Standing Delivery - Ravings of a Technomancer

Reviews, mostly. Sometimes rants.

RBD: Read Before Death

West of January - Dave Duncan, John Gilchrist

This book has stayed with me for years. It's one of my favorites, and and the same time I dreaded reviewing it because everything about it depresses me.

As I've said before, Duncan has a gift for creating planets, orbital elements down to culture. The reason for this is that function *must* follow structure; people are shaped by their environment, their language, culture and lives must fit into their world.

My depression is caused by two things. First, the MC's life, which is just plain...tragic, threaded through with pain he cannot escape. With grief - normal grief, and emotional pain, we see at least the promise of respite...and none of it his his fault. Life sucks, and then the sun stops shining, and would you like a silk scarf with that?

Secondly, the human mind *must* have some lingering attachment to normative Earth-rhythms, circadian and otherwise, because the very vividness with which Duncan creates his planet means I experience the odd disconnect, almost horror, regarding the planet's "days"--solar movement, its consequences...West of January. It's like having Seasonal Affective Disorder via proxy.

The blurb up there doesn't do this book justice.

RBD: Read-before-death

This Alien Shore - C.S. Friedman

TL;DR version: The bastard love-child of Dune and Neuromancer, but the awesome kind of bastard-child, the one that ends up forging his own destiny and writing his name in the stars.

Longer version:

I read this book as a teenager, and was deeply affected by it. Later, I read it as an adult, as was not-quite-so impressed anymore, but C.S. Friedman's world had sunk its claws into my mind, deep: the idea of Code as poetry, as art, became a bit of an obsession with me.

If this review is vague and lacking in some specific details, it's mostly because I think other reviewers have discussed the plot and the characters -- book's been out for a while, after all -- and I think my contribution needs to be centered around my personal experience. For everything else, there's google.

I read this again today. And the critiques of it--from my early twenties--withered and died till only one of them was left. 

This Alien Shore is one of the most beautiful implementations of starfairing humanity I've seen. The Guild is a hybrid of the Bene Gesserit and the Navigator's Guild of Dune, with politics and powerplays and complexity, but ultimately an entirely *ethical* worldview and objective. It's Dune without the soul-twisting. And the treatment of FTL...the anniq, the will leave readers breathless. Without ever truly *talking* about it, the entire novel expresses and uplifts the hunger for starflight, the hunger to extend the threshold of our reach as individuals and as a species.

The plot has two threads--one follows a young girl, a repository of great and unknown secrets, on the run from Earth and its corporations. The other is Lucifer: a virus that is wrecking havoc on the Guild's navigators, threatening the foundations of mankind's salvation--FTL travel through the rifts of space that bind all the worlds together.

The computer/bioware aspects of this have many neuromancer-like components, but without the dystopian grit.

The characters are true--true to themselves, if not to our expectations of them--they are individuals, deeply meaningful, their lives and hopes and dreams and fears sketched out in vibrant 3D. Relationships-professional, romantic, adversarial-all are true to their function and form, and heartbreaking in some cases, liberating in others.

The complaints of my early-twenties were plot-related - that the pacing was off, certain scenes went on too long, others were not in the right places. This remains a mild criticism, tempered by the realization that back then I was young and impatient, and wanted to get to the "good bits". As a writer, I slowed down, appreciated the prose, the development, the subtle-but-necessary touches that made everything more. The one criticism that remains is that while the two plot-threads deepened and strengthened each others' themes, ultimately their intersection was not one of mutual resolution but of mutual understanding. That is...not a bad thing. But it doesn't bring the story full-circle in terms of action. The fear-and-threat felt so viscerally by the MC is not vindicated in a quite-satisfying way. Minus one star. But since this is getting graded on a 6-star scale, specially-made by me for the works that have influenced me so deeply, a full set of five stars remain.

This is a beautiful novel, full of hope for the future. Humanity's discarded children rise above the pettiness-of-soul that characterizes so much of mankind's history. Deeply flawed individuals display nobility of spirit, and the diverse, the mad, the broken, make their way to where they truly belong--the stars.

Read it. You'll be happy you did. And when you're done, perhaps you'll come to the same conclusion I did: We are all Variants, and Guera is our home.


Captain Vorpatril's Alliance - Lois McMaster Bujold

Ivan has grown up, and when not crouched in Miles's shadow, his heroism and versatility show through for a fun romp through the Barrayar we've come to know and love.

