söndag 3 juni 2012

Readster Magnitude Scale

So I finally decided on a grading system for the books I've read and reviewed. I'm gonna base it on the Richter Magnitude Scale for earthquakes, as it gives some depth to the grading while being able to sort several books into the same scale, well mostly without all the fancy logarithms of the Richter system. I'm still working on the specifics but it will look something like this;

Magnitude - Description - Effects
0.0 up to 2.0 - Avoid, always - Not worth suffering through
2.1 up to 3.0 - Time waster - Even if you finish it, there were always better alternatives
3.1 up to 4.0 - Underwhelming - Once read you won't remember much of it
4.1 up to 5.0 - Decent read - Decent, but not really worth a re-read
5.1 up to 6.0 - Good read - Should be on everybody's radar at least once
6.1 up to 7.0 - Must read - Go out of your way to read these
7.1 up to 8.0 - Reread ad infitum - Books that will have you returning as soon as possible
8.1 up to 9.0 - Genre (re)definer - One way by which you will measure other books
9.1 up to 10.0 - Life changer - The sheer awesomness will make you a reformed person

Hopefully, I won't come across any of the RMS 0.0 up to 3.0's but you never know. I will try to give examples of books that I'd categorize in each of the Magnitudes. Barbara Hambly's Planet of Twilight is a good example of something that you'll typically find in the RMS 0.0 to 2.0 (lets give it a 0.7). I was far into the Star Wars extended universe and gems such as the Han Solo trilogy meant you'd swallow mostly everything set in the same backdrop. But Planet of Twilight is one of the worst reads I've had, and we still reference it when citing our most awful books of all time. It's hard to put a finger on just what it is that fills me with revulsion, but I also know that I can't be bothered at all to even try. I did actually finish it though.

Try as I might I cannot find another example of a low magnitude book than another Star Wars extended universe story. How Vonda M. McIntyre's the Crystal Star got to be a New York Times Bestseller I will never know, but I do know that it was one of the most tedious books I've ever had to read.
I'd rate it a Time Waster-magnitude of RMS 2.1 to 3.0 based on the fact that already there were other more interesting books to be found, even if the Del Rey books of the same period struck you as more mainstream sci-fi than Bantam's books. I'll give the Crystal Star a whopping 2.2 on the Readster Magnitude Scale. It's simply not worth the trouble you'll get from trying to plow through several pages of dullness. I wonder if the author was aiming for suspense, because the only feeling I got was to finish it as quick and painless as possible.

I might be incredibly harsh on Paul Kearney but with the accolades of Steven Erikson and most of the blogging holy rollers I expected a lot more from someone who was touted as a successor to both Erikson and Glen Cook. What you got was something that felt unfinished and rushed through. There were some good moments, but they were drowned in a story that hurtled along in a break-neck speed, something that isn't always a problem but with Kearney I felt that everything about the story, characters and the world suffered because the author was in such a hurry to finish the two books in the Monarchies of God. As things stand I rate Paul Kearney's Hawkwood and the Kings an underwhelming RMS of 3.1 to 4.0. Because there were interesting moments, mainly with Hawkwind and later with the development of the faith I'll give The Monarchies of God, volume 1 a 3.8 roundabout.

Another of the touted heavy-hitters of the new batch of fantasy writers David Anthony Durham was critically acclaimed and listed as a great debut into fantasy after his exploits in historical fiction with award wining books about Hannibal you'd be expecting a rich reading experience. He was mentioned for his world-building skills and developed characters, something I can't really get my head behind. To me, both Kearney and Durham have a flavour more reminiscent of Glen Cook's clear-cut and cleanly-shaven approach to writing, but both fall far short of creating the same kind of atmosphere and realistic milieu that Cook seems to create effortlessly (at least in his Black Company series). I'd say both remind me of the worst moments in Cook's new Instrumentalities of the Night-series. Would be epic battles just roll by uncommented, and the character development that I've seen so far seems pretty linear and predictable. I wasn't as disappointed in this novel as I was with Hawkwood and the Kings but it wasn't far off. I'd give David Anthony Durham's Acacia an RMS of 4.1 to 5.0 and probably landing it square in the middle at a 4.5.

