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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Book review: Hard Magic

BW provides the first review of the first Lions' Den entry, Hard Magic by Larry Correia:

Hard Magic
Larry Correia
Rating: 8/10 and would buy

Hard Magic stands above several portions of mainstream culture. I’m tired of all these plucky kids and these strange worlds of elves and misanthropy. I’m tired of obvious political messages and anti-heroes being tough and unrelatable. I want a heroic big guy with a big gun in a hard boiled narration against someone or people I dislike a little. Hard Magic delivers in spades.

Jake Sullivan is a man for whom gravity is a compliant and willing mistress. Faye Vierra is a teleport spamming farm girl. Together, they must stop the Chairman, a man of elegance, strength and evil, who is planning to rule the world from Imperial Japan. Surrounding them is a colorful cast of characters which include a former radio personality who can control people’s minds, a German with a dark history involving zombies, a powerhouse of a dame and a samurai obsessed with strength above all. One might say it’s gimmicky, but this is no Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This is a logical and reasonable extension of the singular idea: What if magic showed up suddenly in the 1850’s?

Mr. Correia answers it well, he fulfills certain restrictions of Zeppelins with fire controlling Torches, lightning wrangling Cracklers and the wind shifting Weathermen. Gravity Spikers and Brutes serve as frontline troops, their natural strengths increased with their magical abilities. The Kaiser had sorcerers who raised the German dead to fight again. World War One was ended, not by armistice and treaty, but instead by Mad Scientist-made nuclear fire. At no point did I decide that the logic presented to me offended me. At no point did I say: “That’s it! I’m done, I could take the guy who could control gravity, but that one bit was too much.”

The book keeps a solid amount of suspense and rewarding action dispersed throughout in an even manner. The writing intricately changes itself according to whose perspective is the focus. Jake Sullivan’s voice is barebones and simplistic, hard boiled, even, while Faye’s is more descriptive and full of wonder. Madi’s voice feigns complexity and nobility while delving into barbarism as soon as it suits him. I was never confused as to the motivations of many characters, if it was a bit on the tell side of things.

One of the things that struck me was context. Unlike Dresden Files or other ‘hard boiled’ magical stories, this story had no questions of morals. People were good, or they were evil. Actions determined reactions, rather than stances or who they were. Even the events that lead to the death of a major character was shown to be evil, despite good long term intentions.  An example, not only were the Japanese elitist and darwinistic in the telling, they lived it in the logical fashion. They weren’t evil because they are evil conquering bastards; they were evil conquering bastards because their philosophies and values led them to that point. This brought the book to life. Details abounded, and rather than tell me the unimportant minutiae, Mr. Correia gave me tidbits that were relevant or funny. Hard Magic has no wasted space. 

Hard Magic proves that one doesn’t need a carefully crafted emotional backstory or actions for a modern protagonist. Like John Carter, Tarzan and other great action heroes of the great age of pulp, Jake Sullivan and the rest of the supporting characters do what they do because their characters were crafted from their surroundings, and personality from inherent humanity. It’s fresh, it’s great and I am entertained.

Style: 9 Writing changes itself to suit the characters. The writing never leaves me without images of the characters or actions. I won’t say it’s perfect, but my experience was very positive. There was a lack of complexity, and I was never challenged.

Plot: 10  Plot is simple, but it doesn’t need to be anything else. There’s a villain, and the story is over when he’s defeated. The heroes and villains have their own teams and motivations. It’s the solid armor protecting any weaknesses I didn’t pick up.

Characters: 10 Books like this rely on the couches of plot and characters. Failure in one can be made up in the other, but too much failure ruins the experience. It causes my boxers to get in a twist and me to put down a book. I had to be coerced by outside action before I stopped reading. I enjoyed every character who showed up and I enjoyed seeing them duke it out, especially in a teleport spam battle.

Value: 7  Sadly, this book holds little value in the big picture. All the ideas are interesting, but there is still that sense that this is a book for entertainment. That’s it. I can’t discern much to gain beyond a good tale. However, as entertainment, it succeeds admirably.

Series Draw: 6  Hard Magic is a story that could stand on its own, yet has a series attached to it. Sadly, The first book more or less deals with the characters and villains by the end of it, without pulling me into the series. Will I read the rest later? Oh yes. But if the sequels weren’t out, would I spend energy to remember the release dates? Not likely.

The book has no crippling flaws, I could read it to my not-yet living kids and I think it would look fancy on my paperback bookshelf. Would buy used, perhaps hardback if cheap enough.