The book really starts when Byerley--no-goodnik cousin to Dono, Richars, Miles, Ivan, and half the High Vor--shows up to recruit Ivan's assistance in keeping a damsel-in-distress safe. Simple enough, except that Ivan's legendary womanizing abilities are not up to the task of getting on said damsel's good side. Stunners are fired, ImpSec is called in, and we end up back on the surface of Barrayar, dodging Lady Alys, Jackson's Whole assassins and Cetagandan Haut-wives.

Oh, and Simon, retired chief of ImpSec and Ivan's um-stepfather is bored. Bored.

The book is well worth the buy. But know what? The * incandescence* of the Vorkosigans is missing. Ivan realizes his potential, sure. But after Cordelia and Aral and Miles and Ethan, who held the fate of planets in the palms of their hands, and dealt with shattered circumstances with such profundity, Ivan just doesn't...measure up. Unfair to Ivan, unfair to Bujold even, perhaps, but much as Simon holds his um-stepson in high regard, he would never call him a Great Man.

Also, not enough Byerley.

But I would seriously recommend this book and the rest of Bujold's work to anybody - if you haven't read it, you don't know what you're missing.


Hell for the Company: Brimstone 1 (The Horns & Halos Series) - Angel Martinez, Erika O Williams

Antigravity cows. That's three stars in the bag right there.

TL;DR: funny Space-Western with Angels and Demons. Read it on a day you're feeling grumpy, it'll perk you up.

And...for the rest of this review, please keep in mind that I am a Science Fiction reader first and foremost. And as a reader, I'm extremely critical of the majority of books in the romance genre - notwithstanding the hypocrisy of having written books that could purportedly belong to that sub-genre myself.

Angel doesn't suffer from the shortcomings of many of the other authors I've read in the genre - she writes very well, with strong emphasis on craft and a lilting "aww shucks" voice that goes down very nicely. Like Czech beer - refinement, without having to work for it. But on that note...

Angel Martinez is wasted on romance. And it's not because she does it poorly - I'd venture the opposite. She's wasted on romance because she does the Science Fiction so damn well, but we don't get enough of it because characters need to bone.

Her MCs do interact sweetly enough that I'm entertained. But the story falls into the same tropes that *all* romance falls into - boy meets boy, boy likes boy, obstacles, tears, passionate declamations, happily-ever-after (at least for now) etc. etc. So: Readers who enjoy light M/M will get exactly what they expect, and all is well. But it's not precisely up my alley.

My Alley:

Firefly. The Ship Who Sang. Douglas Adams. This book swoops into all these territories, lands with a light touch, then takes off again to the roar of the Brimstone's engines. Too soon, like the actual Brimstone (though in the book they're usually in mortal peril, so that's probably wise).

The MC, Shax, and his pilot Verin (too much Robert Jordan for me, I had to work to *not* picture Verin as a short, dumpy, Brown Ajah Aes'Sedai, but that's my own reader's baggage and no fault of Angel's descriptive talent) and their ship, the Brimstone, has a very Malcom Reynolds/Zoe/Serenity feel, except that Shax is far more vulnerable than Captain Mal, and Verin is grouchier than Zoe...Their ship's computer, the always-entertaining AI-in-drag feels like some of Helva's colleague-ships.

And then there's the angel-demon angle. It tastes like Good Omens - Shax, in moments, vibrates with Crowley-like glee, and Ness's apologies take on Aziraphale's cadences.

Space-western with demons and angels that doesn't take itself seriously? Hell yes. Pun not totally intended.

Which brings me to that last, fifth star that I couldn't give. Perhaps I'm throwing a tantrum because of what I *didn't* get, and really wanted: more of the good stuff.

More of the things I got a tantalizing glimpse of - the wistful and mischievous reminiscences of thievery Shax alludes to when he sorts through his box of pretties. The fascinating and strange history of Demons in Space. The planets, the world-building, the ships, the AI, the war. The smell of Amnesia, the corridors of the Brimstone, the vegetation-with-teeth on the cow-resupply planet. These very Sci-Fi touches were created, vividly, in a few sentences. *This* is where this book should have lived. 

But then BOOM! we were back to sappy romance stuff. Gah! Even the Big-Baddies were un-baddified to serve the romantic outcome. I'd have preferred personality conflicts, character-assassinations, ship-board politics that *don't* serve the romantic plot, instead serving the true strengths of Angel's story. Example: Shax pisses off Ness and Verin simultaneously somehow, and they become allies in thwarting Shax's mania for risky deals.

