Monday, February 17, 2020

Giovanni’s RoomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one slick piece of writing. Like whiskey, this tale of universal love, desire, and the boxes we put ourselves in burns as it goes down, but like most fires of love, when it comes back up, it's very messy.

Of course, I could be talking about any kind of romance novel, but this one is special because it is written by a master of prose, it came out in the '50s, and it is a classic of gay literature. Or is it?

I don't know.

The writing transcends sexual orientation, the color of his skin (black), and dives right into the heart of what it means to be trapped. Trapped by love, by expectations, by poverty, by the community, or by your own pig-headedness.

Suffice to say, it's rather universal. I'm sure lots of people might raise their hands and say this is one of THE seminal pieces of black literature or gay literature, but I just see it as great literature. :)

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ResurgenceResurgence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm usually the one to start raving at the wonderful worldbuilding, complex politics, and absolutely fantastic detailed alien psychology and how it conflicts with human psychology in these Foreigner books. Normally, I'd be excited as hell to pick up the next book and find out if the mainland is finally getting its crap together, see if the refugee humans are settling in, whether the human island is safe at last, or ANY NUMBER of possible combinations, including more space-travel, a third alien incursion, or long-separated humans arriving to make a mess of everything that everyone else has worked SO HARD to find a balance with.

And it's a testament to a writer who can STILL make such complexities INTERESTING over such a long haul.

Hell, even this book kept my interest the entire time, with all the focus on a little naughty animal and giving him away to a shelter, endless cycles of tea, meeting with a barely-remembered mischievous lord from a conflict-ridden province, and a seemingly endless number of passages of straight exposition to remind us, readers, the lay of the political landscape.

Okay. Maybe I got a little tired of the exposition. A lot of it is necessary, to be sure, but it could have been summed up or put into the story in such a way that it didn't drag on so much.

And then there was the other problem I had with the book:

Nothing happened.

In the other recent books, there was at least the storming of the Assassin's Guild or retaking the capital or running through the countryside. This one? Some guerilla action near the end? Action that didn't progress much of any plot? It's almost like this book was supposed to be twice as long with something really JUICY happening during the second half, but the publishers chopped it in half without looking at the contents.

Plenty of build-ups. No payoffs.

And yet, I still ENJOYED the writing. It's always like coming home when I pick up this series. I know and love everyone. I just wish I didn't catch them all on their day off.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

GlimpsesGlimpses by Lewis Shiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was already on board with this novel when I knew it was an exploration of music nostalgia and What-Could-Have-Been with certain albums by giants, from Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, or Jimi Hendrix.

Let's skip big events in the whole time-travel setup and move right into ART. Culture. The meaning of what particular pieces could mean for us all. How music still has the power to change the world.

If ONLY some of these ALMOST albums had been made...

Yeah. I was right there. Totally on board.

But if that had been all there was to this novel, I'm absolutely sure that it wouldn't have been half as good or as emotional or self-reflective if we hadn't gotten to know Ray... the man working on the old demo sessions, his failing marriage, his alcoholism, and his relationship with his dead father.

This IS a nostalgia novel, by all means, but it's also a rather awesome novel of obsessions, working through issues, and learning to grow. And I don't think that could have happened without his music obsession. The whole time-travel, helping the young musicians work through their own problems or nudge them in just the right way to help them MAKE those lost albums and even make some money by "restoring" them in the present-day early '90s is only a side-story.

I loved the mirroring of self-to-artist and the push to grow despite all the baggage that holds us back. It was not only charming... but edifying. :)

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tin MenTin Men by Christopher Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did like this book very much for several reasons: the device of using robots for remote interactions... or rather, full-out “peacekeeping” wars sponsored by the United States... brings up a very cool topic of responsibility, immediacy and especially morality.

When you’re more powerful than anyone and you don’t ever need to fear losing your life, there’s very little to hold you back from being a bully.

No matter your initial rationale, the slide is real. This is where the book begins, but thanks to a new kind of attack that upsets the balance of power, we get a pretty awesome Mil-SF adventure with lots of intrigue, fighting, and questions of might vs right.

So why do I only give this three stars?


I would have loved it if there had been some real and detailed locations with real political factions and real multi-layered reasons for the fighting. Instead, we just get “anarchists”. WTF. It’s like the ultimate cop-out and generic bogeyman in writing, and yet, the novel starts out with honest humanization of the people in these occupied territories. We get the idea that these Tin Men are too removed and would be better off actually understanding the people they terrorize.

It starts out so strong.

And yet, the antagonists simply devolve into a pretty faceless mob that started out with genuine grievances and end as only “The Enemy”.

Let’s save the leaders, mourn our dead, and hate the anarchists! ......