Excerpt:  There was a shout and a gunshot. Sullivan’s concentration wavered, just a bit, and the real world came suddenly flooding back. The Power he’d gathered slipped from his control and the elevator gate was sheared from its bolts and slammed flat into the floor under the added pressure of ten gravities. A passenger screamed as his foot was crushed flat and blood came squirting out the top of his shoe. “Sorry, bud.” Sullivan turned in time to see one of the G-men tumbling down the stairwell, a grey shape leaping behind, colliding with Cowley and Purvis and taking them all down, “Aw hell,” he muttered, then spun back in time to see Delilah’s lovely green eyes locked on his.
“You were trying to smoosh me, Heavy!” she exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she ignited her own Power. She grabbed the big man by the tie and hoisted him effortlessly off the floor, even though he was almost a foot taller. The tie tightened, choking him as he dangled, and she finally got a good look at her assailant. “You! Well, if it isn’t Jake Sullivan. Been a long time.”
Then she hurled him. Suddenly airborne, he flew across the waiting area. Instinctively, his Power flared, and he bounced softly off the far wall with the force of a pillow. Jake returned to his normal weight as his boots hit the floor. He loosened his cheap tie so he could breathe again. “Hey, Delilah.”
“You lousy bastard.” She stepped out of the elevator and cracked her knuckles in a very unladylike manner. The other passengers had no idea what was going on, but they knew that this was not where they wanted to be. They took off at a run except for the one with the crushed foot, who hobbled as fast as he could. Every Normal had the sense to stay out of this kind of fight. “I’d heard you’d gone all Johnny Law now,” Delilah said.
“Something like that,” he replied slowly. “Bounty hunter.”
“Hypocrite.”
There was the sound of several quick blows. Off to the side, the grey shape rose and took on the form of a man in a long coat with a nightstick in hand. The G-Men were down. Purvis moaned. The man in grey stepped off the fallen agents and took a wary step away from Sullivan. He was short and tanned, with a pointy blond goatee and nearly shaved head. He picked his hat up and carefully returned it to his head. “Delilah Jones?” he asked quickly. Cowley started to rise and the stranger kicked him in the ribs, sending the agent back down.
“Who’s asking?”
“I’m here to rescue you,” he stated with a German accent, “from him.” He nodded in Sullivan’s direction. “No offense, Mein Herr.”
“None taken, but I’m gonna give you an ass whoopin’, you realize that, right, Fritz?” Jake stated calmly. He checked. The majority of his Power was still in reserve and he began to gather it.
“I can take care of myself, buddy,” Delilah told the stranger. “Were you planning on arresting me, Jake?”
“If I don’t want to go back to prison, yeah,” Sullivan answered, glancing back and forth between Delilah and the new threat. Delilah was a known quantity, the other guy, not so much. “That’s kinda the plan.”
“Too bad,” she answered as she grabbed the heavy metal luggage cart, picked it up as if it weighed nothing and threw it at him.

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29 Comments:

Anonymous TJIC August 07, 2013 9:05 AM  

Good, accurate review. I think you were absolutely right to give Larry a 9/10 for style; that's his strong suite. His characters are human and likable. I also entirely agree on series draw: I had a lot of fun reading this book, but didn't put "buy next in series" up at the top of my to-do list.

Anonymous VD August 07, 2013 9:19 AM  

I actually disagree a little about the series draw. I actually have more interest in this series than I did in the Monster Hunter series. Not that I didn't read all three, I just think Grimnoir is less common, is better written, and has more promise.

Anonymous RedJack August 07, 2013 9:22 AM  

I like the series more than MHI. It seems to "fit" better to me.

Been avoiding buying the next one for a bit, as I tend to read them in a rush to the exclusion of everything else. Great vacation book.

Anonymous TJIC August 07, 2013 9:23 AM  

@VD:
I actually disagree a little about the series draw. I actually have more interest in this series than I did in the Monster Hunter series. Not that I didn't read all three, I just think Grimnoir is less common, is better written, and has more promise.

I think we actually agree on that: Grimnoir is a better series - qua series - than Monster Hunter (which was also entertaining as heck).

Two things about my reaction (and of course, de gustibus non est disputandum):

* I have less time for reading fiction now than I used to, so I'm paying a lot of attention to marginal utility. I find that I often read the first book in a series to get a feel for it and then don't continue. Similar to the way I read an RPG source book every year or so to enjoy the setting without ever actually playing RPGs.

* Larry's pulp noir setting is very well done, but it's not my personal cup of tea. I prefer high or low fantasy, hard SF, and other genres.

