Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Exultant (Destiny's Children, #2)Exultant by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel was something of a shocker to me. I actually expected a continuation of Coalescent with the hive-mind Romans even if they take place in the near future with more George Poole or perhaps a future Michael Poole, but nothing could be farther from this.

(Not ENTIRELY true, actually, the hive-mind humans and a remnant 20-thousand-year-old near-immortal in Exultant gave us some continuity.)

But in actual fact, Exultant reads more like a bonafide Xeelee novel. As in, pulling together all the Time-Like Infinity short stories, references to Flux, Ring, and even a hint of what could come in some of the others.

We jump right out of the past and into the deep future after two great expansions of humanity across the galaxy and 20k years into an ongoing rear-guard near-retreat against the inscrutable Xeelee project that herds stars into the center of the galaxy to make the super black hole in its center ever larger.

Humanity is losing the war. Barely bringing the Xeelee to a stalemate, we've bred ourselves into a race of children designed to fight a losing war. For 20 THOUSAND years.

Not everyone thinks this is admirable or smart, however, and this is where the novel starts. Expect all the timey-wimey stuff of Baxter's other novels. Closed Time-Like Loops are a major plot point and I think it's gorgeous. Closed-Time-Like computing, especially. Cuts down on the wear and tear of the computers. :)

Moreover, this novel gives us one of the most epic moments in all of Baxter's future history, the push and last hurrah against the super black hole, the big reveal about the Xeelee's purpose, and THEIR great enemy.

Since I was already familiar with some of these events explained in retrospect in the other novels, I thought it was something of a really cool treat to see it up close and personal.

I may have been surprised with this novel, expecting something else, but what I ACTUALLY got was better. It was just... kinda out of the blue. Maybe it should have been billed as a direct Xeelee novel, marketed as one of the great and gorgeous battles of a galaxy-spanning mankind against a race who thinks we're less than vermin and aren't to be bothered with communicating with us. :)

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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Coalescent (Destiny's Children, #1)Coalescent by Stephen Baxter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sometimes I think Baxter is a hit-or-miss kind of author, thinking he goes over the same ground in rather interesting new ways, but when I think about it... His George Poole characters are all rather... DIFFERENT. Yes, yes, George Poole is here, again, but the kind of story told isn't spanning the world or the galaxy or all of time... this time.

Rather, we've got a rather cool Roman historical romance (of a kind) that brings together old English history and the Celts in rather awesome ways while jumping back to the current time in a cool family history mystery.

I was frankly entertained. Both sides of history (and later on, a future history,) were fascinating and thrilling and reminded me at times of Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio, a historical drama, and a first-contact SF. All three are wonderful and at some moments I was reminded of Poul Anderson's The Boat of a Million Years. That's high praise. :)

I'm into this enough that I have to jump on the second book right away. After all, we're talking about a full transformation of humanity into a HIVE MIND!

Yay! It's what I asked Santa for Christmas! ;)

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Empire of the Sun (Empire of the Sun, #1)Empire of the Sun by J.G. Ballard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know whether it's a mistake to read all the other things this great SF author has read first and THEN read this brilliant WWII novel of a young kid lost in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation or whether it might be best to see all the wildness of his short stories, longer fictions, and utter fascination with flying and emotional deadening in the middle of tragedy FIRST.

Or whether everyone and anyone with even a slight interest in reading one of the very best novels of the war should drop everything else on their list and jump right into this.

I admit I watched the Spielberg film back in the day, utterly fascinated and totally identifying with Jim, the main character, who just happened to be played by a young Christian Bale, admitting that while this kind of movie was NOTHING like the kinds of movies or books I preferred, and yet falling for it completely...

...right down to the dead-eyed stares after so much starvation, death, and Jim's last vestiges of innocent wonder and miracles retained throughout the very worst that humanity has to offer.

I've seen the movie like four times.

And yet, I only just now read the book AFTER having read several others by the same author AND the complete short story collection.


Maybe I should have started with this. It's brilliant. No two ways about it. I broke down into tears and was amazed by how much further the book takes it even after KNOWING what to expect from the movie.

I'm not exactly NEW to this genre. I shouldn't have been affected this hard. I shouldn't have had to stop the book for several minutes at a time because I couldn't breathe right. It was just... almost... too much for me. Emotionally. I'm wrecked.

Sure, the movie is a good intro or perhaps a companion to this brilliant novel, but by NO MEANS should the novel be skipped. It's just one of those brilliant classics that may be regarded as timeless.

No pressure, right?

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JoylandJoyland by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm kinda embarrassed.

