For those who have not heard, the Hugo Award nominations this year were gamed by a group calling themselves Sad Puppies. They were abetted in this endeavor by another group already active in the Gamergate turmoil who call themselves Rabid Puppies. My sense is these are frustrated young (ish) males who are upset the world doesn't revolve around their wants and desires. Frankly I don't give a rats ass about them. They are just a bunch of puerile loud-mouths shouting "pay attention to me" into the electronic byways of the Internet. But they do have the ability, and willingness, to organize themselves and exert their will. As far as I'm concerned this is no huge talent, but it did allow them to have an undue influence on the Hugo Award nominations this year. You can now see the ballot summaries for yourself on the main Hugo Award page. It's not so hard to have an effect when only 1827 ballots were cast for best novel and no one nominee got more than 387 votes. As you can see, it really was no great feat, but it did happen.
But that's not necessarily all bad news. The Hugo Awards have been gamed before for various reasons. It's one of those things that happens with a public ballot. You take the bad with the good. Also, one of the gripes these people have is that their science-fiction and fantasy tastes are not being duly represented in the awards year after year. For that I think they have no one to blame but themselves; a failure they obviously corrected this year, but their tastes are certainly reflected on the 2015 ballot and it is no fault of the author's nominated by said gaming of the system - at least in the best novel category, which is the only category I'm reviewing.
That was a two paragraph introduction to the review of "Skin Game" by Jim Butcher, for which I am somewhat sorry to inflict upon you, but felt compelled to clarify for them that know of the Hugo Award drama. There are strong feelings on all sides of this issue and some will feel like I have somehow betrayed them by listening to and reviewing this book. Poppycock. Jim Butcher is a New York times best-selling author. He didn't get there because of the Sad Puppies and he deserves a thoughtful and respectful review of his work just like I've done with all the other nominees so far (as part of my Nebula Nominee reviews.) Thinking otherwise is puerile behavior as bad as that exhibited by the Sad Puppies. I don't believe this applies to all authors and publishing houses on the ballot, for some of them were self-serving in the extreme, but it does apply to Jim Butcher and Tor Books, his publisher.
So, how about I get on to the review of "Skin Game: A Novel of the Dresden Files, Book 15" by Jim Butcher? Great! Here's a non-spoiler version of the publisher's summary.
Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day….
Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it….
Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.
Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance….
This was a tremendously fun book to listen too. I've not read nor listened to any Dresden Files books before, but I now feel like I've been missing out on a helluva lot of fun. Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the protagonist, is a snarky, cynical and deadly serious modern-day wizard. He started out as a supernatural private investigator and has since become... more. It's complicated. :) If you are into hardboiled detectives, you should enjoy Harry Dresden. He is a well filled out character with history and back story enough to slake any lore purist's thirst.
One of the aspects I particularly enjoyed about this book was the hardboiled aspect of the story telling. I've always been a fan of Mike Hammer and Mickey Spillane; the first person introspective narration, the often gritty environment, the earthiness, if you would, of it all. Jim Butcher definitely knows the style, and parlays it into an urban fantasy that's believable and impossible at the same time. Perhaps that's because he's had 14 other attempts at getting it right, but the ease at which he pulls it off tells me otherwise.
And it's not just Harry Dresden who's a rounded character with history. Almost all of them, and especially Harry's friends, are fully realized people. they are real. Now, that part is because he's had 14 other stories over which to develop them, but that doesn't make it any less joyful when one of them does exactly what you knew they would do because that is who they are. Don't get me wrong. That doesn't mean they are predictable. The exact action they take almost never is. Only the overarching character traits, such as the fact that Michael Carpenter will always be good and oppose evil. It's not just his job, it's who he is.
The storytelling is also very much action oriented. I can see why movie and television have been very interested in these stories. This book is no different. It would adapt well to becoming an action movie with plenty of chase scenes and very intense character interactions. I mean, when the Genoskwa... oh wait, spoiler - sorry. And when Karrin drew Fidelacchius... wait, more spoilers. But the chase scene was awesome! Then there was what happened at the Carpenter's house the second time, which I'll not go into because - you guessed it - spoilers. But you grok what I mean. :D
And lastly, like any good series, Jim Butcher leaves plenty of clues on what might be the next book's plot arc, or even the next three books. I don't see an end coming any time soon for the adventures of Harry Dresden and company. And you know how long wizards live. ;)
The one negative thing I will say is the end of the heist relied on a tomato surprise to work. Don't get me wrong, in a lesser writer's hands it would have been awful, and this was not. But the story needed just a little more foreshadowing of what happened and I don't mean the "remember when I did this" sort of reveal that explained away the sudden plot twist. It would have been easy to foreshadow this in the story IMO. It could have been done right at the beginning. And I don't mean move the entire explanation scene of how it came to be to the front of the story. All Jim Butcher had to do was mention it in passing, and right after Mab picks up Harry from Demonreach would have been a perfect place in the story. It would have been front loaded with plenty of opportunity to be overlooked. Then I would be saying, "I can't believe I missed that!" instead of, "Really, you're going to do it that way?" Fortunately that wasn't the climactic scene, which was every bit as nail biting and rewarding as one could hope.
But all in all the book was well worth the time it took me to listen to it. It isn't literary in the genre sense as I wrote about in my Nebula Nominee list final thoughts, but it is highly entertaining and all in all an excellent and world to lose oneself in when the mundane world gets too pushy.