Monday, March 27, 2017

The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsThe Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings by Angela Slatter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Always clear and hauntingly beautiful, Angela Slatter can be realistically called one of the masters of the short fiction form, balancing earthy and detailed characters and settings that suck you in against chillingly dreadful stories of degradation, revenge, and magic.

Each story is poetry, but what really gets to me is the fact that each story in this collection, as with Sourdough, are connected.

Not all of them are obviously connected, and in fact, between these two books, they range over great spans of time and different towns and cities, not to mention so many different characters who sometimes show up as old people in other's tales or towns whose fates have gone the way of the dodo... usually because of the envents in the previous story.

Can I recommend this even more, and gloriously so? Absolutely! I'm a huge fan of world building in all its formats, but this stuff is the thing of cathedral stained glass and carefully tended trellises of roses.... with a very, very, dark bent.

I know people keep saying that she's been retelling old myths and fairy tales, but I want to say that she's gone one or two steps further. She's created brand new myths to enrich and enhance the old, even writing with such heart and passion as to put all other similar attempts to shame.

I can see myself reading and rereading these books for a very long time to come. They're so rich and wild and vibrant and deep. Because there's so much going on beneath the surface and in the wild world in general, and we're stuck within a very limited PoV locked within her own extremely interesting story, it's often hard to figure out exactly *when* we are in the wider tales, save for key events that show up in brief conversations or expositions, but one thing is certain: careful reading and perahps a rather large diagram or two can probably lay it all out for us.

Angela Slatter is a very clear and beautiful writer. That bears repeating. She's also telling some of the most haunting tales I've ever read.

But here's the best part: she never assumes we're stupid. She leaves the lion's share of the undercroft for us to explore for ourselves while the main characters dance above the graves of this old church.

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SnapshotSnapshot by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, I think this is one of Sanderson's better novellas, easily, and not just because it's housed in a police drama genre. :)

The simple concept of a whole world that can be replayed like a virtual reality is very much a Cosmere concept, but what he does with it, replaying the reality of the last day in order to hunt down a serial murderer, is really cool.

I can totally see myself getting into this as a part of a longer series, but the actions and events of this one is quite satisfying. I'm not complaining at all.

Simple story, interesting reveals, and best of all, a very clear voice and classic cop characters... with a superb twist. :)

(Even if it's kinda predictable, it's still a very well-written and satisfying story.)

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Salmon of Doubt (Dirk Gently, #3)The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really amazing the amounts of nostalgia that can build up in a person's system before it kinda explodes into a kind of reverse word soup full of interviews, introductions, epilogues, and snippets of novels we wish we had but they were never penned because the author up and died on us.

I'm writing of Douglas Adams, of course.

I almost didn't re-read this one because I remember it WAS mostly just magazine articles and interesting early computer-tech stuff and ruminations on science, god, and other random bits that fly out of this wonderful man's brain in tightly humorous one-liners that explain not only life, the universe, and everything, but also the way his mind works... and this is all DESPITE the fact that Mr. DNA may or may not have had a functional nose with which to sneeze out those humorous one-liners.

So am I rating this entirely based on a man's ability to be clear, funny, horribly learned, and dead?

Yes, but it's gotta be more than that, and indeed it is. I loved the man.

I grew up reading and re-reading HHGttG about a bazillion times with or without the cheese sandwhich, playing countless hours on the Infrogames title of the same name being simultaneously corrupted and flabbergasted by my inability to create NO TEA, and learning how to fly by distraction.

I even decided when I was fourteen that I'd grow a beard for the distinct purpose of giving some poor hapless creature a traveling burial site to not see the rest of the world through.

DNA is that kind of man to me.

This book reminds me of just how regular a human he is and it is an unabashedly wonderful nostalgia piece to boot.

Oh, and we also get a few short stories including Ghengis Kahn, a non-presidential Zaphod, and the opening to the next Dirk Gently book which would have been fantastic, I'm sure, had he written it.


Still, what a wonderful thing it is. Farewell, Mr. Adams. (Yes. I know I'm 16 years late. It's just that this book was compiled shortly after his death, so I feel it fresh. Sue me.)

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Friday, March 24, 2017

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers, #2)A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been looking forward to this sequel for some time and I feel kind of sad it STILL took me so long to get a copy of it! It follows two of the most interesting characters from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Lovelace and Pepper, but it does so by filling in the gaps, jumping from the past to the future following the end of the first book.

Do not expect a straight continuation of it, though. This is more of a very interesting dual-character study full of straight commentary and rather interesting AI/Alien/Human interactions.