Anonymous jack August 07, 2013 9:40 AM  

Have not read Magic yet. But, I read the whole of the MHI series [those published so far] in about a week. Yeah, the eyes, even with a lighted Kindle, are on the ropes. I like Correia and WILL get into the Magic series at some point.
Right now, I've just started Ringo's Posleen series [good Lord, there are at least 10 or 11 of them; one or two co-authored with Kratman]. I read his Troy rising series [those published so far] in a little over a week as well. Are we addicted one asks? This one answers, 'Who the heck cares?'

Its hard to imagine not looking forward to the next thing coming along with the likes of Correia, Ringo, Kratman, etc. Mostly the stuff is entertainment [Kratman can be educational in a dark, dark, way but still a page turner].

These 'modern' authors, some of them, really do entertain one. I think its almost time to sample Hoyt and see if Sarah girl has the chilli re her fiction.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 07, 2013 10:00 AM  

From what I have read of the clip, if you like that book, you will like another book (from several years ago) called 'The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump' by Harry Turtledove. It's about a world a lot like our own, except most of the technology is based on magic. (There are some purely mechanical devices in the book, but they tend to get broken fairly quickly by mischievous magical creatures). They even have the start of a space program, involving trying to get the Garuda Bird (from Hindu beliefs) into orbit.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 07, 2013 10:04 AM  

Another good series of books along these lines would be the 'Incarnations of Immortality' series by Piers Anthony, where magic and science are on fairly equal footing. In the first book, there is an amusing 'billboard war' of competing signs from two vehicle dealers, one selling cars, the other selling magic carpets.

Anonymous J August 07, 2013 10:04 AM  

I liked Hard Magic less than MHI or Dead Six. Still worth reading though.

Anonymous TJIC August 07, 2013 10:09 AM  

@Ann Morgan: From what I have read of the clip, if you like that book, you will like another book (from several years ago) called 'The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump'

Also good, but very different in tone.

Anonymous MikeH August 07, 2013 10:13 AM  

I just finished the book this morning. I put a review on Amazon and I really liked it. To me this in the category of hard sci-fi in that the author has obviously gone through a considerable effort to understand and describe the Power that is behind magic. As a plus, nary a love triangle to be had. The characters pair off in love interests rather than an orgy of forced drama.

Anonymous AverageMarriedDad August 07, 2013 10:16 AM  

Really like the series. Just downloaded book three to my Kindle. Will read after Emperor of Thorns which also just came out. Glad to see it getting some pub.

Blogger jaericho August 07, 2013 10:18 AM  

Excellent. I already bought it, and it's next in the queue.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 07, 2013 10:21 AM  

**At no point did I decide that the logic presented to me offended me. At no point did I say: “That’s it! I’m done, I could take the guy who could control gravity, but that one bit was too much.”**

Vox, have you ever read the book "The God Game" by Andrew Greeley? It's about a man, whose video game system is hit by lightning. This opens a portal to some other world or universe, which the man can control to some extent through the video game controls and keyboard. Although some of the people in the other world are better at doing what he says than others.

Some people he is able to make use of, by giving them suggestions that appeal to various activities that they like to do anyways. One example of these are three warriors referred to as the "Mad Scientists". They like nothing better to do with to come up with destructive Rube-Goldberg devices, and the narrator makes use of them a few times to sabotage the plans of the bad guys. Other times the narrator causes their devices to malfunction. When they were not busy inventing, they generally stood around looking sulky with the army that they were nominally part of, because (in the narrators words): "they had discovered that it was more fun to play manic games than to actually fight."

Near the end of the book, the narrator causes the "mad scientists" most recent device to malfunction, resulting in the mad scientists running in a panic off the island they were on and swimming towards the mainland. Barely after they left, the island vanished in a fiery mushroom cloud, and the narrator made the comment: "I now began to get seriously worried about these three clowns. It seemed that they may have stumbled onto something far more deadly than they realized."

Anonymous VD August 07, 2013 10:52 AM  

Another good series of books along these lines would be the 'Incarnations of Immortality' series by Piers Anthony, where magic and science are on fairly equal footing.

As with most Piers Anthony series, the first three books are good and he proceeds to write the rest on autopilot. I couldn't even finish the last two.

Vox, have you ever read the book "The God Game" by Andrew Greeley? It's about a man, whose video game system is hit by lightning. This opens a portal to some other world or universe, which the man can control to some extent through the video game controls and keyboard.

I read it in high school. I found it clever but boring. I suspect it might be worth re-reading; I still have it around here somewhere.

