Larry Correia’s “Monster Hunter Legion”: A Review

June 27, 2012

WARNING: This post contains spoilers of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Legion. Head over to Baen E-Books and buy the Advanced Reader Copy before reading.

No? Well, you’ve been warned.

First off, the beginning of the book was great. I loved the first seven or so chapters. Getting a perspective as to what all the characters do/behave like on their down time was great (Eat a lot, have fun, carry lots of exotic weapons. The list of all the guns the LVPD confiscated was hilarious.). Meeting international monster hunters was great. Lacoco and Pitt’s “reunion” was great. The description of the convention was great. The First Annual Monster Hunter Death-Dealing Marathon as everyone blasts out of Vegas on everything from crotch rockets to Lear Jets was great.

Pretty much everything about the first seven to ten chapters was great. I read all the sample chapters last night and then hyperventilated until I was able to buy the eARC this morning.

As much as I hate to say it, though, after I finished the book, I was disappointed. I’m too tired to be all fluent about why, so I’ll just lay it out. 

I) No resolution. This may be rather petty, and stemming primarily from a desire to hurry up and understand the MHI universe, but I found the prospect of having to wait for even more MHI books before the ultimate denoument (haven’t had to use THAT word in a while) a little frustrating. I mean, it’s been three years and four books (although Alpha was a bit of a detour. Still my fave book, though), already, and we’ve got at least three more to go.

Oh well. Good things come to those who wait, and I imagine that once I have a foot-high stack of Monster Hunter novels on my bookshelf next to my arthritis medicine it will all be worth it. ;)

II) Overdone. Again, this is all just my opinion, but Legion struck me as overdone, almost bordering on cartoonish at times. It was a feeling rather like at the end of Spellbound, where a rampaging demon the size of the Chrysler Building attacks DC. We have casinos being sucked off into . . . Heck, who knows where, dead people coming back, but not really, but kind of; and a dragon the size of an aircraft carrier flying through Las Vegas pursuing an impossibly maneuverable flying Russian tank.

It just didn’t work for me. I know the response to this will be “Dude, it’s monster fiction. Get over it,” but hear me out. The Monster Hunter series, and indeed all of Larry’s stuff (except the only-hinted-at “epic fantasy trilogy”) attempt to take place in our universe by being set in modern-day times with things around that actually exist (Las Vegas, Ford trucks, normal society, etc.). Thus, when something as astronomically impossible-sounding as a monstrous demon or all of Las Vegas being stomped on happens, it bends the rules way too far, in my opinion. This doesn’t bother me as much when a story doesn’t make any bones about trying to take place in our universe. For instance, if there are aircraft-carrier-sized dragons in the “epic fantasy trilogy” (which sounds awesome, I have to add), I probably wouldn’t bat an eye, but when an author tries to have them exist in the same world we do, it strikes me as difficult to get on board with.

III) Matryoshka Villains. Matryoshka are those little Russian stacking dolls. You know, you pop open one, there’s another, pop him open, there’s another, and on and on down to where you can barely see the doll on the inside. Larry’s villains are like this, in that there is never just The Bad Guy. There is always someone worse, always someone scarier, etc. You can see this in Dead Six where Big Eddie rants that he’s only doing something because someone even he’s scared of told him to. I find this frustrating, because it kills any sense of resolution. Matryoshka Villains show up in Legion in that Satan (or whoever the heck keeps having his mark scrawled everywhere) is even worse than the Old Ones, and then you’ve got the Others, the Old Ones themselves, Stricken and STFU . . . Oy. It just gets a little frustrating to have progressively worse villains continually pop out of the woodwork.

 This is a phenomena that shows up in a few of Larry’s books, and one that I don’t think is necessary to project a sense of how big and scary the villain is. What’s wrong with having the villain continually escape the protagonists before they eventually bring him down? (As opposed to having the protagonists beat the villain, then beat his boss, then beat his boss, and then beat HIS boss, etc.) 

Well. That was pretty much a novel, and probably WAY too long for a blog post. All that said, though, I still love the Monster Hunter series. The action is well-written, the exotic guns are great, and the characters and dialogue drag you like you wouldn’t believe. I wouldn’t go anywhere else for great monster-punching action, but it does sometimes leave a bit to be desired.

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The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – A Review

May 4, 2011

For those of you who don’t know it, I’m a very big fan of Larry Correia‘s books. And the purpose of me writing this review is to explain why I was so incredibly impressed on finishing his most recent one, The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic, from Baen Books.

I will try in this review to avoid spoilers as to happenings in the book. This will unfortunately result in me not being able to titter like a schoolgirl over which parts in the book I found particularly awesome, but hopefully will force me to look a little deeper into why (behind the guns and the explosions and the magic powers and the ninjas and the dirigibles and the Tommy Guns. . .) Hard Magic is such a fantastic work.