I get the strange feelings I'm going to annoy a number of romance fans, and some friends, with this review. But all I can do is speak my version of the truth. It's a genre-preference thing, and the fact that I really want to get my teeth into more of Angel's writing.

To that purpose: I'm going to buy every one of the books in this series as they come out. I won't skip the mushy stuff, because the story demands that I don't, but I will make cow-like noises from time to time.

This is a videogame (and in this context, that's NOT a good thing...)

Steel World  - B.V. Larson

TL;DR version: Better than average world-building concepts, reads like well-written Mass Effect fanfiction, Dinosaurs In Space! (+1.5 stars just for this), MC is not a convincing soldier, MURIKA!

Longer version:
Of many, there are three things that, I believe, characterize good science fiction stories:

1. The Concept(s): good concepts are about technology, about looking at the Universe a different way, about something new born out of the minds of men (or aliens). And ultimately, the concept must be expressed in human terms, must shape and warp and define the narrative in a deeply meaningful way. This book delivers on the concepts it promised. +1.5 stars.

2. The Character(s): 3D. Familiar-and-yet-unfamiliar. Heroic, whatever the author defines that word to be. Convictions, moral or immoral, chaotic or otherwise, but *convincing* convictions.

3. The Arc(s): Growth or decay. Change. Not just in the story, but in the *reader*.

I have never encountered a truly *good* science fiction story from which I didn't walk away a changed person, in a small or a large way. Because we - our hopes, our fears, our technologies, our worlds - are mirrored in the story and the character.

Conversely, of the many things that characterize first-person-shooter/shooter-rpg games, there are two that are pertinent to this book:

1. Playability and repeatability: To be able to mow down enemies in a satisfying way, in a way that is just familiar enough to feel comfortable, and in a way that's changed just enough that we keep coming back to mow down said enemies on new terrain.

2. The ability to disengage from the character - play in their bodies, but not their heads. Kill 10,000, turn off computer, kill more tomorrow. Headshot! Awesome! Laggy. Damn. I mean, if you grant violent FPS games the ability to truly *change* or *affect* the player, you have to grant that kids are being brainwashed into mass-school-shooting perpetrators because of video games, which is hogwash.

Both games and novels are awesome things in their own right, but when your gameplay is nothing but cut-scenes with a dude reading to you, it sucks. And when your novel reads like a dramatized version of UT....

In this book, there's a few good things. Firstly, it's well written - the author had a clear, consistent and strong voice. Secondly, the plot moves along at a fair enough clip (despite there being, in parts, too much shot-for-shot narration, enough that Clancy would get bored). Thirdly, two of the concepts developed - Earth's only export being Mercs, and the endless death-revival of said soldiers - are refreshingly original. 

Caveat: they're refreshingly original *if* you look at the book as a book, and not video-game fanfiction. The author gives it away a bit too, at the beginning.

This book is a gamer's fantasy. The plot can be boiled down to this: entitled gamer-kid realizes family doesn't have money to send him to school, enrolls in a mercenary outfit, battles ensue, he finishes all his missions, dies and gets revived a couple of times, a couple of cut-scenes explain the larger universe. At the end, we find out there's Politics. And Bureaucracy. The Earth is at risk, and low-level grunt will somehow save the day, eventually, buy the expansion pack and find out how.

My biggest gripe isn't even the lack of *other* world-building concepts, I mean, FTL is somehow there and isn't even hand-waved, it's unlikely you're going to get lizards with blood similar to humans on a silica-poor world, blah blah blah. Whatever, I've read and admired worse world-building in books.

My biggest gripe is the Main Character - already forgotten his name, Jarvis McCain?

Firstly, he's a dick. A caricature of what people think teenage gamer guys are - unsympathetic to their families' plights, unmotivated about carriers and schools, arrogant and self-entitled. Okay sure, let's wait and see how this guy grows and changes...and wait...and wait...The End.

He's not a convincing solider, or a convincing Merc. After much training and supposedly life-and-death bonding experiences, his concept of camaraderie begins and ends with off-hand insults traded with a lacky. His unit-cohesion with his squad is nonexistent. He obeys orders when he feels like it, rebels when it suits his surly, arrogant self. He's *exactly* what an entitled-dick-gamer-caricature-19-year-old *thinks* a soldier is. 

A real marine would pop this kid one in the teeth.

And he's the hero.

This could have played very well - real opportunity for meaningful character growth right there. I suspect, however, that the author is *not* aware of how very un-soldier like his "solider" is.