Anonymous Ann Morgan August 07, 2013 11:17 AM  

**As with most Piers Anthony series, the first three books are good and he proceeds to write the rest on autopilot. I couldn't even finish the last two.**

That seems to be the case with a lot of long series. Harry Potter (JK Rowling), and The Dark Tower (Stephen King) comes to mind. Actually, all of King's writing seems to have gone down in quality since he was nearly killed by being hit by a vehicle when jogging. I can't help but wonder if it rattled his brains (affecting his writing ability), or made him feel his mortality too much, so that he's now trying to write too fast.

Anonymous Daniel August 07, 2013 11:40 AM  

Does anyone know if Correia draws or models the combat scenarios in his books? This excerpt has well-placed sounds to describe physical actions that would not be seen from the point of view that is given.

Actually, all of King's writing seems to have gone down in quality since he was nearly killed by being hit by a vehicle when jogging. I can't help but wonder if it rattled his brains (affecting his writing ability), or made him feel his mortality too much, so that he's now trying to write too fast.

I'd say there are five factors to consider.

a) Immediately after the accident, for several years, his books were just not good at all, clearly symptomatic of the wreck.
b) He is older now, openly admits it, and his output reflects that. I think that has little to do with the accident.
c) Under the Dome and 11/22/63 were not bad books at all, and superior to most of his stuff from the 90s (before the accident) and better than his bad stuff from the 80s (the ones he wrote on coke, like Tommyknockers).
d) He is opting for shorter works and opinion pieces, as he should. His genre is not for the reflective and elderly. Plus, he's a baby boomer, so any modern insights he has are sufficiently trite and in error to pay well.
e) His non-fiction On Writing was written, in large part, as recovery from the accident. It is easily one of his best, if not his very best, books of all time.

Anonymous Daniel August 07, 2013 11:41 AM  

a) should say his fiction was not good - incoherent almost.

Anonymous EVP August 07, 2013 12:59 PM  

I just listened to Larry's interview on the Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast. Now I have to read some of his books to get pointers on writing fight scenes. My combat experience is limited to range shooting and the dojo.

Maybe I should pick a few sword fights to improve my writing...

Blogger ajw308 August 07, 2013 1:15 PM  

Harry Turtledove is a master, but one of Larry's skills is the creativity in his MHI stories.

MHI, I just had an idea on writing realistic fight scenes . One could watch MMA fights on YouTube and practice writing descriptions of then.

Blogger BigFire August 07, 2013 1:39 PM  

Due to the fact that he has magic in the toolshed to play with in the Grimnoir series, the gunporn details is stepped down a bit. But Correia is very good at writing clear concise and exciting action scenes. I've read all 3 books, and unlike some other writers, Correia knows how to both close out the book and the series.

Anonymous EVP August 07, 2013 2:25 PM  

MHI, I just had an idea on writing realistic fight scenes . One could watch MMA fights on YouTube and practice writing descriptions of then.

Do I know you? I was just telling someone that very thing last night.

Anonymous EVP August 07, 2013 2:34 PM  

Here's a link to the original post on this Lions Den concept. Should we wait until the last review is in before asking questions?

(Not that I have any specific questions yet. I haven't had time to read the book.)

Anonymous VD August 07, 2013 3:27 PM  

No, ask away.

Anonymous EVP August 07, 2013 5:39 PM  

Ok, then. Here's my first question for Mr. Correia.

I have very little combat experience. I know my way around a firearm, more or less. I own four guns and shoot regularly. (I know the ilk are all saying, "Only four!? What's wrong with you?") However, the extent of my hand-to-hand combat experience is a combined 10 months in kung fu and judo, and I'm too old to start fighting now.

How do you recommend an aspiring action writer learn to write effective combat scenes?

Anonymous vales3 August 07, 2013 8:41 PM  

A well written, enthusiastic review. I personally had little interest in reading this novel until I read the review. Now I'm going to have to pick it up and give it a read.

Keep these reviews coming. You definitely have something here VD.

Blogger LP 999/Eliza August 07, 2013 11:53 PM  

Awesome

Blogger John August 08, 2013 4:11 PM  

Nice review. I loved the book(s). Our difference is that I DEFINITELY wanted the next book. The first two were out when I read Hard Magic, so when I finished it, I immediately bought the second book, Spellbound. When I finished it, I looked, but the third book wasn't out yet. As soon as it was available, I preordered it, Warbound, and I am reading it now. The book monster in my brain is going NOM NOM NOM NOM. Very good stuff.

Anonymous Bart November 12, 2013 9:06 PM  

Welcome to another tuesday night in Roswell NM. We are starting our prayer meeting and invite any one who has prayer requests or concerns to join in. Please pray for the philippines

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