What happened to the discussion of power differentials? Bullies? I guess the anarchists killed them.


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Sit, Stay, Love (Rescue Me #2)Sit, Stay, Love by Debbie Burns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is pretty much a cookie-cutter romance with a haunted ex-military man and an unsure, perhaps even low self-esteem woman who fall into each other's arms while training ex-dogfight rescues.

I admit I read it mostly because it tugs on those doggie heartstrings. The rest was sugary-sweet and TOTALLY wish-fulfillment dreamstuff.

I could go into all the amazing HEA coincidences and even more amazing windfalls, but I really can't be all that surprised by ANY of it. Not really. It's a fantasy. A fantasy that includes tons of doggies, a wonderful rescue named Franky, a cat that behaves just like a cat, and a really comforting family-oriented house-fixing.

For what it is... it's comforting. Did I get bent out of shape by it? No. It was a fine Valentine's Day read.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was slightly anxious to jump into my second read of The Stand, but after having read most of his other novels, often having read them twice, I figured I was up for the challenge.

Of course, the challenge is not in the length. It's easy to assume that might be the case, considering that it has well over a thousand pages, but no. It's Stephen King. It rambles, it rolls, and it often rocks. And for many people, the assumption is that this is King's best, most epic work, so there's obviously a LOT of forgiveness going on here.

What? Do I sound like I'm leading up to a bit of CRITICISM of The STAND?

Maybe. A little.

For a book originally released the same year as Niven/Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer, reworked more than a decade later with an extra novel's worth of text, it is still an apocalyptic SF following a long tradition that echoes On The Beach. It's darker than most that came before but pretty on cue for Niven/Pournelle's vision.

One thing that King does really well is characters. I have to admit I'll always give him the biggest prizes for his people. I really appreciate the huge distinctions between decent folk and the other kind. It's obvious he supports a wide, wide cast of all kinds of people, strong and weak of each sex, crazies on both sides of the good/evil divide, and he makes no bones about letting people die for all sorts of good or plain lousy causes. It's FUN. I mean, why else would you want to read a book where 99.4% of the population dies horribly in a super-flu only to watch them go nuts on themselves and whittle down the gene pool even more?

So what's my problem?

Some themes haven't aged well.

We've already had a long, long run of about fourteen billion novels, tv shows, movies, and even music albums giving us the whole Christ motif. Epic battles of Good Versus Evil. Just because King does the same thing but slightly better than the smug, self-righteous masses doesn't mean that my enjoyment isn't marred by the eye-rolling heavy-handedness of the whole schtick.

"But what about Flagg!", you ask?

Yep, he's pretty wicked and cool. I still just got the impression that Walter/Man in Black/Martin was just playing a silly video game in a shadow-world where nothing mattered but his desire to watch all the bugs scurry around and eat themselves. In Wizard and Glass, he's simply whimsical about the world that died. His whole part in the tragedy is played off like a homage to Baum. He's never more evil and crazy than he is in The Stand, but then, he's nothing more than a projection, a shadow. And this version of the Earth, at least in the terms of the Dark Tower, is also nothing more than a shadow.

It's sobering. The biggest themes in The Stand basically say trust in God. Don't think. Just do whatever silly thing comes to you in a vision. All things serve the Beam. Yup. If it wasn't for this and most (but not all) of the supernatural elements that conveniently or explicitly tied up this work in a genuine Deus Ex Machina, I probably would have given it a glowing five stars. It is OVERFLOWING with great characters and situations.

It didn't age as well as I had hoped.

Unfortunately, I prefer MOST of SK's other works over this one.

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

FirewalkersFirewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first review on GR! :)

I was pretty thrilled to get the copy on Netgalley. So much so that I had to read it the same day. Am I nuts? Or am I just a Firewalker at heart?

Gritty, depressing, and like a Hobbsian nightmare, these people live in a hothouse city on life support, barely kept alive because it is the base and the tether to the orbiting space station. Its people barely scrape by while the Roach Motel that takes in all the dignitaries and the rich are kept in Air Conditioned luxury.

Sounds rather familiar. Doesn't it? Well, Firewalkers are the ragged teams of poverty-ridden go-getters that fix the things that not even the robots can fix. They are the ones that get things working, but they're expendable and most of these young kids never come back from the near-apocalyptic desert surrounding the town.

The context is emotionally painful and takes up a large portion of the character building, but it's when the novella takes off into the wild that I was most thrilled.

I loved the tight team. I LOVED all the discoveries. No spoilers, but damn, Tchaikovsky has a huge fascination with creepy crawlies and programmed personalities, no?

The adventure is large, the stakes larger, and the end was super satisfying. I'm super glad I got my greedy hands on it.

'Nuff said.

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