Monday, January 28, 2013

Reading Report

Did a good bit of reading over the weekend. Finally got to Joe Abercrombie's new one, Red Country. This is basically a Western set in the world of his First Law trilogy. He has filled it with Western tropes. A gold rush. A wagon train. Retired gunfighters, though with swords instead of guns. Readers of Abercrombie's previous books will find many familiar characters, like Nicoma Cosca, Caul Shivers and Friendly. Another old character makes a surprise appearance, but I'll leave that one a surprise.
   The plot is one familiar to Western readers. While young farmer with a past, Shy South, is in town selling grain and getting supplies, renegade mercenaries attack her farm, killing the hired man and stealing her younger brother and sister. By page 13 Shy has set out to get her siblings back with only her cowardly stepfather as back up.
   As usual for Abercrombie, this is a violent book with a lot of profanity. I've seen some fantasy fans get bent out of shape about his sometimes over the top language, sex and violence, but I've read worse in crime thrillers over the years, so it doesn't bother me much. Abercrombie is usually writing about folks who don't live in a pretty world, so I don't expect them to act or speak in a polite manner. Still, I wouldn't want some ten year old to pick this up after he reads Dragonlance.
   All and all I enjoyed the book, though I thought it rambled a bit. Abercrombie likes to lavish attention on all of his large cast and I found myself bored whenever the book swung away from the main plot. I know some readers like a lot of sub plots and secondary characters, but we've already established that I have a short attention span.
   Next up was Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry. Fittingly enough, I picked this one up while I was in Santa Fe, since large portions of the book take place in New Mexico. I wouldn't say this book was meant to de-mythify Billy the Kid, though it could be taken that way. It seemed more of an alternate universe take on the character to me. McMurtry portrays Billy as a likable sociopath, full of boyish charm but dangerously unpredictable. He suffers from bouts of extreme depression and self loathing, but his moods are mercurial. Down one minute, flying high the next. As the book progresses he becomes more prone to shooting people who bother him.
   The narrator is a middle aged writer of dime novels named Benjamin Sippy, who comes to the west after his family life falls apart. He finds the wild west not much like the place he portrayed in his booklets. McMurtry exposes Sippy to a wide range of bizarre characters, from gunfighters to nuns to a literal "la belle dame sans merci", a beautiful lady without mercy.
In the end the book is as much about Sippy's journey as Billy's. McMurtry plays fast and loose with the known facts about Billy the Kid, but as Sippy points out, he was there and all the other writers weren't.
   So those were my two novels for the weekend. I also read a short story by H. Russell Wakefield, but I'll talk about that later.

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