Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Caine's Mutiny (Tales of the Terran Republic, #4)Caine's Mutiny by Charles E. Gannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read a Gannon book, I'm always struck by his command of what he intends to do in a story. It may not always be to my taste and sometimes he seems to write himself in corners that then take a lot of effort -- and talking -- to extricate himself, but in the end, I'm almost always impressed that he pulls off what he does.

It's Space-Opera. But this one is old-school Mil-SF.

Indeed, this is so old-school Mil-SF we've even got WWII and Vietnam non-coms who have been decanted 200 years after they were spirited away, finding themselves fighting a desperate battle of survival on a planet already inhabited by a proudly-idiotic alien species that always tends to find a way into fights under any excuse.

Caine, our supremely capable Commander, gets embroiled in strange alien politics, elaborate subterfuges, space battles fought for unclear purposes, and eventually, he's asked to pick up these out-of-time refugees (who have been fighting for their survival) to return them to Earth Space.

Of course, many things go wrong, but here's the main strength of this book: the military action reads like real military action, all including antique equipment and weapons terminology mixed freely with high-tech warfare and terminology. It's a real mess. And we get to spend a lot of time in the heads of several alien species with all their psychological differences, their war practices, and enough tactics and strategies to awe any fan of this particular genre.

Me? I... kinda like Mil-SF. In small doses. Some are pretty awesome. Some are a lot more realistic than others. This one is one of the realistic ones. It also fills most of the pages.

My complaint? I think it's fine if you want a novel that is filled MOSTLY with characters talking in lieu of action. We get a clear picture, regardless, but it sometimes got on my nerves.

That being said, the BIGGER scope of this novel takes us across many systems, in and out of political negotiations with aliens, be it cease-fires or species wrangling or leverage against our own government. All of this was pretty awesome, in my opinion.

I'm sure others will get more mileage out of this than I did, but by no means was it a bad book. In some ways, it's superior to most. It just didn't appeal to me in a huge way.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

LexiconLexicon by Max Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm coming to this party VERY late. So many people have either loved this or hated it because of the hype, but honestly?

I enjoyed the effortless storytelling, the core ideas, the wonderful characters, and the deep emotion it evoked in me.

I mean, you either believe in the power of words or you don't. That's basically what separates those who love this book from those who don't... And I'm a dog person. My favorite color is green. My Facebook profile is useless for data collection because I filled it with nonsense... but that doesn't mean I'm not susceptible to neurolinguistic programming.

And that's what this SF thriller featuring neurolinguistic wizards is all about: persuasion. Sometimes a persuasion that has godlike levels of power. :) Of course, it's all about language. Words have all the power.

I personally would have loved to see an aspect of the tale move to the realm of how language creates consciousness, but Max Barry merely skirts the edge of that idea here. He DOES, however, remain firmly within the confines of a gloriously and deliciously evil story that not only succeeds in delivering a gut-punch of an ending but a huge body count as well.

What? Isn't this a book on words? Oh, hell yeah.

I can't see a reason why this book should not become a classic SF. It deserves to be read and re-read. Maybe if I read it enough times I can condition myself out of certain mindsets... or condition myself into another. :) I daresay the tower of Babel was never destroyed.

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Sunday, April 5, 2020

The Paper Menagerie and Other StoriesThe Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm filled with shame for not having read these fantastic short stories earlier. Instead, I just focused on reading Ken Liu's translations of Cixin Liu, and Ken Liu's own enormous epic fantasy, ignoring, (wrongly-so) his award-winning short fiction.

*rubs hands together and gets to work*

I was delighted by almost all the short, sometimes strange, fiction that filled the first pages.

The Bookmaking Species of Select Species tickled all my librophile instincts.

State Change made me change tracks HARD and I felt the claustrophobia and intense BELIEF behind the somewhat magical conceit that each of us has our souls trapped in a small, unique object that we must protect at all costs. The twist is in the title.

Perfect Match made me think I had just watched a Black Mirror episode or a pretty common technothriller idea, but it wasn't bad for all that.

Good Hunting was a freaking delight because I recognized it right away as one of my favorite on-screen adaptations in the Netflix show Love, Death, and Robots. Kitsune legend meets steampunk transformation!

The Literomancer was both darkly interesting and pretty disturbing. Cultural Revolution meets interpretive magic.

Simulacrum was okay. I didn't dislike it but it wasn't as poignant as some I've read on the same thing.

The Regular was a much longer tale that was a police procedural, a mystery with a ton of great cyborg elements interwoven in the solving and the causes of the crimes. It was both clever and fast-paced and pure popcorn goodness.

The Paper Menagerie was rather sweet and all about learning about your family and dealing with cross-cultural divides. I can appreciate it and do, but it is not my favorite story in the bunch despite all the awards it was given.

An Advanced Readers’ Picture Book of Comparative Cognition made me oooh and ahhh because I LOVE a good story that doesn't hold back on the science and speculation and rolls all over the carpet with a cool tale.

The Waves was pretty ok. Not the best, but definitely above average.

Mono No Aware felt like a more traditional SF story with space travel. Also okay.

All the Flavors rather surprised me. I didn't realize I would be getting a rather long Western set during the time of the railroad building where many Chinese lost their lives in America in the Company Towns while building the Transcontinental. It was rather great.

A Brief History of The Trans-Pacific Tunnel was written as snippets of news articles about (somewhat) digging a hole to China. I dug this short one.