At least there's women fighting alongside men, equality in the forces and all that jazz, right? Well, there's 4 major female side characters. Kiwi, squadmate (fucked by MC). Natasha, squadmate (clumsily romanced, rescued and then fucked by MC). Anne, biomedical officer (shown to be incompetent under fire, unfairly blaming MC, then rescued by MC, now friendly. To be leered at in 3 separate scenes out of a total of 7 encounters). Thompson, another biomed. CRAZY BITCH out to kill MC. The 2nd in Command of the entire mercanary fleet. CRAZY BITCH - Hillary Clinton in Space, out to KILL MC but leered at by MC the moment he sees her. Petty jealousies, because they're all fighting, one way or another, over MC's ass.

Oh, and he's the most popular guy around, got a mouthy sidekick that's more comic relief than friend.

If this was a real person - or even if the author was doing a character interview, I'd like to ask him a couple of questions:

1. Solider, did you ever miss your mother, she of the shaking-hands who tried to keep you in elite-gaming-rigs and university with the last of her money? Did you ever write home? Send back some of your pay? MENTION family even once? What about all the guys you played basketball with (we're led to assume he has excellent physique because he plays tons of basketball)...your gaming clan (he's clan/guild leader. Because of course)...anybody at all? Do you realize mercenaries are people too?

2. Soldier, why didn't you react AT ALL when you killed someone for the first time? Yeah, they're aliens. But they bleed like humans, they are an intelligent starfaring species. The most stoic hunter *reacts* when he shoots even a dumb animal for the first time. I'll buy adrenelin and heat-of-combat as an excuse. What about after? And what about your mouthy sidekick? His first time out, he's convinced he's getting kill-shots, and he's bragging, calmly. You're too manly to react, what about him?

The characters didn't think about this because the author didn't. This is a video game.

And my biggest issue? It's the MC bitching about the raw deal he's getting, rebelling against the "system" - his superior, the galactic laws, what-have you - then going back to eating chow and extolling some virtue of the same game that keeps getting him killed. Like the rifles - that struck me - they're mass-produced for an "average" humanoid, don't have friend-or-foe ID. Weaponeer mentions that if Earth made it, friendlies *would* be identified, dammit, so they don't keep killing their own guys. MC agrees, has a 2 paragraph internal monologue about the system that keeps earth from manufacturing their own, superior, weapons that wouldn't kill his troop-mates. Then he says (paraphrased) "but these guns are a damn fine weapon". WTF?

All this *could* have worked, you know, if we'd been shown MC as an unreliable narrator. But he's in deadly earnest. We're *supposed* to accept his reality as the Right One.

This is the first book I'd read by this author. Tempted by the concepts offered in the blurb (and, to be fair, the conceptual promise was delivered as advertised), but I won't be reading any more.

A counter-recommendation: if you're looking for something that tastes like this - space-marine flick - read Elliot Kay'sPoor Man's Fight. It has its flaws, but it's far more characterful than this.

Brave, New World

Wildcatter - Dave Duncan

TL;DR version: It's a fantastic adventure story - new worlds to discover, fame and glory and risk and death, unknown pathogens...greedy corporations, sex...

Dave Duncan has a gift for creating planets. He starts with the orbital parameters, and ends with the smell of the place: correct, plausible, yet creative.

Corporate politics, gender politics, biology and pathology - again, plausible, well-constructed. He doesn't *need* to write chapters on backstory, a few well-written sentences do the trick.

The problem with this book, in my opinion, lies in its handling of social commentary. Oh, the characters are well-done, even if a couple of them are a bit 2-dimensional, but that is *not* a writing problem - we're in Seth's head, and we see the world filtered through his eyes, and he can see the world as 2D from time to time.

So, the social commentary:

Firstly, I have to give Duncan props for his courage and his internal ethics-compass. I was not expecting this, and when I found it, it was a surprise, and a good one.

Most mainstream SciFi writers, especially straight men, will not handle some of the social issues brought up here - gender politics, fluid sexuality, cis and trans identities. It's done with some mild amounts of clumsiness, but the *message* is strong and clear. Heart's in the right place, at least. 

I've seen it done better - by Bujold, McCaffrey. Mostly women writers. Because to write about it, you must sympathize, if not empathize. And sympathizing means truly *seeing* it. Many men don't, you know, especially in the Aerospace industry, STEM fields - the sexism, the requirements for conformity. I've seen colleagues sit down at lunch and just *watch* the subtle harassment of one of our own, and when confronted, the response is often "well *I* didn't see it as harassment", with the unspoken addendum of "Man up, Aldous, it wasn't a big deal, *she's* not making a fuss, why should you?"

