Sunday, June 16, 2019

Charmcaster (Spellslinger #3)Charmcaster by Sebastien de Castell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This third book falls under the *fun* category. Okay at first, episodic, action-filled, with quirky dialogue, but it really picks up later when the stakes get a lot higher.

I really like the magic system in these books and figuring out the meanings of the cards is pretty delightful. Heroes journey and all. It's always good. Especially when you're the most horrible traitor to your own people and all. :) We learn a lot more about his particular kind of magical skills, too, but the focus is mostly on preventing war and saving friends. What else?

Well, the writing is FUN. I really can't stress that enough. :)

I think I liked the first one best and the second was pretty okay, but this one improved things quite a bit. So much so that I broke down and got the fourth book and started it right away. :)

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Saturday, June 15, 2019

The Land of Ick and Eck: Harlot's EncountersThe Land of Ick and Eck: Harlot's Encounters by Micah Genest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I want to say this is a middle-grade YA fantasy, but it does have enough double entendre and some clever digs to make any adult smile. The tales are all relatively mild and pleasantly dark, primed for the sweet spot we remembered in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Our heroine, to give you a taste, is named Harlot. She explores a strange fantasy land that is on the same level as Wonderland but not quite the same quality. Carrol's poetry is better, but this definitely has its charm. And its worldbuilding is definitely unique, thoughtful, and just on this side of being truly odd.

I totally recommend it for lovers of dark fairy-tales for young adventures of any age.

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ThirteenThirteen by Richard K. Morgan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Total testosterone read. Not that this is all bad, of course, because there's plenty going on in the story to try to buck the trend. Like the main character, an uber-alpha-male if there ever was one, thanks to his Thirteen status as an engineered lot designed to do all the things that a pansified world is now unable to do.

Of course, skip ahead a few years and everyone's regretting that decision, setting up all the thirteens for a witch-hunt, and what we have now is a noir fiction treat skipping back and forth between Mars and Earth.

I should mention I read Morgan's Thin Air before this one and it doesn't really matter which you start with. They're both in the same time-frame and setting set up, but different characters and plots (although both are quite noir).

I had a good time with this. It's longer than a usual mystery novel by a big stretch and we've got lots of twisty plots to unsnarl -- usually with a lot of ultraviolence -- and it is what it is. Sharp, snappy, full of overblown Jesusland ignorance, rich people getting away with nutty stuff, and police-ish procedural with a side order of romance. :) You know, NOIR. :)

I'm glad to have read this. It hit the spot. :)

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Friday, June 14, 2019

WanderersWanderers by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's the end of the world and I feel... uuurkkk...

Let me tell you something, my fine folks. I think I had more fun reading this book than I have for ANY apocalypse book. That's including the Stand, Lucifer's Hammer, or The Power. And perhaps a few others that I rank higher than the rest.

But let me be clear. I had the most fun with this. I'm not saying it has MORE to gloam onto than the Stand, but I had myself a few issues with the Stand. The whole moralistic good vs. evil, for example. And I had a bit of a rough time with some of the 70's sexism in Lucifer's Hammer.

Wanderers, however, is leagues above most of the current runs of epic dystopias. No, it's not a zombie apocalypse or a big meteorite spoiling everyone's day or the ultimate reversal of the sexes. It is, however, quite free of rampant female humiliation, gratuitous rape, and violence in general. This book is full of heart even while it DOES have a rather usual trope of religious nutters, white supremacists, and NRA hotheads. They're quite happy to be all opportunistic on humanity's ass.

What sets this above all the rest? Clever fundamental choices and trope inclusions, baby. Very strong science, too. And delightfully complex characters.

But for me? I love the pop culture references. Wendig is like, some kind of master with pop trivia and really sharp, maybe bloody, wit. His Miriam Black novels left me bloody with words. In Wanderers, he tones it down a LOT and he tames it for the sake of this story. So what that means is we'll be seeing some REALLY cool crap popping up subtly in the tiny spaces.

Like Fallout? Check. Like Matrix? Check. Like brilliantly chosen musical references, strange-ass details that HAVE to be memes that haven't happened yet, or setting choices that wind up being fantastic in-jokes for you modern pop-reference junkies? CHECK.

And in the end, I remained excited... exhilarated... throughout this read. Sometimes a book will sap my energy. Other times, rarely, a book will just pour it into me. This is one of those books. :)

Am I super happy to have read this? You betcha. :) :) I feel almost like I was watching the first season of Walking Dead the first time. Before it got all... you know. :)

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Thursday, June 13, 2019

Dissidence (The Corporation Wars, #1)Dissidence by Ken MacLeod
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm generally a pretty big fan of transhumanist post-human SF full of uploaded minds and machine intelligences and I've been a fan of Ken MacLeod's short fiction in the past. And in general, this particular novel has all those same elements in spades.