Lovelace/Sidra and Jane/Pepper are both outcasts and are hiding from the law for what appear to be very stupid reasons from the reader's PoV, but it's all about context. It might as well be about same-sex relationships, but indeed, this is much more interesting for a SF fan: a love story for an AI in an illegal puppet body and the intense relationship she has with an outlaw techie. :)

Their histories are quite the ride.

Don't let me simplify this too much for you because we've got a huge cloning consortium, continuing tragedy, loss, starvation, and love for the only friend, an AI, who is lost... on one side of the coin.

And then we have the search for identity and sensation and the deepest need to be free to reprogram oneself and live the fullest life that one can.

Together or separate, I think I could follow these two character arcs forever. It's the writing more than anything else. The world-building is fantastic, the kinds of aliens diverse, but it's the depth of character exploration than cinches the deal.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Antony and CleopatraAntony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wish you all the joys of the worm.

You know, for the longest time, I had placed this of all of Shakespeare's plays among the highest in my estimation, for where else could I have so many references to melting or even have an early punk band write a song about it? (Melt, Siouxsie and the Banshees)

Indeed, Let Rome in Tiber melt! I really enjoyed the triumvirate of powers, the play on politics and the whole chaos of such an equal footing between Ceasar, Antony, and Cleopatra. Can we blame the woman? Should we rather blame the man? Could it just be the ego and pride of Ceasar we should point a finger at? The whole world was at all of their feet, and yet all of their egos were too big for the Earth to hold them.

Honestly, the first portion of the play was easily the worst and I didn't love it nearly as much as my first reading. Rather, I enjoyed the play of words and the references to the classic legends surrounding Cleopatra and the rug more than the actual revolving scenes and action.

This isn't quite true for the unfurling of the real tragedy, however. I did love that as much as I had remembered.

But I can't, in all fairness, keep the last star just for the strength of the end, so I struck it. I let Eros be my scholar.

Still, not dead, not dead.

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Waking Hell (Station #2)Waking Hell by Al Robertson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm about to go squee a gonzo squee in this review. :)

I'm a huge Idea fan for SF and I might even be a bigger world-building fan for SF, but when you throw all of that into a huge pile of post-singularity super-futuristic data communes where people can live their lives as data "fetches" or go through the process of putting a suit of meat back on you, it gets really funky.

Better yet, space-station spanning AIs that are more like gods than anything else, playing games and knocking each other off, or just having the tale continue where the last one left off, the aftermath of a war in heaven where all the little AIs rose up and ousted the big AIs and our hapless noir characters are thrown in the center of the intrigue.

HOWEVER. This book does not continue directly from that point. The aftermath is the Totality, and we've got a new set of interesting characters to follow and see through yet ANOTHER mind-blowing finale.

I can respect this. It's really hard to find a non-contrived way to throw our favorite characters from the last book into a situation quite this huge, AGAIN.

Fortunately, Leila and Cassiel's teaming up was an awesome choice and I rocked to the tale of parsing out the mystery of Leila's brother's death and the enormous whammy of Deodatus, (an AI god, of course,) and just what the hell is happening on the two Stations and Earth, itself. The story gets big and badass.

From a sheer imaginative standpoint, I give this book top marks, but the story is also solid as hell, too.

Where else can you have a hard time determining what's really real or a virtual construct, flying through data streams and fighting of true data bugs, deploying viruses in the shapes of skulls and flies, or having your memory broken up and sold to the highest bidders upon your demise? I mean, damn! This kind of thing blows me away with so much coolness! Nothing is ever really explained, but who cares. This is a smart book for smart followers of SF and if you haven't been reading Al Robertson's stuff, yet, then you're missing out on a real achievement of the imagination.

I suspect the author is going all out to write what he most wants to read, and I applaud the hell out of it. I can only wish that such books will gain tons of popularity because I could do with a LOT MORE of this post-cyberpunk post-singularity fantastic goodness. :)

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So yeah, I know I'm late to the bandwagon here and I nearly promised myself I wouldn't read it just because it was YA and super popular and blah blah blah, but I got over my stupidity and read it, even if I'm nearly 5 years late to the party.

And what did I think?

Ah, crap.

It's one of those near-perfect books.

Need I say more? Perhaps.

It punches me in the feels even when I feel like I've hardened myself against all this damn pathos and humor and hard looks at mortality and this unswerving existential courage.

It's smart and it doesn't hold back and while it's written from a teen PoV, it's just real and heartbreaking and real. Yes, it's the ideal of Art breaking through the Art and stumbling into Life. Only, it doesn't really stumble. It kinda does a wheelie and breathes hard at the same time.

I was fully prepared to read this and go... Eh? What was the big deal about? I was fully prepared to shake my head and go... so silly. But no, I was proven wrong and even that super popular stuff can also be good, deep down, too. Wow.

Hello, cancer.

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