Thursday, March 22, 2018

City of Saints and Madmen (Ambergris, #1)City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would love to say this novel defies description, but it doesn't. :) In fact, thanks to the existence of a number of really quite fabulous works that came after it, some from VanderMeer's own hand, we can now properly place this work in its proper context.

New Weird.

Yeah, yeah, but WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

In this case? I'd call this a tightly interwoven series of stories and faux academic papers surrounding the fictional city of Abergris. Expect strange mushrooms that range from hallucinogenic to graphically horrific to a high-grade fever dream of a Lovecraftian occultist.

And let's not forget the squids. Or the squid cults. Or how we have a large portion of the most respected library in Ambergris devoted to books on the squids that range from naturalists to fairy tales to squid cults to conspiracy theories hinting that some of the most troublesome parts of a few popular squid plays were, in fact, written by a certain cephalopod IN HIS OWN INK.

Sound strange? It isn't. Not really. Each tale is a low-grade fever dream couched heavily in the normal, the regular, the banal. Things only get odd at a slow rate, kinda like being boiled alive and not understanding this fact until it is far too late. Of course, that makes us lobsters. Not squid. My metaphor breaks down.

I was honestly driven to real anxiousness and amorphous horror by many of these related tales. Much like his more well-known works in Area X and Borne, he has a wonderful command of the scientific method, an evocative sense of awe, and a well-developed manner of timing his prose to pack a heavy horror punch.

For those of you who are familiar with the general modern fantasy (often SF) field, the closest writers to this wonderful novel would happen to be Christopher Priest's Dream Archipelago sequence. Alan Moore's Jerusalem is also wonderfully close to it. But I won't fail to add, to a lesser degree, China Mieville. :)

New Weird is a genre-bender in all senses, adding heavy fake academics, amazing depth, horror sensibilities, passion, and a dose of THINGS THAT CAN'T BE RIGHT. But are, of course, in the tale. Most of the time, these aspects flabbergast the characters as much as it does us. It's charming and endlessly diverting. :)

Do I recommend?

Oh, yes. For anyone who likes a solid challenge and doesn't mind having their minds blown. Absolutely. :)

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Strange Practice (Dr. Greta Helsing, #1)Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This new Urban Fantasy was a rather slow starter for me. I was like... Oh, okay, a doctor for the monsters. What could go wrong? A little humor, a little less-well-known vamp, some old friendships with unknown monstrous types, and a serial murderer/s on the loose taking out all the good monsters who just want to get along.

The strength would have to rely on the writing rather than the concept for me.

Fortunately, I didn't mind the slow bits so much and after the action picked up I hopped along with the tale quite nicely. All in all, she pulled it off. The basic concept is okay but it's the characters that sold it. Add a pretty surprising run-in with a big bad and some cool worldbuilding with the supernaturals, and I'm quite happy. It may not be the most fascinating UF I've ever read but I may enjoy continuing it.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Murders of Molly SouthbourneThe Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a very nice genre-bender, parts SF, Fantasy, and Horror, all surrounding the multiple instances of Molly every time she bleeds. Each time rising from the ground or floor to become a complete copy of herself.

This isn't a humorous novella, however. Indeed, the creep-factor is turned up rather high. Every time a duplicate comes up, she's forced to murder herself.

It works well on several levels. The literal is bad enough, managing to reach over to normalcy while being very horrific, but when it becomes a metaphor, a branching out into anything we must murder within ourselves, it also works wonderfully. It might be a desire or a drive, an orientation or even just a natural preference or religious observation...

And yet it still works. :)

And it works very well as a straight horror, too. Being all-out creepy and disturbing is the name of the game. A subtext isn't necessary to enjoy this. Just figuring out who is narrating should keep anyone endlessly fascinating.

Self-examination is a real horrorshow. :)

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Steel BeachSteel Beach by John Varley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful surprise! Varley is one hell of an idea-prolific SF author who never rests on any old plotline but continually stretches his wings over new shores.

So far, I've read five of his novels and I'm frankly rather blown away each time by each in turn. Why? Because he's more interested in telling great character stories with depth and emotional importance than he is about amazing worldbuilding.

Huh. So what? A lot of modern SF does that all the time.

Ah, but a lot of modern SF doesn't go hog wild with amazing worldbuilding and tech and implications the same way as these older SF novels do.

So wait, what? Is this a novel of ideas or a great story about suicidal characters living in a utopia on the Moon after being ejected from the Earth after an alien invasion there? Or is this a story about a schizophrenic AI gone crazy from loneliness and who decided to experiment heartily on the post need-based humanity for the fuck of it? Or is this a delightfully deep and clever and thoughtful sexual identity SF that explores a lot of the pitfalls of being able to swap sexes for yourself almost on demand?