Here’s why: Correia is not lazy. There are no copouts in Hard Magic.

Bear with me now. There are several reasons for me saying this. The first is the characters, namely the evil ones. All of the bad guys Correia writes are very well-done, but the Chairman (the main antagonist in Hard Magic) is nothing short of incredible. All of Correia’s bad guys are certainly evil, and the Chairman (the main antagonist in Hard Magic) perhaps most of all, but he is also a very complicated character. Unlike most antagonists in fiction, the Chairman is not driven by cruelty, hatred, or even a lust for power. He is not out to accumulate material wealth, get revenge, or right some past wrong.

On the contrary, the Chairman displays what is becoming a uniquely “Correian” characteristic in bad guys: He does not consider himself evil or simply not care about the results of his actions. On the contrary, he views himself as the world’s savior. He knows what Evil is coming, and is trying his level best to prepare humanity and the world for the coming storm. Certainly, a few will be killed, a few lives destroyed, a few tortured almost to insanity, but in the grand scheme of things (in the Chairman’s reasoning), this is the cost of saving the world. One could almost make the argument, therefore, that those in Hard Magic who battle the Chairman are destroying the world’s only hope of salvation by valuing the lives of the few harmed by the Chairman’s actions as more valuable than humanity as a whole.

The second opportunity for a copout is in the explanations. For instance, in Hard Magic‘s world, there is (suprisingly enough) magic. Many fantasy/science-fiction authors have magic in their books, but choose not to develop explanations for how the magic is there, why it is there, how it works, etc. Instead, they choose to devote their time to other things in the story.

Now, this is not in and of itself a bad thing. Perhaps it is acceptable for explanations for the unnatural in a story to be sacrificed in order to construct a marvelously complicated character, for instance. And having great characters may just make up for not not having good explanations for things. However, many authors simply don’t seem to care enough about providing explanations for the unnatural,  and it is my opinion that this is nothing more than literary laziness. Too many authors, in my opinion, set up fantastic concepts in their fiction (magic, superpowers, unbelievable technology, etc.) and never devote even a paragraph to explaining how it’s possible for these to work, even in the fictional universe they have created.

To a detail-oriented person like me, this is pure torture. Thankfully, Correia never falls into that trap in his works, and in Hard Magic least of all. When I finished Hard Magic a few hours ago (after buying it mere hours after my local Books-a-Million got it on the shelves and reading it until 12:30 this morning), my head was whirling, trying to understand Correia’s immense explanations for the overarching concepts in the book.  I don’t understand them completely as of now, so I know that I will be able to immediately begin re-reading it in an effort to do so. It is the rare book that can be immediately and enjoyably re-read upon completion. 

In the vein of explanations, it is the even rarer book that treads the perfect line with them. If an author fills his book with incredibly complex explanations for  absolutely everything, the reader is likely to toss the book back onto the table in frustration and go find something else to do. If there are no explanations whatsoever, a reader like me is likely to finish the book, but be left feeling shorthanded (and therefore, not too likely to read the author again). Correia avoids both these extremes, however, and Hard Magic‘s explanations fall perfectly between them. You will be left with your brain spinning, yes, but with a passionate desire to understand, as a good deal of the story hinges on how well you understand certain concepts Correia presents.

The final, perhaps less weighty, thing in Hard Magic that demonstrates Correia’s attempt to avoid literary copouts is in the battles. Many(probably all, actually) fantasy books feature a climactic  battle, in which good triumphs over evil, the sun rises again, and rainbows and ponies emerge. A climactic battle and a happy ending are highly necessary to a good book, I believe, but too many authors don’t seem to devote much energy to writing their battles.

For examples of this, think back over the last few fantasy/sci-fi novels you read. How many climactic battles in theses books feature the underdog killing some superbeing just because he got really really mad and somehow that granted him a ton of extra skill (As if the demon/monster/what have you that he was battling hadn’t fought angry people before . . .)? Or how many of these books had reinforcements exploding out of the background in just the nick of time to obliterate all the evil?

Probably more than a few, I bet. Correia doesn’t do that, though. I can’t fully explain this without spoiling everything, but the inevitable good ending is assured by tiny, minute, seemingly completely unrelated actions that occurred towards the beginning of Hard Magic. Actions that you would not even dream were in any way related to the ending, or even to aiding the protagonists at all!

All these things appear to demonstrate one thing: Larry Correia is committed to filling the cracks. He writes his stories with a refreshing depth that so many authors seem to lack, providing the reader with mind-boggling puzzles, characters with complex motivations, excellent antagonists (that one periodically struggles to believe are evil at all!), believable battles, and equally believable, happy endings that you didn’t exactly see coming.

Go buy Hard Magic. You will not regret it.