Struggling to come up with something close to Durham's Acacia I'll go with a novel of the previously mentioned series of Cook's, the Instrumentalities of the Night. With Glen Cook I always know I will get something that I will hunger to finish, and I'm yet to be disappointed. The one problem I have with Glen Cook's Tyranny of the Night is that it, much like the two novels above, feels rushed through and seems to have much lacking in between in terms of character development, plot drive and world building, something that, at least to me, is astonishingly rare with Cook's writing. I haven't followed through the series yet though, so it might well be that the series will grow on me as a whole. But with the high standards Cook has previously set I'm a bit let down and will label this novel a Good Read-rating of an RMS of 5.1 to 6.0, and probably fixed at a 5.2.

Scott Lynch's the Lies of Locke Lamora sent him hurtling to the spotlight with a debut that was both traditional in it's tone and with it's setting. Pretty standard story of a young thief growing up on the city streets with close companions and struggling against mightier nemesises and wrenching plot twists. A genuine good read that shouldn't be missed by anyone who still appreciates more traditional fantasy stories, but Lynch has injected bottlefuls of rejuvenation in the usual tropes. What you get is a pacy, witty and action-packed story that unfolds piece by piece with brilliant characters fully realised and added depth to by the backdrop. The Lies of Locke Lamora is a prime example of a Must Read-rating with an RMS of 6.1 to 7.0 and if pressured I'd fixated it at a 6.7 probably. It actually reads a bit like a crime novel.

For those books that you find you can just read and re-read over and over again I will go to an old classic of mine. Glen Cook's the Silver Spike sees his second mention in the lists, and it's not through any fault of me not reading a wide enought assortment of books. I could easily have placed any of Fritz Leiber's stories here as well, and probably most of the Malazan Books of the Fallen as I've probably re-read them just as many times. But the Silver Spike is a novel of between 300-400 pages and it manages to do what most others need a collection of works to accomplish. It's a free standing novel within the world of the Black Company and features a wizards Gossamer, Spidersilk and Exile as well as Toadkiller Dog and Old Man Fish, characters that are so cool they might well make your eyes melt. There are so many shades, so much depth that adds to the other installments that I find I can just immerse myself however many times and still not feel the need for maps, poetry or wonderous prose. Glen Cook delievers on an RMS of 7.1 to 8.0 and I'd gladly give it a 7.8.

As we draw closer to the ultimate book (which I am quite sure I have not yet seen, nor think I will ever do) we've gotten to the books at an RMS of 8.1 to 9.0, the Genre (re)definer. I would say you need to turn no further than to the absolute king, and probably co-creator, of the Sword & Sorcery genre. Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar, the first volume in the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser is a lesson in economic writing with fantastic prose, a richly detailed world and characters that quickly become like good friends. You get to know their ins and outs, and in the background you have a wealth of supporting cast at whose faiths you wonder whenever you get a moment to reflect and absorb the stories. The likeable combination of a towering barbarian who is by no means a dull slugger and the quick little thief has been borrowed or blatantly stolen many times over the years, but no one does it quite as well as Fritz Leiber. I'd put Lankhmar; Tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser at a solid 8.8.

Throughout my reading I've gone through maybe a hundred books and a very select few have come close to what I would consider giving me as close to a life-changing experience as I would think possible for a book. China Miéville's Perdido Street Station is definetely one of those books. Everything about the story is simply enthralling; starting out with Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, theorist and researcher taking on a job from an exiled Garuda who has lost its wings. The story spirals out of Isaac's control when his studies result in the break out of a vicious predator, the Slakemoth, which sets in motion a chain of events that might spell the end of the entire city of New Crobuzon and it's inhabitants. The book turns into a  race against time where the stakes are raised with every passing chapter and Miéville keeps the suspense going until the very last page. And throughout we see a development both of the main characters as well as of the world of Bas-Lag as a whole with a richly detailed background of cities, races and the characters that we meet. Miéville has a unique talent for combining the scientific with the fantastic that gives a rich detail as well as an immersive world that is wholly believable in its unbelievability. Presently Perdido Street Station is the finest book I've read and definetely consider it having broken into the Life-changer RMS of 9.1 to 10.0. I'd rate it a record-breaking 9.5.

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