Thursday, February 23, 2017

EverfairEverfair by Nisi Shawl
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Unfortunately, this is a book full of flaws, but underlying all of those flaws is also a book I really, really want to appreciate.

Why? Because it's a story of the Belgian Congo under an alternate history banner that strives and reaches for its independence despite atrocity and thanks to technology. No more millions dead in unsung tragedy. Rather, we've got nation building in a rather fresh and ambitious undertaking.

Pretty, no? And the themes and the problems explored is also quite impressive, tackling head-on the issues of both racism and nationalism sometimes together and other times in stark contrast. Again, quite beautiful and quite exhaustively characterized, developed, and world-built. We've got a historian on board as well as someone firmly rooted in speculation in the author.

So what's wrong? Maybe it's just my poor brain, or perhaps it's just that the ambition is greater than the execution. I don't mind that we've got decades'-worth of world-building going on. I don't *theoretically* mind that we've got a literal ARMY of PoV characters.

I do mind when that army of PoV characters don't grab me emotionally, or I should say, some do, some don't.

I do mind when a lot of time passes and motivations change and we as readers are left in the lurch. Such things can happen off-page and can be quite interesting if we're either scholars pouring through the text OR we've been following a very limited cast over a long time, giving us the emotional investment to CARE why they change their minds. Unfortunately, I wasn't given either the investment or the pre-existing knowledge of the Congo's history or possible mitigating factors. It was left out of the book.

Are these deal-breakers? Not at all. The overriding sense of the nation is clear and I love the available kinds of interactions with America and the kinds of cross-cultural exchanges, learning, and even religious meshes that have developed over time.

All-in-all, it's a book worth appreciating... from afar. After the fact. As a purely intellectual exercise. My heart never quite got into it... and that's a shame because I wanted it to.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Monstress, Vol. 1: AwakeningMonstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's something awesome for you. I'm a TOTAL pushover for great art, great nasty story, and MONSTERS INSIDE US.

I mean, I've read the whole Naruto series twice and that whole story arc of the kid with the nine-tailed demon fox living within him was all kinds of awesome. So why do I love Monstress?

The demon living inside her, of course. SOOOO COOL!

Really, though, the artwork is all kinds of amazing and the story kicks me in my bollocks. It's bloody, it's disturbing, it's setting us up for all kinds of epic, and I'm completely hooked. It's kinda like Claymore and Berserk rolled into one, only the artwork is fully realized and colored on every page and it's just soooo gorgeous. And disturbing. :)

I can't wait to see what kind of friendship they strike up. :)

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Odd and the Frost GiantsOdd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delightful counterpoint to Norse Mythology!

I mean, yes, it's written for middle-grade and Thor and Loki are cute and Odin is inscrutable as always and the frost giant is funny rather than scary because, after all, EVERYONE is afraid of Freya's tongue... but it's still a real delight!

I don't care what anyone says about Gaiman. The man can write a classy tale no matter where or what he's writing about. This is, after all, only a retelling of an old story, but it's a very particular and beautiful Odd viewpoint.

I'll definitely be reading this to my girl when she gets a little older. :) Heck. It might even be time now. :)

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MicromegasMicromegas by Voltaire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

18th century SF. :) Gotta love it just for that.

Otherwise, my estimation of Voltaire continues to rise! I always loved his stuff before and while this doesn't have quite the social impact that something like Candide had, it certainly puts the rod to the church with its "blow your mind" idea of turning all us ants into something even more insignificant. :)

I see your enormous cathedral and raise you a thousand-league footprint. :)

Short and sweet and so scientific... these giants are giants of erudition and learning! Of course, they laugh at the idea that us little ants mean crap because we only live for mere dozens of years while they live for thousands. I mean, seriously.

Very impressive for its time and message. I know it's not entirely all about SF but it IS still an SF tale and one of the very first.

I'm so glad that Ada Palmer turned me on to it. :)

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The Wine-Dark SeaThe Wine-Dark Sea by Robert Aickman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having been a one-time lover of traditional stories by some of the greats of the last century or century and a half, I was much more at home with these tales than I might have been otherwise, assuming that I was in for tales of horror and the macabre.