So kudos, Mr. Duncan, for seeing it.

The problem in this case is that the sensitivity and intelligence of our MC, Seth, is at war with his testosterone-driven fight-or-fuck Wildcatter nature. Throw in a few dashes of post-adolescent young-man-fantasy-fulfillment, and you get a book with rampant contractions. Seth sympathizes, but doesn't empathize. He's fearless, but prone to falling into the same cultural tropes as any other action hero.

Then he marries a Herm, with a full-femme thrown in there to keep the balance, because Duncan sympathizes, and is creative, both socially and scientifically, but he still cannot internalize the world he writes about.

And that's quite OK, because it is leagues and leagues better than his competitors.

Oh, and the prions. +1 star for the prions.


The High King's Golden Tongue - Megan Derr

Cute, fluffy, translation/languages = fantastic idea! Author does descriptions and pace well. Large plot-based issues including lack of conflict (telling us about it is not enough) and weak character arc, which makes the payoff insipid.

Eating Crow...

Captive Prince: Volume One (Volume 1) - S. U. Pacat

So I dropped this book after reading the kindle preview in my browser, even though I'd bought it. Then Lena's review came by, and I was all like "yes, exactly that".

And then somebody else said, "give it a chance".

So I did.

And you know what? My earlier issues still stand - the slavery, the beatings...NOT FOR ME. 

But as I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, I have mild OCD; not finishing a book feels like an itch I can't I kept on reading.

Verdict: Captive Prince grows past its almost fanfiction-like beginnings. The writing becomes smooth, a white chocolate mocha from Second Cup (gods I miss Canada sometimes), and it flows past.

The writing is excellent. The characterization - written from a ESFJ Damianos's POV, looking at the INTJ Laurant, the enigma - rings true. I usually write from the opposite perspective, INTJ looking out, so it's fascinating to see the other side of the coin. It will not satisfy many NT or some NF type readers - the intuitive understanding of the world is baffled when it has to live inside a sensate mind.

The sexual overtones and undertones were perhaps too much for a mainstream Fantasy reader, and too little for an Erotica reader. Nevertheless, the nonsexual tension between the characters was taut, a harp-string that could be plucked at will to make serious music.

In terms of a wider theme...I get the feeling the plot, the world, the characters' moral compass - the author was figuring this out as they went (an artifact of the chapter-by-chapter posting?), and the book doesn't really *know* what it is. Descriptions are excellent - pictures made in mind's eye, well done, author.

In the end, if this had been something I picked up on a bookshelf somewhere, I'd end up giving it 3.5 stars, rounded down to 3 here. But the extra star comes from the fact that there is so much crap in this genre that Captive Prince shows up like the Riders of Rohan, pennants fluttering in a cleansing breeze...

I moved on to Book 2.


Unskippable Sex Scene...

Incursion - Aleksandr Voinov

Thank you, Lena, for suggesting this, because it's exactly what I was looking for. A good Gay SciFi Military/Adventure.

Many people have said this, and I will reiterate: a book is made on the strength of its characters. And Kyle Juenger is a strong, strong character. Suffering builds depth, and more than that, transcendence of suffering builds a hero. Voinov does both beautifully.

And the sex. This, dear readers, is how sex should be done - as part of the novel's plot, as part of the deepest truth that characters hold in them. Vindication, and release, and reluctance and helplessness and strength and an echo of the theme and motif.

Needless to say, this is one of the few - very few! - sex scenes I've ever read that I didn't skip.

Everything in the first 4/5ths of Incursion is pitch perfect. My problem, at the last star that I can't give, revolves around the end.

The resolution comes too close to the most tense, fraught and plot-edifying scene in the book. Kyle Juenger-the character we've followed with bated breath and respect from page 1-deserves better. The end, pacing/plot-wise, feels like the "calm before a storm", when the hero regroups and finds his balance with the new truths of his world, and then...the end. 

If this was a series (or, more appropriately, a serial), it would get 5 stars, and I'd buy the next one. As it is, I'm missing a true denouement...

That said, as I and other readers sift through bullshit-writing and cliche plots and Ukes and Semes without any sense of their own identities, on Amazon and Smashwords and wattpad, reading Incursion feels like finding that Renoir in a rummage-sale. A little faded, and nobody's going to give you more than a 100k for it at Christie's, but damn if it isn't awesome.