So why did I give it three stars?

Because the story doesn't live up to the well-thought-out premises. I mean, hell, I LOVE the title now that I know that Corporation Wars has nothing to do with Corporations as we know them. It's referring to having corporeal bodies versus living entirely in a simulated reality. :) Hell, I did love all the switches and swaps between layers of simulated realities and the confusion as to what was really real and whether any of it mattered in the end. Living by robot? Why not? Live by simulation? Same difference.

Great ideas, LOTS of great action because this is a war-driven tale, but the confusion and the muddled story became a little too pronounced. And, let's face it, I got a little bored. I hate admitting that since I generally love these setups.

I would definitely recommend The Light Brigade over this.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Fall, or Dodge in HellFall, or Dodge in Hell by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very hard book to review, but one thing is absolutely true:

I'm absolutely blown away by this book.

Ameristan! Lol MOAB! lol

This is definitely one of Neal Stephenson's better books. Just for the ideas and the great twisting of several tales in one, I'm already looking forward to a glorious re-read. He does lead us down a few winding paths that eventually turn out to be VERY important to the whole, and I admit to laughing out loud several times when the important bits bit me on the butt. :)

All told, it's the hundreds of wonderful details, ideas, technological problems, and the nature of our world of Lies and Truth in the Miasma (Stephenson's term for the future of the Internet) that make this an extremely memorable book, but it's the depth of the themes that go well beyond the obvious Milton's Paradise Lost that make me grin like an idiot.

My favorite is the whole perception-as-reality by way of Philip K Dick, hitting all the big points AND even throwing the scholars a bone by setting up a fantastic Manichean Heresy (Real God and the Flawed God and the temperance of Sophia.) (And for you PKD fans, look no further than Divine Invasion.

The other obvious theme connecting it to Paradise Lost is actually a subversive red herring. There's a big twist to this that makes it a lot more like PKD, including the paranoia, the corruption, and the faulty memories.

I came into this kinda expecting a single viewpoint adventure like many old SFs that take on uploaded consciousnesses and/or Hell, but you know what? This is so much better. We have many viewpoints, great adventures, and very little actual Hell except in a (you brought this with you sense). Kinda awesome when you think about it. No cheap theatrics, only an in-depth issue revolving People doing what People always do. Character-driven, with a lot of added juice.

Like several ages of mythology run by high-speed processors in the ultimate game of Life (as an afterlife), skirting the edges of a technological singularity, and wrapping it all up with a reality-based hackathon by way of a Gamer's Ultimate Quest.

I think I see the point, here. For all of us future afterlifers, let's MAKE SURE THE GAME DESIGNERS retain control over it. Please? No one wants to live an (after)life CONTROLLED BY THE BEAN COUNTERS. :)

The book has some great mirroring going on, rooting itself in near-future meatspace with tons of corporate intrigue, funny/nasty worldbuilding that put the quality of Truth on trial. The whole SF of tackling perception-as-reality is taken to new heights and multiple threads that keep twining and intertwining in really great ways. And then it takes on HUGE significance in the digital realm. Nasty significance. :)

Lordy! The Moab disaster (in more ways than one) is the very thing that sparks the Heaven 2.0 disaster! I loved that! The whole mad-god theme is great! And perfectly in-line with regular corporate madness, too. :) Why shouldn't we bring all our usual messes into the afterlife? We are, after all, only human, even when some of us become gods, angels, or incarnations of DEATH. :) lol

I had such a fun time with this, I can't even begin... or rather, I have begun, but I could keep going on forever.

Like I said, it's a really hard one to review. :) It has a lot of great depth to it that is rather MORE surprising than I ever gave it credit for, and this is coming from an avowed fanboy of Stephenson. I definitely like it more than Seveneves and Reamde. I'd have to re-read Snow Crash and Diamond Age again to see where it ranks by those. :)

I will always have Anathem as my primary love, tho. :)

BUT I think I will have to nom this one for next year's Hugo. Just for its sheer audacity and richness. :)

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Monday, June 10, 2019

The ChronolithsThe Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is an excellent novel full of well-conceived characters driven by a slowly disintegrating society. Add suddenly appearing strange event/objects, the Chronoliths, and watch our near-future implode.

This is not an action-fueled novel. It is family-driven, obliquely and curiously propelled by the inclusion of old colleagues and the slow social collapse of our world. Think Spin, but not with the stars disappearing. Just add big monoliths that suddenly warp space-time, appearing in the middle of jungles or places all over the world, have them commemorate some near-future battle, and see how YOU would do with such knowledge. :)

The most important (read best) part of this novel is the worldbuilding. The social interactions, the sideways decline. And the main characters. They managed to make me care. :) Quite interesting. The details are especially fine. :)

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