What we have here are subtle tales that evoke more with atmosphere and themes of travel and disturbing discoveries than outright hack and slash.

My personal favorite was a retelling of Death in Venice with a particularly fantastical bent and no sign of Mann's character's other proclivities in "Never Visit Venice".

Indeed, most of these must be fantastical retellings of classic short stories and novellas, or at least it seems so, with the twists of bygone days, of tourists of different flavors, and even of stories such as the "Wine-Dark Sea" itself which appears to be a modernized retelling of the Isle of the Lotus Flowers or sometime quite similar.

Trains, vacations, buisiness trips, unexpected strangers... all of these things make a collection of stories filling us with awe and wonder even when we're steeped in the commonplace. Indeed, it's the commonplace that leads us to our dooms when we're pushed right off the ledge or when we experience something completely inexplicable, patted on our heads, and then sent on our way.

The author doesn't hold our hands. In fact, he insists that we ponder and try to figure out just what we had experienced. I have to say I like it.

Again, if you're looking for a pat collection of stories, look elsewhere, but if you love detailed and niggling-darkness creeping up on you with stories that harken back to all the more traditional mainstream stories from the turn of the last century through the fifties, then look no further. We've got advanced horror techniques going on here mixed fully with old-style classics. :)

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Evening's LandEvening's Land by Pauline West
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and the author herself for providing me an updated version of this manuscript for review. Some of the formatting issues were resolved nicely.

That being said, I need to rave a little bit about this book. It's like being handed a good W. H. Auden poem and learning that it has been turned into an erotic dream full of ghosts, a suicide, occultism, and sex, sex, sexy sex.

I normally don't seek out things like this, but let me be honest here: I thought it was all damn tasteful even if the directions it took was always there to push your limits.

Do you like seduction taken on a grand scale? Do you like concepts like evil and sacrifice mixed with your sexytime? Do you like playing with death as you play with your lover, at least in the pages of a tale? Then this is for you. Definitely, this is for you. It's beautifully written and lyrical and it assumes you've got a great vocabulary. No dumbing things down for any of us! The arousal permeates the pages, but beyond that, I was equally fascinated with the Evening's Land itself, the dreamscape where the dead come back and haunt (or seduce) the living.

This is a real trip, and poetical to boot.

I've seen some people say that this book is full of trigger warnings and that is absolutely true. If you have ever been in abusive relationships or absolutely controlling ones, you'll feel the shock of it here, especially since Mary welcomes it with open arms; infidelity and naughtiness being absolutely key.
And Faye's suicide is equally dark, but for different reasons, and we get that PoV very strongly, too. Ada's relative innocence becomes a rather wild abandon as she tries to work through her main story.

Even so, this is an adventure of life and living and excitement and art. It may be interspersed with all the darkness, too, but it's so hard to separate one from the other. In that respect, it's very close to life. :)

The author doesn't coddle us. She speaks her mind and her characters push a lot of boundaries, perfectly willing to make us, as readers, uncomfortable. But... I say this is wonderful. :) This is what good literature ought to do when it forces us down these fantastic paths of the human heart and experience.

This is very cool fantasy.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

TonguesTongues by Sam Joyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Santara on drugs. :)

Gotta love this voodoo stuff. Especially when we add a homebrew Nazi agenda in a hometown Texan town and a plucky independent journalist that may or may not survive all the voodoo shit spreading around. :)

Honestly, I got right into the tale and it never let me go. From wanting to hate all the neo-nazi stuff to rooting for the reporter, Catherine, I was fully hooked... and then we got Carmen's story, which was easily more interesting to me than all the rest.

We got traditional story, then we get an in-depth tale of a Brujah, and then we get the rest of the wild horror with full investigations, returning to poor Catherine, and an end that is quite satisfying.

I can say this isn't a normal horror. It falls deep in the curse and the Nazi shit and the chaos of this poor town Elena. :) Either way, the magic is cool and the characters are rock-solid. I can easily recommend this to all you horror fans out there. It's solid and well worth your time. :)

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