Cervical Bruising

Rapture at Midnight - Isobelle Cate

I have never been so amused by written descriptions of sex before. This is me, paraphrasing the book:

Juliet: Verliy, for I am brought forth from Isobelle Cate's mind like Athena from Zeus's brow, for I am a new Juliet, a warrior, a hacker-of-hacks, who shall best evildoers with mine own intellect and a telescoping baton!

The Houses: Let us rape you!

Romeo: Juliet! Woe be the day that I cannot feast my eyes upon you, wretched be the night where the heady scent of your Mound of Venus doth not toucheth my rod.

Juliet: Hackety-hack. Also, my Mound of Venus doth groweth much in humidity.

Romeo: Pray, let me kiss you, for lips to nether lips do touch in holy were-vampire's true mate's kiss...

Juliet: Will thou giveth my cervix bruises?

Romeo: Verily, I shall!

The Plot: Screw you guys, I'm going home.

Juliet: Harder, Romeo! Deeper!

Romeo: The moon grows jealous of the luminescence of thine skin, my love. Also, take my cock, babe, take it!

I am far, far away from the intended audience for this book, and I knew that before I started it. 

But we should all read outside our genre from time to time. And good writing is good writing, after all, to wit, another novel (also categorized as erotica) I'm about to review got 4 stars, grudgingly, because while the subject matter, the characters, the plot and the themes had periodic nails-on-a-chalkboard effect on me, the writing was good.

Other times, I've found myself giving books 4 and 5 stars when they clearly had massive flaws. Because some development - the world, the plot, a single throwaway character - was so well-conceived-of that it was incandescent.

Unfortunately, this particular offering's only grace is that it made me chortle.

So, at first, I wasn't going to review this at all, because giving a 1-star to a work that someone has poured their heart and soul into? Cruelty is not really my norm. But then I thought: If I feel free to criticize authors I respect, authors I'm friends with in some cases, secure in the knowledge that they're adults and can handle it, and that they know my critique is no statement about them as people, then the only thing keeping me from eviscerating a stranger is cowardice.

Portions of cowardice still remains - the four paragraphs of justification before the review even starts. So.

The plot has so many holes in it, not even Donald Trump would donate it to Goodwill. The primary story device - a man is searching for his daughter kidnapped by his ex-wife, and our heroine is helping him. She's helping him by "hacking" into various corporations. One of these corporations is shady and strange, and she hacks into them and their programs contain "symbols", and they suddenly become her clients....wait, what? The thought-process for the MC's job/money process seems to be:

Step 1: "Hack" an organization
Step 2: ????
Step 3: organization becomes client, PROFIT!


Step 1: "Hack" an organization
Step 2: ????
Step 5: Kidnapped daughter is found!

Note that I've refrained from critiquing specific instances that make me think "this person doesn't know how 'hacking', software or, indeed, corporations work". I let James Bond slide, I'm letting this slide. People that know me know what a valiant effort this is ;)

The Immortal Werewolf/Vampire part of this seems mildly more thought-out. Ancient feud, a few bones thrown to various mythological constructs, hunky men looking for their mates. To, you know, mate with.

That's OK, I knew what I was getting into before I started. It's a linear variant of the "find the bad guy, confront, flee, repeat" plot. No demerits for this, can't go wrong with linear.

Okay, on to characters.

There aren't any. 

There's a filled-in character sheet from those writerly self-help books, complete with "hobbies" and "pet peeves" and "favourite color", attached to a functional penis and vagina.

And the Big Bad?

Nothing says it better than this book itself:

In all his immortal life no one had bested him...He had the best evil geniuses in his pockets and they took the fall for him.

Evil geniuses. Used in all sincerity and seriousness. I still don't let myself dwell on that too much, for fear of guffawing so hard the neighbors call an ambulance.

Also, on the same page:

He had imprisoned many Christians in those cells before feeding them to forcibly starved and voraciously hungry beasts for the entertainment of the Romans.

Also, he sells little kids into prostitution.

The author might have had better luck just rolling an appropriate D20 system's Neutral-Evil lizardman-half-orc? (still don't really know what these guys look like, beyond "muscular" and "they're smelly" and glowing eyes)...Only reason I hesitate to declare him chaotic-evil is because he's been running a corporation for a while.

Recommendation: Everyone I know, personally, should read this book because it's prime drinking-game material. Everyone is invited to Hamburg for a party where I will blatantly copy a friend's drink-a-thon for 50-Shades, and provide the vodka. Because I have found something more unintentionally funny, more repetitive, and more i-need-whiskey-now-please than...than Twilight!