Another episode in the Aubrey/Maturin inspired Leary/Mundy series. Despite my dislike for certain background details, I am enjoying these books far more than recent Honorverse books. For one thing, there is far less exposition. For another, I find it far more interesting to see what Daniel Leary can do by firing, say, two missiles at an enemy ship than Honor Harrington can do firing 60,000 or so.
Escape from Hell — Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
The recently released sequel to Inferno. Carpenter has tried to take over Benito's mission of helping souls escape from Hell, but hasn't been very successful. The book opens with him telling his story to one of the trees in the grove of suicides, who turns out to be Sylvia Plath. He manages to free her from her treehood, and together they head for the exit at the center of Hell.
They find that Hell is a somewhat different place than it was the last time Carpenter traveled through it. His journey with Benito appears to have inspired some of those they met along the way. He and Sylvia stumble upon a priest who had helped Carpenter in the last book, and who now runs an ice cream parlor in the middle of the desert of flames. There are others, as well, and even the bureaucracy of Hell seems to be getting into the act, as an appeals system is in the process of being set up.
This is a more interesting book than the first, because it concentrates more on redemption than on punishment. It's become clear to Carpenter that only someone who has actually redeemed him or herself will actually be able to make it to the exit. It's this realization that indicates to Carpenter that perhaps Hell and its Creator aren't quite as arbitrary and vengeful as he originally thought. It's also possible to go in the other direction. J. Edgar Hoover has chosen to become an actual demon, and others are offered that option.
There seem to be more shades of gray this time around. All the historical figures mentioned as being in Hell are actually already dead, and there is only one real cheap (and really unnecessary, IMO) shot taken among those. Even those involved in some pretty heinous sins are shown to have at least some redeeming qualities. Some sins have been updated for current events. The Katrina disaster is especially prominent, and 9/11 now has its own spot in a circle. On the other hand, Carpenter meets a much thinner cyclamates woman from the last book slowly working her way through the circles towards redemption.
Soul Music — Terry Pratchett
It is said that whosoever the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad. In fact, whosoever the gods wish to destroy, they first hand the equivalent of a stick with a fizzing fuse and Acme Dynamite Company written on the side. It's more interesting, and doesn't take so long.
What a fun book. The Discworld takes on rock and roll, or rather, music with rocks in. On the way we meet Susan Sto Helit for the first time, and run through a flood of musical puns and jokes. And Death mourns the death of his daughter.
Storm from the Shadows — David Weber
I had hopes. The Shadow of Saganami was supposed to be the first of an Honorverse series that did not involve Harrington and the interminable politics and incredibly lame soap opera surrounding her. It still had annoyances, but for the most part was mostly about action rather than talking heads. Now comes this second book, and it's almost entirely talking heads, and worse, the talking heads are just rehashing the same information over and over and over. Plus there is again the whole massive overkill syndrome (The fleet had all the latest defensive technology, but even that couldn't stop all of the 60,000 missiles now heading for it...) It's not really a sequel to SoS, although a couple of characters continue from that book, but rather it first retells the end of the last Honor Harrington book from Michelle Henke's point of view, and then spends the next 600 pages or so setting up a cliffhanger that will be resolved in the next Harrington book. (Weber's new technological twist is apparently a starfaring analog to modern submarine warfare.) Incredibly disappointing. Feh.