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Side Jobs, Dresden Files anthology, by Jim Butcher Cannoli Send a noteboard - 27/10/2010 02:28:55 AM
Warning: The recently released Side Jobs is not a new Dresden Files novel. Rather it is a collection of eleven shorter stories (there are differences between a short story, a vignette, a novella and a novelette and I could not give less of a rat's ass exactly what those are), mostly starring Harry Dresden, which take place alongside the series. Most of these I only read after reading most of the novels (up through Small Favor, at least, at possibly not until after I read Turn Coat for some of them. They are almost all set a definite points in the chronology of the series, for the sort of reader who worries about how much Harry knows or what skills he has when facing a particular threat, though many of them are rather spoiler-free and don't mention much about what has happened in the books, so for the long-time fan just stumbling over these, you don't need to do a re-read to prep yourself for them. I figure I'll briefly talk about each one and maybe go on at a bit more length on the last story, which is the only really new material. Be warned. I don't have much of an eye for analyzing stuff or assessing the writing. I just know if I like it. I'll say so, and why, if I can without being too spoilerish, but it might be completely off and people who can tell good writing from bad might have a completely different opinion. Also, I'm not going to worry about spoilers for any of the novels in this review, so if you have not read the last book, don't read the last (#11) section below. It's been five or six months. If you cared, you'd have read it, is my position.

1. A Restoration of Faith A short, fairly simple story about Harry in his sometimes-alluded-to days working for another private detective before setting up his own practice. With a very minor exception, we don't see any familiar characters, Harry's basically a noob and the challenge he faces is a joke next to the things he pulls off in recent novels. Also, in Jim Butcher's foreword he doesn't seem to think highly of it. One of those lame feelings/uplifting things that the books veer off into all too often, rather than an action story either.

2. Vignette An even shorter piece (enough text for three pages) where Harry and Bob the Skull blather about his ad in the phone book. Butcher claims it was something he tossed off for a promotion. It won't add much to your understanding of the characters or the world of Harry Dresden. Both this and the previous story could be found at one time on Butcher's website, though they may have been removed now that he stands to make a buck off their appearance on paper.

3. Something Borrowed The wedding of Billy & Georgia, the werewolf couple who show up from time to time. Also clarifies a reference to that event Harry makes while speaking to Maeve in a later book (Proven Guilty? ). In his foreword, Butcher reveals a horrifying datum about the origin of the character names. Some action fighting, some sappy relationship-affirming crap.
Significant Characters: Harry, Murphy, Billy the Werewolf; recurrent villain

4. It's My Birthday, Too Harry & Thomas encounter strangeness in a closed shopping mall. Good fighting, after some misleads, also has sappy family-affirming crap.
Significant Characters: Harry, Molly, Thomas (also his Tomas the Stylist alter-ego); also features a new type of supernatural creature and old familiar monsters

5. Heorot Originally published in an anthology about honeymoons, Harry investigates a missing bride about to depart for hers. The identity of the literary-inspired villain is obvious from the title, as should be another guest appearance. Harry references this event in Small Favor shortly before the Denarians show up. This was kind of a good one, and one of the more relevant to the novels' story as far as filling in minor details goes.
Significant Characters: Harry, McAnally, Miss Gard, Mouse, literary-inspired villain and critters like the cat that hangs around the winter faeries, but rather scarier when you are not fixated on the proximity of a psychotic fairy queen.

6. Day Off An okay story that loses something when you read the foreword where Butcher reveals that it was intended to be a humor story. IMO, the best humor in the Dresden Files comes from the dialog and the juxtaposition of a contemporary character and attitudes to magic and mythological concepts, and is best as irony. This is an attempt to be more slapstick and Three Stooges-esque. The story was from an anthology edited by the Worst Author of the Genre, Kevin J Anderson, so who knows what he has done to this, or what he said to Butcher to make him think this was hysterical. I found other stories in this collection, which were supposed to be more action or horror oriented to be more humorous. But maybe the humor is more to another's taste. The story concerns Harry's attempt to blow everyone else off to have a date with Anastasia Luccio (placing this between Small Favor and Turn Coat, except various people keep getting in the way of that.
Significant Characters: Harry, the 4 main werewolves (more roleplaying, not so much fighting evil together), Molly, brief appearance by Luccio - not worth it for 'shippers. Real villains are all but nonexistent.

