Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Song of AchillesThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, it looks like Apollo has shined on me today. And I will, as so many have before me, confirm that this book is a great one.

Retellings of ancient stories can a complicated slog or a brilliant adaptation, of course, but the best are always the ones that come with beautiful, lyrical language, bold interpretations, and a rip-roaring sense of style.

Good news! This one satisfies on all levels! And I have to admit that I always suspected, from the original, that Achilles and Patroclus were lovers. It only made SENSE that such a reaction could only be born of great passions.

And so that brings us to the reality of this tale. It is not so much about growing up or cross-dressing or bearing the enmity of Agamemnon.

This is a ROMANCE. :)

Καλησπέρα σε όλους!


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Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Runelords (Runelords #1)The Runelords by David Farland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Man versus Nature. Writ large.

Or larger, if you consider we're dealing with whole armies concentrated into a single man or the Earth in the other.

This is an epic fantasy that's competent in characters if not in extensive worldbuilding. But more importantly, it runs with a very, very cool idea. And cool ideas are COOL.

The skinny? Attributes can be given or taken from people and added to other individuals. Use runes plus guile, absolute force, or desperate pleading, and then you've got some insanely powerful superheroes and supervillains. Think that Jet Li movie, One, but instead of sucking, make the possibilities unlimited for all characters. Want super eyesight? Take 100 the good eyesight from a hundred people, let them go blind, and become hawkeye. :) Same for Wit, Endurance, Metabolism, Glamour, or others.

Have the big bad become a god with all these attributes. He is the sum of all men. Now set the overmatched hero against him.

Cool, right? Simple, fun, and interesting. Not classic literature, but FUN. :)

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Tender MorselsTender Morsels by Margo Lanagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For anyone who has read this book, the beginning is the absolute worst.

Not that it is badly written or boring. Hell no. It's all the incest, forced abortion, rape, and attempted suicide.

By the way, this is a YA. My inner critic was cursing and carrying on and wondering how the hell I could get through this freaking grimdark nightmare.

And then it lightened up. Got magical. Got heavenly. Sometimes it even got humorous. And then it became a retelling of Snow White. With the magicked prince that is a bear. And then it became a different kind of story. One about healing. About redemption. About power. And about finding one's way in the world. Or worlds. Or within timelines, dreamlands, and Fae-ish realms.

There's a lot of characters in here, and I won't deny that I didn't care for some and always perked up for others, but reading about the dwarf was always particularly interesting. He's not a nice man but he's not a complete tool like some we encountered.

This is not an easy book to read. Emotionally. The text is quite beautiful. But damn, this fable holds no punches.

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The Silent LandThe Silent Land by Graham Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can reading a book like this be considered walking (or skiing) a well-known path when it is, in fact, covered in snow?

White, delicious snow that bruises, locks-in, and blankets you in sweet, sweet comfort just before it kills you?

The answer? Yes. The nature of snow is still the nature of snow and the nature of this story, how well-worn, is still a thing of beauty.

So where am I going with all this? It's simple. It's atmosphere, baby. It's characters. It's going on vacation and finding that time and all other people in the world has gone away. It's about love... and the other thing. :)

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Children of Earth and SkyChildren of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm just going to have to place Guy Gavriel Kay's books into a shelf of their own. A genre of their own. I mean, sure, there are certain authors that have come close, such as some of Umberto Eco or Kim Stanley Robinson, but Kay's writing just plops us down into what, by all apparent aspects, seems to be our Rennaisance Europe or something very, very close.

All names and a lot of history is altered but to any normal comparison, we're dealing with the Ottoman Empire and Christians. Italy! A regular author might have just skimmed some aspects and thrown them in, but Kay instead goes deep and rich and detailed. Not only exploring all the misconceptions and prejudices on either side, but taking it full-force into spies, exiles, and intrigue of all kinds. And let's not forget the battles!

Lush writing, gorgeous characters. What's probably the best part of it IS the characters. I get into them not because of any particular plot point but because of WHO and WHAT they do, how they do it, and how interesting their choices twist the full story.

But what is the story?

Well, like the last one I read, the full culmination winds up being the WAY the lives are lived. Personal successes and failures. Not the overarching plot. :) I think it works brilliantly. Of course, I was invested in each character, so I would think that. :)

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 9/18/19:

So, do I have anything I want to say that I didn't say in my original review? Yes. Possibly.

My least favorite section usually involved all the jewelry making and the eventual rise and fall of the metal as a main character in the story. But this time? Maybe I just happened to be in the right mood. Tagomi's crisis in perception was VERY PKD and pretty delightful this time around. The jewelry being a catalyst, a doorway through the Yin into the Yang and vice versa, resonated strangely and through a back door into my consciousness. This time.

