsis: Lindsey is a film fanatic who’s been down on life since her movie watching partner/crush Jack got expelled from school.  She’s convinced by her roommate to go to the theater and see Christmas Caper, where she runs into Jack. While these two try to figure out their relationship with each other; seeing Christmas Caper turns out to be harder than it seems.

Connie Willis’ novella takes place in the near future. It frequently lampoons Hollywood for their constant remakes and sequels, turning the story into a more seriously toned parody. What I can’t stand is when tension in a story is almost always held by a character not answering a simple question.  And that is exactly what you get here.

Why can’t Lindsey and Jack see the Christmas Caper?

Why did Jack get himself expelled?

Instead of answering these questions – questions Lindsey asked so many times, that I didn’t bother to count – Jack circumvents answering them until the end (Yes he knows the answers).  The end is ambiguous, and which ever way you decide to take it, all I could ask Jack and Lindsey is why go through that kind of effort? At the very least Mr. Dunsworthy isn’t in this story, and I’m more than grateful for that.

Score: 4.9


The Lightning Tree – By Patrick Rothfuss

Synopsis: The Innkeeper at the Wayward Inn has Bast sent out into town to bring back some carrots.  Going into town turns out to be more of an adventure than was expected, but it’s pretty ordinary for Bast.

This is a day in the life of Bast, one of the characters from Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicles. We learn a lot about the character, and there’s some more info tossed in about the Fae, and other workings of Rothfuss’ world.  Bast is a womanizer, he deals in secrets, he can make people disappear, and he excels at giving morally questionable advice to children. Fans of Rothfuss’ series – especially those that like Bast – will be pleased with this novella. It’s a lot more straight forward than the recently released The Slow Regard of Silent Things.

Score: 9.5


The Rogue Prince, Or, A King’s Brother – By George R.R. Martin

Synopsis: Martin translates the historical narrative of the events that led to the Targaryen Civil War, better known as the Dance of the Dragons.

This is a prequel to the novella The Princess and the Queen which Martin originally penned for the Dangerous Women Anthology.  The title refers to Prince Daemon Targaryen, brother to King Viserys, who has lofty ambitions for seizing the Iron Throne.  While an important character, Martin’s writing is widespread and focuses on a lot of the important players during this era of Westeros’ history.

The use of 3rd person omniscient makes Martin’s historical narratives strikingly different from the 3rd person limited Martin uses in his Song of Ice and Fire novels.  It reads like a historical treatise. There is more political squabbling and a lot less despair and war.  While not as dense as The Princess and the Queen this is yet another insightful entry into the history of Westeros.

Score: 9.5

No comments:

Post a Comment