All of the above. Plus there's wonderful media quips, journalism commentary, wild west nostalgia, and an amazingly funny romp with Heinleinesque libertarians who have their own movement on Luna and who embody the heart of RAH's writings without precisely going into the truly weird shit. :)

Varley goes in his own direction there and it's never preachy and it's genuinely thoughtful. Am I charmed? You bet I am. But then, I loved seeing all the homages to RAH and the way Varley bounces off them in strange and wonderful ways.

One thing that should be remembered: RAH died right around the time Varley would have been writing this. Varley is too good a writer and thinker to pull off a straight homage to the Grandmaster. He wrote a great novel all by itself that is equal to anything Samuel Delaney ever wrote and did it with a great hard SF bent, but tipping his hat to the old master was quite delightful and heartwarming. :)

That being said, I loved this novel! I laughed many times and that's impressive when we're in the heart of depression, ennui, and suicidal thoughts. :)

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Vacuum Diagrams (Xeelee Sequence, #5)Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is some of the hardest of the hard SF out there. Staggering, even.

Let me back up. Baxter's hardest SF is several magnitudes harder than almost any SF author out there. His Xeelee Sequence novels are vast. I mean, we're dealing with an average of 5 million years worth of human evolution, galaxy crafting, and nearly unimaginable hugeness.

Stars' evolution are being sped up for the sake of Dark Matter alien civilizations and vast, inscrutable aliens of the baryonic universe (IE., us and those close to us) are fighting a losing battle against the quickening heat-death of the universe.

I remember my jaw dropping with the scope and how messed up the Ring was, a galaxy-sized superstring constructed around a naked black hole in order to punch a hole OUT of this universe because we can't defeat the truly alien aliens. And by we, I mean the Xeelee.

Humans are kinda idiots. But we have epic struggles and we change ourselves into very strange life, sometimes immortal, sometimes living on the crust of neutron stars, sometimes enslaved by other alien races, but usually always ten steps behind the Xeelee who just don't care about anyone else.

5 million years. That's a lot of amazing ideas jammed in here. Nanotech, physics discoveries, P complete theorems, black-hole quantum intelligences, spiders making webs between Pluto and Charon, deep sun explorers, living spaceship aliens, and truly vast wars and desperation.


And this novel is actually a future history made up of Baxter's short stories, all locked into the same worldbuilding. They're often centered around physics reveals, but there is also a ton of good character building going on, too.

The writing is sometimes not always the best I've ever read, but the sheer volume of ideas and mind-blowing events and situations more than makes up for that.

When I say I'm mind-blown, this is true after reading MOST of his other truly mind-blowing novels. The Xeelee sequence is simply... AMAZING. Wow. Wow. Wow. :)

It won't be for everyone. Not by along shot. But it is a definite must for fans of Cixin Liu or Peter Watts or Alaistair Reynolds. :) Robert L. Forward, too! Or David Brin! :)

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ready Player One (Ready Player One, #1)Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 3/18/18:

A buddy read and sheer nostalgic orneriness and excitement for the movie has driven me to re-read this classic SF. :)

What can I say? It's even better on re-reads and the nostalgia factor is just as intense. Only this time, I dragged out my old DVDs and watched my favorite geeky 80's films and watched them in the same way that young alcoholics will play a drinking game. Hear a reference, take a shot. In this case, when I hear a reference, I watch the damn movie. :)

I did NOT go the route of TV shows. That way lies madness. Since I am not mad, nor in possession of old tv shows of questionable value, I didn't go nuts. Maybe I did youtube a few old Knight Riders for giggles. Maybe I watched some of the new Voltrons. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

Original Review:

I have to agree with Hugh Howey's review of this book, for the same reasons: The whole novel was written entirely for me! Of course, I also felt the same way about Among Others by Jo Walton due to the unabashedly glorious references to other fantastic works. Ernest Cline has brought back all of my favorite childhood cultural references in all their glory, except for one which I certainly wish he had worked in. I wanted Princess Bride! But alas, alak, sigh, and ho hum. No issues, seriously. I was giddy through the entire reading of this novel and thought about what a wonderful world it is to have such writers in it. Thank you!

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Unearthed (Unearthed, #1)Unearthed by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

YA Adventure Romance in alien ruins, full of scavengers, raiders, and a mystery that only really gets good at the end.

Yeah? But did I have fun?

Moderately so. No real complaints -- for the most part -- but I often wondered if this was really about tomb raiding or whether this was about the character dynamic of Elites versus the Downtrodden. The romance wasn't exactly bad in this regard. Some parts were quite enjoyable.

The raiders bit? Well, unfortunately, the raiders of the lost ark seemed to drag a bit for me. The puzzles were somewhat entertaining and the survival aspects were also somewhat entertaining, but the only thing that really kept me going was the promise of the big Phi reveal.

What was the warning? What is the big danger? Why SHOULDN'T they keep going?

But because they're kids and all the other greedy-types want it, everyone keeps going. Progress, reversal, progress, reversal, etc, until at last we have it.

Nice reveal. Not sure if it is justified by the journey, but it wasn't exactly bad. I'm just not sure it really sold me. It's probably mostly an "it's me, not you" scenario. :)

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