Friday, January 18, 2019

The Skinner (Spatterjay, #1)The Skinner by Neal Asher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's almost unfair just how good Asher is with his space opera. I mean, there's hardly any space in this one and I'm flabbergasted at how much awesome alien life can be crammed in a single book.

Of course, it could happen in no other place than the most f***ed up planet in the universe.

Spatterjay. The place where life just holds on. And on. And on. Nothing dies unless it gets THOROUGHLY destroyed. And that means every life form, once infected, is effectively immortal. ALL life forms. I swear, if I didn't know this was SF, I would immediately assume it's a Lovecraftian horror. And it's FANTASTIC. :)

Enter equally messed-up characters, including one that refuses to go full AI despite having been dead and carrying around his corpse for 700 years... can you imagine what happens to HIM on a world where dead doesn't exist? Add a hive mind, a girl on a quest to live, and enough Prador on personal missions to make Prador Moon seem like a happy memory.

Beautiful setup, right? Well, it gets better. I got the distinct impression I was reading a ghost story with all the chills and frights. With the obvious twist where nothing dies, of course. Add a bit of Captain Ahab gigantic monsters that can only be taken down with VERY heavy artillery, giving even AI drones a run for their money, and I just have to say.... PLEASE, LET ME NEVER TAKE A VACATION HERE.

So delightfully wicked.

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After Atlas (Planetfall, #2)After Atlas by Emma Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was one rather huge surprise for me. I mean, I liked the exploration bits and the mental disability bits in the first novel. It felt genuine and fascinating.

But this one took on a whole different feel. Cyberpunk, a heavily populated society, massive injustice, social inequality, and institutionalized slavery based on credits and indenture. I loved this aspect. I felt harrowed and despairing even as I railed against it with our main character... who has been S*** upon for 23 years, dreams of decent meals, and lives a life equivalent to a labor camp... AS a murder investigator.

Say what? Yep, specialized training, a chip in his head, wide powers to hunt down mysteries... and yet he's still pretty much a slave.

Cool, right?

The characterizations are all fantastic, claustrophobic, and I FEEL the need to solve the murder if only to get my mind off my horrible situation. Ahem. I mean, the CHARACTER's situation. :)

As a full-on murder mystery, I had a great time. As a worldbuilding novel, I was fascinated by so many of these details... especially the Circle. But as a character novel, I think I loved it the best.

Very well worth the read and my personal favorite between the two novels and one novelette I read. :)

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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Inquisition (The Wolfgang Trilogy #2)Inquisition by F.D. Gross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely a much longer book than the first in the trilogy, but by no means does it lack action. In fact, I think these novels would be pretty much perfect for a fully-immersive game. All hack and slash with great descriptions, scenes, and settings.

Gimmie vampires, bogarts, all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and nasties!

What Gross does well, he does very, very well.

Action, eye-candy (please use your imagination), and MORE action. From town to town, countrysides, trains, Wolfgang and his best bud continue their bloody quest.


However... what does it lack?

Hmmm, well, I admit the characters are all pretty one-dimensional. Save his son! At all costs! The few subtleties were nice when they occurred, but in general, there was not a lot of growth or different tones to the tale. It was just as true in the first novel.

The good news is that the fun, fast action DOES manage to carry the full novel and entertain me in rather the same way that Expendables or Wick entertains me. Gimmie carnage! :)



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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Speaker for the Dead (Ender's Saga, #2)Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So great to revisit one of my absolute favorite novels of all time!

Back when I first read this, Andrew Wiggin immediately jumped into my heart to become my ultimate role-model, my hero, and the idealized version of myself. Ender's Game had him go through some horrific things and really set the stage for the man he was later to become, but it is the full-grown man that really pulls on my heartstrings.

No. He wasn't truly at fault for wiping out the Formics. That can be laid at other's feet.

But he absolutely pulled the trigger. And the end of Ender's Game showed us the beginning of his redemption. Where redemption takes the form of Understanding. And then telling All the Truth, the good and the bad. Exposing it to the world for good or ill. I LOVE how this turned into a very powerful force for good.