The Litigation Master and The Monkey King might be my favorite story here. More than anything, it's a legal drama set in classic China that turns a trickster into a hero... on the side of safeguarding history. Great stuff.

The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary felt like a very different take on the same theme, but this time it had a very cool time-travel trick that caused a LOT of trouble for the creator. What kind of trouble? The usual kind: Political, social, Denialists, national embarrassment. What is it about? Getting proof, some small apology for Japan's role in the atrocities they committed during their occupations of China and other countries during WWII. Many horrible experiments were performed on prisoners. This story is rooted in facts, but the SF portion of the tale just pulls out a new, very believable wrinkle in the ongoing nastiness. Should tragedies that are old be swept under the rug, never acknowledged, or acknowledged and in the same breath denied?

This last one was pretty hard to get through, emotionally. Accordingly, I give it very high marks.

Overall, I loved the entire collection. :)

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Friday, April 3, 2020

Letters from the LightLetters from the Light by Shel Calopa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For a book full of underdogs, marginalized characters, and pretty clear-cut bad guys that cross the line back and forth between being allies and antagonists, I still developed a distinct impression that I was reading a pretty standard SF adventure. You know, rebellion against the social machine, disgust with the old order, and the hard-scrabble for survival against stacked odds. That's fine for what it is, but it's not overly unique.

On the other hand, this novel is also jammed-packed with massive amounts of totally awesome worldbuilding and a seriously hardcore SF ethos. From a lush future Australia to spacecraft with failing pods, planetary colonies set up and sadly abandoned to their own worst failure modes, machine life, nanotech, and a very, very cool tech focused on light.

It's the SF ethos that I really appreciated. Oh, and the end sequence was ALL kinds of awesome. :)

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Emperor of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #3)Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While this book might appear to be one of those love/hate things, I have to admit that Jorg, the character I love to hate, is awfully compelling.

Sure, he's a right bastard and he'll never mince words when the sword of the blade will do the job quicker, but beyond that, he's all about RESULTS. He never takes half-measures. Whether it's about living life, saving people, or murdering ANYONE who gets in his way, be they loyal or antagonistic, he never, ever, takes half-measures.

I admit I love that about him. Sure, it means he'll kill everyone and anyone to get what he wants, but he NEVER goes back on his word. Of course, that is only a promise he makes to himself, and he has enough pride and bloodlust to put satan to shame, but it makes for a very compelling story.

And then there's all the pure awesome going on with the worldbuilding: a broken future world after the bombs drop and something interestingly quantum opens up the door to belief and expectation altering reality, an amassed army of the undead ravaging this future medieval world, and even high-tech simulacra of men's minds trapped in machines.

It's a heady mix and it's totally grimdark, but more than that, it's deliciously fun.

Let's hear it for Jorg! He's a horrible man but damn, at least he never does anything by half-measures.

Apparently, neither does Mark Lawrence.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

King of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #2)King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Still a nasty piece of grimdark, but I have to be honest: there are a FEW more redeeming features to our young little psychopath in this book than there were in one that came before.

I probably sound like that's a bad thing... right? Well... yeah. I was USED to loving to hate the little murderous sociopathic little punk. I don't want him humanized. I want him to plow over all his enemies and random bystanders who might have been within spitting distance of him. I want him to burn the world.

Or rather, since he ate the heart of a necromancer on a freaking whim and now he has a lich inside of him as well as a warring freaking incarnation of fire, I fully expected him to raise armies of the dead and have all the bones run around on fire, destroying all the warring kingdoms and his subjects and laugh uproariously about it.

Seriously. I'm not even joking.

But NOOOOOO he's sinned against almost as much as he sins and that little memory trick is really kicking my conception of him around like nobody's business.

Suffice to say, I still love the book. Maybe I'm not quite as thrilled with the sheer, utter darkness of it, but it is definitely full of some really great moments.

Grimdark for the win!

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Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Minimalist Grimdark.

I came at this from the wrong end of the reading spectrum. I tried out one of his later series then fell in love with his Impossible Times fun SF, and then said to myself... "Hey, why don't you pick up the book that started this wild ride of his career?"

So I did. And after having already gone through an old bout of Grimdark Fantasy reading that basically gives us all a hearty, warm feeling in our guts... just as the guts start sliding out... I jumped into this with a light-hearted laugh and said, "Ah, well, this is one of those uber-anti-hero books where we're supposed to root for the heavy-metal Lucifer character, right?"

Yes. And then some.

We go from a dark past to a dark present and headlong, bloodily, into a dark future. The writing itself is some of the starkest, MINIMALIST pieces of writing I've come across in some time. Simple. Right to the point. Move on quickly. Murder, pillage, more murder, revenge, and above all... a young kid doing it all, NEVER GIVING UP, NEVER BACKING DOWN. He's one scary-ass punk.

His pride is actually pretty appealing, even if... um... MOST of his actions aren't.

That being said, I still had a pretty good time that turned into a GREAT time when the worldbuilding started poking its head out from under the sheets. It felt like a historical right out from the Hundred Year War right until some modern terms poked into the page... and then when we got outright SF elements and the Day of A Thousand Suns came along, I was cackling with glee. What a dark future we've got. :)

Suffice to say, this tickled all the dark places in my psyche. :) If you happen to love the really dark stuff, I highly recommend this.

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