Otherwise, I still enjoyed the novel. Even if it is, and always be, a complicated relationship. :)

Original review:

This book is complicated for me. I only cared about Juliana's story as an actual story. There were times where I was invested with Frank's tale, too, and Tagomi had his moments, but as a complete and cohesive novel, the overt tale wasn't anything special. Nothing much happened except the hint of an attempted coup, the beginnings of an attempted assassination of an author, and the near-tragedy of a jewelry maker.

So what's all the fuss about? Why do people think this PKD is the bomb? Why did it earn a Hugo back in '62?

It's complicated. Just like my relationship with the novel.

Let's get the heavy out of the way. The whole damn thing was written with the extensive use of the I Ching. Hell, I learned the I Ching and used it extensively after reading this novel, just to get a deeper feel. This is a practical crash-course in PKD's fascination with all things mystical and religious, focused on a tight beam of almost pink light and driven right into the heart of every character's life. It's easy to extrapolate into all his other works from here, or backtrack to this instant. Everything is connected.

I loved this part of it. The twists and the turns, the inexplicable and the merely odd things that happen to the people, all of it could be blamed on the I Ching, and by extension, the vagaries of real life. Truth is hereby written.

I just don't think it made for a particularly exciting tale... just a pretty profound one.

And then there's the other part of this book which generally captures most people's attention. It's an alternate history where the Germans and the Japanese won WWII and split up the USA into occupied territories. We spend most of our time in the Japanese sector of California, where Frank is relatively free of the threat of being thrown into a gas chamber for being of Jewish ancestry.

Nice set-up? You bet. PKD's details are vast and deep, too, throwing us into an immersion both amazing and scary as hell. It's a crash course in cultural mindsets, too, although I cannot be any kind of expert on how the Japanese really think. I cannot tell anyone how accurate it is. BUT, I can say it was a huge eye-opener the first time I read this.

As a novel of worldbuilding, what PKD accomplished here is beyond excellent. Perhaps it only seems so this far down the timestream from when it was written, and perhaps it is a genuine masterpiece regardless of when we read it, but a great working knowledge of all the historical players is almost a must before dipping your toes in this water. I think I'm not too bad at history, having read a great number of non-fiction books, but since I wasn't living through the events, I felt lost a great deal of the time.

It was almost as if PKD almost refuses to divulge the hidden treasures in the events without our active and fairly intense participation, but it wasn't so much the name dropping that I had troubles with. It was the importance of the events that happened to each of the characters that stymied me. So, again, we had to return to the I Ching and divine the deeper reasons.

Themes can and will be untangled with enough effort, and they're pretty cool, but this novel is by no means a simple and straightforward read.

And then there's the third awesome aspect of the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a prophetic and I Ching written novel that's hugely popular in this alternate world. It depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war. An additional I Ching reading about the veracity of this novel tells us that it is a hidden truth. It's real. And people all across the nation seem to realize it, talk about it, and generally obsess over it.

How cool. Right? A mirror of the universe *mostly* reflecting our own and driving its inhabitants a little bonkers in exactly the way that PKD's novel did for us in this universe!

Well, it wouldn't be PKD without at least TWO world-shattering shenanigans, right?

So, I've got all these high props of the novel and a teeth-grinding annoyance held out for it for the SAME REASON. Am I and this book in a relationship? Yes. But it's complicated. ;)

Very cool stuff, but it requires a lot of effort to really enjoy. It's high maintenance. :)

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary WritersA People's Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers by Victor LaValle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I got into this book with the expectation that at least some of the stories by these well-known writers would be hopeful or optimistic in the face of obvious injustice. After all, the whole collection IS a tribute to Howard Zinn's classic, A People's History of the United States. So of course, an SF future treatment of the same would probably be about resistance and standing up for what we believe.

In actual fact, quite a few do follow that idea, but more of them felt like truly dark futures with no hope in sight. Normal stuff, actually, tho very creative, like pushing the trend of current legislation to the full horrible ends, be it abortion, the welfare state, the patriarchy completely winning, or even all blacks being deported.

Truly horrible stuff. Like tattoos being the last books available for anyone to read. Or virtual realities suffocating the life out of us. You get the idea.

Fortunately, all these stories are pretty great. Exciting. Or nasty. Fun, or thought-provoking, or enraging. Few are actually hopeful, but maybe that's just a sign of the times. A lot of us are really disgusted at how much backsliding we've seen.

*waves his fists at the air*

My favorites?

Read After Burning by Maria Dahvana Headly.
The Blindfold by Tobias S. Buckwell

But I also really got into:

Our Aim is Not to Die by Merc Rustad
The Referendum by Lesley Nneka Arimah
Calendar Girls by Justina Ireland
The Sun in Exile by Cat Valente

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