Sunday, October 20, 2002

Review: "Summer Knight" by Jim Butcher

With Halloween approaching, it's a perfect time to check back in with my favorite wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden. Jim Butcher's sleuth always seems to find himself surrounded by the creatures of the season - ghouls, vampires, werewolves and assorted other nasties. His latest adventure, "Summer Knight" (Roc, $6.99) is no exception.

First, Harry gets a visit from Mab, queen of the Winter Court of the sidhe. She's got a case for him, and it's one he can't refuse. Mab has purchased Harry's obligation from his faerie godmother Lea, and now he owes her. She asks him to investigate a death that's been ruled accidental by the police. She thinks otherwise. It just so happens that the deceased is a knight of the Summer Court of the sidhe.

Complicating matters, the White Council of wizards find themselves on the edge of a war with the Red Court of vampires, largely due to a confrontation between Harry and a group of vampires in Chicago. The Red Court has already struck against the wizards and are demanding that Harry be turned over to them. Half of the White Council wants to turn him over, and the other half isn't exactly in his corner. Harry's only way out is to solve the case and in the process prevent a war between the Summer and Winter Courts.

This is the fourth volume of the Dresden Files, and Butcher has not disappointed yet. "Summer Knight" starts with a bang and doesn't let up.

Butcher's tales meld the wonder and fun of the "Harry Potter" series, but with an adult tone and attitude. Mystery fans who approach the series with an open mind about stories that include vampires, faeries and the like, will find a very good detective series. Fantasy fans might just find that the mystery side appeals to them as well. But fans of any kind of fiction can enjoy Butcher's fun and fast-paced style.

"Summer Knight" also shows great development in both the character of Harry Dresden and Butcher's writing style. It's probably the most developed and satisfying story line of the series so far.

Thanks to the success of series by Laurell K. Hamilton and a handful of others, there's no shortage of writers churning out supernatural detective stories these days, but Butcher is most definitely among the best. I can't wait until Harry Dresden is on the case again.

Sunday, October 06, 2002

Review: "Dreamland Chronicles" by William Mark Simmons

Who would have thought that one of the funniest fantasy novels I've read in a while, would come from an author in our own back yard. It turns out that William Mark Simmons, better known to people in these parts as the station manager at KEDM, can also spin a pretty good fantasy tale or three.

"Dreamland Chronicles" ($20, Meisha Merlin Publishing) pulls together two of Simmons' previous novels that were out of print - "In the Net of Dreams" and "When Dreams Collide" - along with a newly-penned third volume, "The Woman of His Dreams."

The story revolves around Robert Remington Ripley III, also known as Riplakish of Dyrinwall inside the Fantasyworld milieu of Dreamland. Ripley is one of the original programmers of the computer-generated, virtual reality game worlds that have become a playground for the rich and famous.

But now there's a problem with his creation. An anomaly has entered the program, and the game has become real. If an avatar dies in Dreamland, the Dreamwalker's body dies back in the real world. The problem is complicated by the fact that some Dreamwalkers are still trapped inside the program, and there are forces at work to keep them there.

We've all read or seen plenty of "ghost in the machine" stories, but none quite like this one. While it does ask some serious questions about the nature of artificial intelligence, those issues don't get in the way of the fun.

Fantasy fans will have a blast picking out the references to J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, Robert E. Howard and a host of other favorite authors. But you don't have to be a fantasy fan to enjoy "Dreamland Chronicles." Simmons also liberally sprinkles references from popular music, movies and television throughout the story.

Among my favorites:

· The two Russian agents are named Borys and Natasha - and yes, Simmons does work in a "moose and squirrel" line.

· The acronyms for a couple of weapons from the Spaceworld milieu are F.R.O.D.O.S. and S.A.M.S.

·The demoness Lilith's horse is named "Beuntoyou." I won't give away the joke on this one, but it was one of my favorites.

As Simmons jokingly points out in the introduction, "Dreamland Chronicles" not exactly a light read, though. Combining three novels, it weighs in at close to 1,000 pages - enough to keep most readers occupied for a little while.

With "Dreamland Chronicles," Simmons delivers a story that mixes the humor of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams with the bad puns of Piers Anthony. Despite what he says in the self-deprecating introduction, Simmons' work is actually great fun. There's a joke for everyone.