Better yet, I love how turning it upon this special world of Lusitania transforms everyone's lives this dramatically. Or how it affects four intelligent species. Or how it paves the way for real redemption.

I'm not all that fond of Christian motif stories because they're generally all ham-fisted and overdone. Like, A LOT. But this one does NOT go that way. It's humanist. It's understanding that all of us have good and bad within us, and that accepting (and really understanding) each other is can be the most life-affirming thing that any of us can do.

The story of Speaker for the Dead is powerful on all levels of worldbuilding, strange aliens, mystery, love, and sheer cussed awesomeness. The threat of another Xenocide times three is shocking enough on its own, but when combined with all the events from Ender's Game, Speaker basically turns me into a quivering ball of emotional jelly. And worse, the characters, and I mean ALL the characters, from Pequenios to Navi's family to Andrew himself, just draws such a warm feeling from me that I can't even stand it.

It's more messed up than Ender's Game. More wonderful. Deeper, adult, complex, painful, and glorious.

I can't particularly think of ANY novel that deep down affects me more on a personal level. I'm thinking along the lines of putting this in one of my top ten best novels of all time. :)

So gorgeous. So important. :)

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ender's Game (Ender's Saga, #1)Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So nice to read it again. I suppose I can point to this book as being one of the very first to open my eyes to just how much can be accomplished in SF.

I mean, sure, I first read Chriton's Sphere right after King's Tommyknockers so I was feeling the love already, but Ender's Game set a new standard in readability, emotional impact, and sheer cussed F***ed-up-ness.

Since then, I've read over twenty novels that shared echoes of this novel. And yet, I keep coming back to this and its companion, Speaker for the Dead, glorying in the wonder of all these little pieces coming together in plots both interesting, tragic, and wonderful.

This is one of those rare cases where popularity is not unfounded. A great tale meets great acclaim.

I can rank this up near Dune as one of my most beloved novels of all time. No question about it.

Do I pity Ender? Hell, yes. But more than that:

I admire him.

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MiddlegameMiddlegame by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, lordy! Big caveat coming. I'm already a devoted fanboy of Seanan and I read almost everything she ever comes out with no matter what because I trust her implicitly.

BUT.

Nothing prepared me for this ambitious, thoughtful, mind-blowing modern fantasy of Alchemy and Twins. She spread her wings for this one and turned tons of dichotomies into hardcore story elements, synthesizing Order and Chaos, Math and Storytelling, Isolation and Community, and made a story of Balance a bit more ambitious than any I've seen in almost any novel.

That's Middlegame. The space between the beginning and the end. The moment of transformation. The moment of synthesis.

I'm SOOOO freaking happy to have read this. :) I'm going to nominate it for next year's Hugo on its own merits and NOT because I'm already a fanboy of the author.

That's the quality within. :) My decision has been purified with a universal solvent. :)

Oh, and the characters, Roger and Dodger, are freaking cool. :) Great, complicated, beautiful story. The opener isn't quite as strong as the early days of the two kids, but that's merely my own opinion. Once all the elements started mixing together into this alchemical brew, the results were amazing.



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Monday, January 14, 2019

Cugel's SagaCugel's Saga by Jack Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jack Vance is one hell of a storyteller. I may have gotten off on a slightly wrong foot with the first Tales of the Dying Earth, but once I fell into the groove in the second novel, it and the third are a pure delight.

Why?

Because it's nonstop trickery, confidence games, theft, and conscience-less knavery. :)

We follow Cugel the Clever who falls into every situation on both feet, lying the most grandiose lies and cheating his way through every fantasy location only to get found out and run out of every town. He never stops running.

He amassed and lost massive wealth in equal measure to each chapter. Quite delightful. Wicked. And cruel. :)

What Vance lacks in worldbuilding and reasons for a dying sun is more than made up for in chicanery and amusement. :)

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