Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hunting Up A Good Read

One of the biggest problems with being someone who loves to read is not, as one might expect, finding new things to read. No, these days the Internet will give you the full information on any book you might hear about, and probably recommend a hundred more for you that are vaguely related. The problem is time - at least for me, who at any given moment is probably working on several books at once, and has "to read" list rivaling an academic bibliography. So, it takes something fairly unusual to make me jump "out of order" in my reading list.

Handily, Something Fairly Unusual happened just the other week - two separate and very different online communities pointed me at Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. It had already been slightly on my radar, but the revelation that there are a bunch of preview chapters available increased my interest significantly.

And boy, was I not disappointed. The main character of the book is a young accountant named Owen Pitt, who is recruited into the titular organization after his boss becomes a werewolf and attempts to eat him. Luckily, Pitt is a firearms enthusiast and all-around protagonist type and is able to not only escape with his life, but actually kill the monstrous manager (I suppose a fourteen story fall followed by a heavy desk landing on your head will kill just about anything not already dead). The rest of the book is his recruitment by and first job with MHI, the world's most renowned monster-hunting business.

"MHI" stands for "Monster Hunter International", the company as well as the book title. But you figured that out yourself.

It sounds like a common, almost clichéd setup, but the author does several interesting things with it. The most obvious is the guns - in many of these kinds of stories modern weaponry is either ineffective against the supernatural creatures, or just not mentioned as a potential resource. For MHI, however, "shoot it until it stops moving" is generally Plan A, and surprisingly enough it's usually effective enough to disable most monsters until they can be permanently disposed of.

Another interesting twist is that MHI is a private, for-profit business* rather than a government agency or a religious/academic association. While I'm sure this is not a unique idea, it is different enough to be noteworthy.

I was also intrigued by the world-building in the book. Correia took an unusual step, in my mind, of taking the standard horror-fantasy monsters - werewolves, vampires, zombies, and such - and adding not only the by-now-also-standard stable of H. P. Lovecraft-inspired creatures (an aside in the book reveals that Lovecraft got some of his inspiration from hanging around with Hunters), but also a trailer-park full of elves and a tribe of heavy-metal loving orcs living deep in the woods of Alabama (Tolkien apparently knew some Hunters, too). The latter of these even fight alongside our protagonists, showing up at the climax with horse-trailers full of giant riding wolves. Does Scott Oden know about this?

Anyway, although it definitely take more than good ideas to make a good writer, Correia is no slouch in the wordsmith department, either. Monster Hunter International is a fast-paced read, and one that mixes suspense and action with a decent dose of humor, especially of the sarcastic first-person-narration kind. Owen Pitt and Harry Dresden would probably either get along fantastically, or hate each other. Possibly both.

Now, I don't want to give the impression that the book has no flaws at all - I did notice a few issues, mostly about characterization (certain portions of Pitt's biography read suspiciously close to the author's). However, despite this I enjoyed reading it very much, and would not hesitate to recommend it to others. I'll definitely be getting the sequels (numbering two at present), too. As if I hadn't spent the first paragraph of this post complaining about how I have no time to read the books I already have . . .

*Albeit one that derives much of its income from Federally-funded monster bounties. This is one of the reasons I hesitate to label this book the first Libertarian Urban Fantasy to come to my attention (the second being that my bestowing such a label would be pretentious and silly).

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

He's Alive . . . He's Alive!

Wow, where did the last couple of months go? I plan to get back to semiregular blogging soon, but in the meanwhile I had to share this little gem I came across doing a school assignment:

Harvard College Library Ask-a-Librarian: Does Harvard have a copy of the Necronomicon?

What's really hard to tell is whether the questioner was being facetious or actually thought the Necronomicon is a real book, and which of those whoever wrote the response thought was the case. Personally I think both of their tongues were firmly in their cheeks, but it would be easy to read either or both of them as being perfectly serious about the whole thing.