Sunday, January 02, 2011

Side Jobs

Despite a relatively busy holiday schedule, I was able to read Jim Butcher's Side Jobs in the last few days. It's a nearly 450 paged book of the Dresden Files, but unlike the previous twelve novels, this is a collection of novellas and short stories, only one of which (I believe) is actually new, but several of which were spread out in various formats, some of them hard to find. It nicely brings together all of the existing Dresden shorter stories, and ranges chronologically from some time quite a bit before the time of Storm Front, the first novel, to a few minutes after Changes, the most recently published one. The majority of the stories take place late in the series, with several of the longer, more prominent ones taking place after between White Night and Turn Coat.

As always, I quited liked the Butcher book. The Dresden Files is rapidly moving through the ranks to become one of my favorite series of all time. It's still got to pass up The Lord of the Rings and John Carter of Mars, which it's unlikely to do, but otherwise, I'm struggling to think of a series I like better. Hopefully Butcher can keep up the quality as the series progresses. I'm talked before about my fear for his consistency over a series that's projected to last over twenty books long, but twelve--thirteen, counting this one-- so far, he hasn't really dropped the ball yet (although he did fumble it a bit clumsily with Proven Guilty.)

As it turns out, I hadn't read any of these stories before, even though some of them are quite old, except for the novella Backup, which was published separately. The two longest stories are the ones that feature a different point of view character; Thomas Raith and Karrin Murphy, respectively. The rest of them are all told from Dresden's point of view. Several of them vary in terms of tone; there's at least one outright comedy in "Day Off" for instance. Several of them explore more nuances of other minor characters; "Heorot" gives us quite a bit more back story on Sigrun Gard, for example, the valkyrie who works for Monoc Securities, and under contract, for Johnny Marcone.

For the most part, the collection highlights one of Butcher's strengths as a writer; he's able to take just about any element of mythology or folklore and turn it into something that's generally creepy and worthy of inclusion in a supernatural horror story. We've got fomori making an appearance, Grendal (from Beowulf), vampires, Stygian witches (who are actually quite interesting) and more; many of whom are new additions to the "Dresdenverse."

There's even a few nods to Lovecraft here and there. The fomori reminded me sharply of Deep Ones, and in Backup, there's even a nod (or perhaps esoteric in-joke) to the Necronomicon and how the White Council, in publishing it, defused and dispersed its evil. I don't know if this is meant to actually add the "Dresdenverse" to the Mythos or not; but there are vague references to Elder Gods and Outsiders and whatnot that are quite Lovecraftian in nature, and I expect those references to grow as the series continues, due to a few clues Butcher has dropped here and there. It's probably a bit much to consider Dresden Mythos per se, but it's interesting to me, at least, to see cross references to it scattered throughout the series.

In any case, I borrowed Side Jobs from a friend. I refuse to pick up the Dresden books in hardback, so I haven't yet bought it (or Changes) and I wasn't sure I was going to. After reading it, though, I'm convinced that it's an essential component of the series, and a fun addition. When it gets its mass market paperback release, I'll be sure to jump on it. Honestly, reading this has made me want to pick up the Dresden books again, even though I read them all about a year ago. At the time, I was getting them from the library; I now have purchased all of them that are available in mass market paperback, so reading them will be easy-peasy whenever I feel like it. Except for the most recent, which still is only available in hardback. I refuse to buy these books in hardback format. I'm OK waiting a year to 18 months on having a title in my actual possession. If I end up acting on this, that will put a crimp in my plan to read other stuff, including some "modern" mythos fiction, but we'll see how that works out. I haven't started it yet.

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