7. Backup Originally published as a standalone, very short book (with a few illustrations by the Hellboy artist), this is narrated by Thomas as he attempts to combat a supernatural threat without letting Harry know about it. One of my favorite in this collection, it gives another view of Harry, gives more insights into Thomas and even a little bit of information on the Venatori, an organization alluded to, but never seen in the novels, as well as hints of the fact that there is a whole other world in the Dresden-verse, realized in Butcher's head at least, which does NOT actually revolve around Harry. He might be a player of increasing significance in that universe, but this story illustrates how there are parts he is not involved with, and possibly never can be, simply because his path, as chosen/ordained by him/fate, takes him in different directions, and closes those off from him. In a way, a story like this one both gives us a different perspective on Harry that makes him more impressive, as seen through the eyes of an admiring character who is not privy to Harry's self-doubts or conscious of how fine his margin of victory sometimes is. The PoV trap I often refer to in discussions of WoT has a corollary aspect, where we can overlook a character's ability because we see that character exclusively from his own perspective, just as we can exaggerate their significance because we are seeing the world through their eyes. This story gives the reader to a chance to break a little way out of that PoV trap regarding Harry and is the first of three such stories in the Dresden series which do so.
Significant Characters: Thomas, Harry, Bob the Skull, Justine, phone cameo by Lara Raith.

8. The Warrior Probably my favorite overall of all the works in this collection. This is an epilogue of sorts to Small Favor, dealing with the aftermath regarding the fate of Michael Carpenter in that novel. It has action, centered on a threat based on Michael's having been one of the Knights of the Sword and an attempt to acquire the inactive Swords from their current guardian. The main reason I liked it was the reinforcement of the way I viewed the ending of Michael's story, and its doing so in a manner consistent with both the character and his role/mythology and with the Catholic stuff that he brought to the series. As a traditional Roman Catholic (Latin Mass, Baltimore Catechism, Douay-Rheims Bible, etc), my hackles go up when frivolous types of literature start playing in this sandbox, and I find errant portrayals of specifically Catholic aspects of Christianity nearly as offensive as a Muslim might find certain Danish cartoons. However, Butcher's handling of such aspects and characters, from Michael through Forthill to "Jake" are both consistent with Catholic belief and positive/moral in a Catholic way as well as a popular culture way.
The moral of this story is somewhat trite in one sense, but the context of the explanations it gives for the outlook of the religious issues pertaining to the series is excellent. By which I mean, it gives a highly plausible and, again, consistent reason why God & co. don't take a more active role in the series, which in my opinion, protects both the religious aspects of the series, and the series itself, for in combining religion (of the Judeo-Christian variety) and fantasy too much one will swamp the other. Either an omnipotent God comes to dominate the series, in which case it becomes lame as both a fantasy work and a religious story; or else the religious mythology becomes so warped as to be inconsistent with the actual religious beliefs and unrecognizable as itself, which pretty much spoils the reason for putting it in there in the first place.
Significant Characters:Harry, the Carpenter family, Fr. Forthill, various normal people, "Jake"

9. Last Call A quick mystery involving a supernatural threat messing with Mac's microbrew beer. If you've read much of the series you know that's one of those things Harry goes overboard about. Although the mystery is okay, the lack of originality of the concept (ANOTHER beer-based story? ), and the danger of tapping the Mac keg too often (especially given the mystery heaped upon the character - how can he keep being mysterious to the guy he ends up calling for help so many times? ) undermine it somewhat. This is another story intended for a theme anthology, titled "Strange Brew" so Butcher didn't really have anywhere else he could have gone with a contribution, and considering he had already contributed stories to two prior collections by the same editor, fans might have taken it amiss had a contemporary series which features the anthology's hook so prominently been omitted. Another unwelcome aspect this story shares with the two subsequent works in this collection is the Harry-Murphy 'shipper content. I don't like these strung-out sexual tension character arcs in a series, if for no other reason than it's all about the feelings and other such blather. My view is "sh!t or get off the pot" when it comes to two characters with feelings for each other. They can be far more interesting in a relationship where the feelings can be taken for granted and they can get on with the real story, or more admirable as people who just get on with what they have to do like grownups and not spend excess time or pages whining about each other.
Significant Characters: Harry, Murphy, Mac. Mythology-inspired villain.

10. Love Hurts This, as I alluded in the last entry, is a story which focuses entirely too much on Harry & Karrin, as they try to solve a mystery of couples committing murder-suicide and are made to confront their own issues with one another. It has the further sin of being part of anthology that is on the list of project George RR Martin is spending his time on, not to mention blogging about, rather than Dance With Dragons. Congratulations, Butcher. Not only is this one of the lamer Dresden short stories, you're contributing to the delinquency of a major (slacker).
The only redeeming aspect is the intriguing nature and motivation of the villain, once exposed. It strikes on a point also touched on in "Backup", which contributes to explanations of why the monsters of the Dresdenverse don't run amok more often or in more noticeable fashion (they fight one another or do "good" for entirely plausible or villainous reasons).
Significant Characters: Harry, Murphy, familiar monster/villain used in a new way.