I neglected reading Joyland because it was A: short and B: I didn't think it would be a trademark King.

For the first, I have no excuse. The second is all Shame On Me.

That cover is pure hogwash. The book diverges a bit from the normal SK in that he goes out on a REALLY STRANGE LIMB and writes an MC who doesn't have much in the way of faults. In fact, he's almost godlike the way young Danny Torrence was in the Shining. :) He's a damn good kid. A little depressed and unhappy, perhaps, but he breaks King's mold by being a genuinely decent kid!

*gasp* *shock*

Honestly, I found myself falling in love with this book from the very start and it only got better as it went on. I never really enjoy super-sappy nostalgia novels unless they're tinged with some really cool conflict and stakes, so Bradbury sometimes annoys me, but King? King does dead people with his beautiful memories and treasures and REAL HAPPINESS.

Yeah, King does REAL HAPPINESS here.

*gasp* *shock*

Yeah, no one is more surprised than me. I'm kinda blown away. :)

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Sunday, April 21, 2019

Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral (Voice from the Edge)Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Harlan Ellison's stories are always a treat for me. Mostly acerbic, always well-crafted, vibrant, exciting... and above all, full of depth. I've never read a collection I didn't at least feel like raving about. Not all stories are perfect or super-engaging, mind you, but like any music album, I tend to give high marks when four out of the bunch absolutely thrill me. :)

Here are the ones that made a big impression:

Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral. Let's turn regrets into an Atlantean multiple-dimensions What-If story that is both fascinating, uplifting, and a memento-mori all at once. :)

The Function of Dream Sleep. Easily my absolute favorite of the lot. I found myself impressed by the starting point and then fully engaged and then downright frightened. Yes. This story actually scared the bejesus out of me. THAT GENERALLY NEVER HAPPENS to me. I might have nightmares.

Jeffty is Five. At once totally scary with the seemingly innocuous implications, it moves the fear aside and heads right toward wonder, deep nostalgia, and right back to horror. Five-year-olds are SCARY when they're five for seventeen years. :)

Soft Monkey. I now have a new appreciation for the streets of NYC. I've never been so impressed or thrilled to have an action movie surrounding a homeless black woman. :) The image of the Draino will stick with me, I think.

These stories, and I assume, all of Harlan's stories, are the type that should never be missed by anyone who likes wildly entertaining and often sharp-enough-to-bleed stories. Mostly SF and F, but did I mention these are SHARP? :)

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The Light BrigadeThe Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's another WOW title. I've enjoyed Kameron Hurley's other novels quite a lot but nothing prepared me for this one.

It's the spiritual grandson (or grandaughter) of Haldeman's The Forever War and Heinlein's Starship Troopers. It has a little of both and a lot of the very modern tone, updated to our very real cultural relativity wrapped up in a very hardcore DUTY wrapping while never quite knowing what is really real. In that respect, it's a bit of PKD, too.

And I love it.

Getting turned into light to fight on Mars in a neverending war is the signature of futility in a fantastic hard-SF bow.

For those of you who are big fans of Hurley's other hard-SF trilogy, it deals with the same issues of torture, being ground down to nothing, and working through the lies, lies, lies surrounding them.

The big bad is never all that clear. We're told it's Mars but while everyone is kept in the dark and strange time-hopping things happen out of sequence and big horrors keep turning their lives into a patchwork, we're given a very special look at the real enemy. Could it be ourselves? :)

Back into the meat grinder, men!

Just... wow. I think Hurley's writing is getting even better. I'm such a fan of this novel that I want to see it get nommed for Hugo.

That's three for this year so far! Really great SF, folks. :)

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The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the most part, I enjoyed the novel. I especially loved how easy it was to read aloud to my daughter and how toned-down it was compared to *almost ANYTHING* At all. Hell, even my six-year-old found it sometimes EXTREMELY boring. (Her words)

*sigh* At least I have the movie to look forward to, right? And yes, she likes that just fine.

Back to the book...

All the characters are so iconic it's easily fun for *ME* to get into them, tho, and enjoy the broad-brush strokes full of simplistic...

Oh, well, IT IS FOR CHILDREN. Right? Maybe we adults are too spoiled with delightfully subtle and/or subversive children's messages in children's books and we never grew up during the "simple" times our great-great-great grandparents grew up with. But the sense of wonder is definitely here. I kinda miss that.

And I ramble. :)

Honestly, I have no real issues with it. It was a pleasure to read aloud to my girl except when she made me stop two dozen times because she was too bored. And I'm like... huh? FLYING MONKEYS! Who doesn't like FLYING MONKEYS?

Alas. :)

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