11. Aftermath The point of the book, from many readers' perspective. This one is a direct epilogue to Changes, the last book in the series. As the only novel so far with a cliffhanger ending, it seems that Butcher felt the need to toss readers a bone before the year wait to see said cliffhanger resolved. The narrator for "Aftermath" is Murphy, picking up right after the events of the novel, and her reaction to the obvious apparent interpretation of that ending. Unlike the prior two stories, it does not play with the Dresden-Murphy relationship in an annoying way. Rather, from this work alone, Murphy's reaction to Harry's 'departure' might be interpreted as appropriate for anyone from a friend to a family member to an unfulfilled romantic relationship. What is more, like "Backup" it gives the outside perspective of Harry and highlights the significance of the main character/narrator to his circle of comrades in arms. As Murphy once told Harry, "my world would be a much scarier place without you in it." And we see that here in some ways, as Murphy and Billy the Werewolf attempt to deal with a threat to one of Harry's friends, against which he is no longer available to help them. We also get to see a new take on the Alphas which is kind of interesting, being from that of a 'vanilla mortal.' From Harry's point of view, the Alphas are small fry and kind of insignificant in some ways in the grand scheme of things. Not that he devalued them as people or friends or was ungrateful for the aid they could contribute (btw, IMO, the often understated appreciation of such characters for Harry, and willingness to offer cooperation and support was another appreciated change from the usual tropes, and realistic as well. Too often background characters who are supposed to be allies are shitty friends to the hero solely to serve the writers' need for dramatic tension (I'm looking at you, Xander & Willow), when I would think, my negative view of humanity in general aside, that such people would more realistically freely offer whatever convenient or non-taxing assistance they could, for the vicarious thrill, the ego-inflation of being able to help or the novelty of the situation if for no other reasons. It's like how people fall all over themselves to help out or give stuff to famous people, who, being rich and famous, hardly need such generosity. ), but rather he didn't see them as being all that powerful. For instance, given his respect & admiration for Murphy and his more adult-to-kid view of the werewolves, the dynamic between her and them is actually the reverse of what the Dresden-perspective of those characters might lead you to believe. Murphy's formidable personal attributes are suddenly much less daunting against even the lowest on the supernatural powers totem pole when she doesn't have Harry's abilities & knowledge at her disposal. At the same time, however, the story can hardly be said to undermine her previous showing as a capable and tough individual.
In addition to the characterization, "Aftermath" also gives enough hints to satisfy the readers as to what the situation will be for the world and some of the characters after the events of Changes.
Significant Characters: Murphy, Billy the Werewolf, Marcy the Werewolf; appearances by Marcone, his henchfolk, Georgia and Det. Stallings.

As a postscript, I would just like to address one flaw with this collection. While it was supposed to be a comprehensive collection of the Dresden short stories, one of the most recent was omitted. The story in question, "Even Hand" was the third of the stories narrated by other characters I alluded to above, and was from the perspective John Marcone. It appeared in the anthology, Dark and Stormy Knights, and in addition to being one of the better shorter stories of the Dresden Files is the ONLY relevant story to another in the Side Jobs collection, and is alluded to by a character in "Aftermath!" as well as introducing a potential future villainous group to the series which also affects the conflict of "Aftermath." Side Jobs has two main hooks for the Dresden Files fan (and is really not suited for any other type of readers): It is supposedly all the "other" stories of the Dresdenverse under one cover, and it is the only place you can read "Aftermath," the very latest material in that same series. To omit one of the more significant stories from the collection, as well as the only one with ANY connection to "Aftermath" undermines both of those hooks! If space was an issue, I strongly feel that "Even Hand"'s inclusion could justify the omission of multiple stories from Side Jobs, including "Vignette", "Day Off", "Love Hurts", "Last Call" and "It's My Birthday, Too." You could make a case for a collection with only "Even Hand" "Backup" and "Aftermath" as they have the most in common. What other reason could there be? Keeping Side Jobs to a nice even number like 11?

On the whole, unless you have no other means of reading "Aftermath" or have not read two or more of the better stories in this collection (IMO, those are, in no particular order, "Backup" "Aftermath" "The Warrior" "It's My Birthday, Too" and "Heorot" ), or are not a collector-type who wants every book or would like to have your Dresden stuff as consolidated as possible, this is one you can skip purchasing. Unlike almost all of the original printings of the previously published works in the collection, Side Jobs is in hard-cover, so the price is jacked up for that, too. On the other hand, if you're a Dresden fan, the stories inside are definitely worth a read.

Additional post-script: Butcher has shaved and got a haircut in the author photo, so for those who give a damn, he looks more like a human being and less like a dirty psychotic haystack.
“Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” GK Chesteron
Inde muagdhe Aes Sedai misain ye!
Deus Vult!
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Side Jobs, Dresden Files anthology, by Jim Butcher - 27/10/2010 02:28:55 AM 4889 Views
I've heard of the "better" stories, but never read them - 29/10/2010 02:43:18 AM 1419 Views
Re: I've heard of the "better" stories, but never read them - 29/10/2010 06:41:21 AM 1200 Views
It's almost annoying, how much he's improved. - 29/10/2010 06:53:09 AM 1195 Views
It's a shame really - 31/10/2010 11:52:23 AM 1266 Views
I loved the hints about Hendricks. *NM* - 31/10/2010 11:50:00 PM 909 Views

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