Monday, July 16, 2018

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll go out on a limb here and be mightily surprised if this novel doesn't get nommed for Hugo out of this year's candidates. It has all the right qualities, from good writing, exciting story, delicious premise, and timely application of hot topics and social issues.

Huh? Well, it's like an alternate reality where a meteorite wipes out DC in the 1950's and forces everyone to get into gear with the space program for the best of all reasons... SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES.

It's quick, fun, and cringeworthy in how women are treated... not to mention the racial element! Think Hidden Figures, add anxiety and mental health issues in a big way, mix with sexism, post-apocalypse, brazen and headlong optimism, and do it all with sheer human ability. Computers are people who compute.

Everything else is '50's mentality and an underdog story that leads to getting women in space against all the odds. :)

This is easily my favorite Kowal tale. I'm gonna tell everyone for next years noms that this is one to push. :) It may not be my ABSOLUTE favorite book of the year, but it is certainly the smartest, quickest, and easiest feel-good SF out of the bunch. It pokes a stick at all the big issues and drives the dagger in.

This OUGHT to be a huge bestseller. If it isn't, then there's some big idiocy going on out there. ;)

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The Cormorant (Miriam Black, #3)The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark and gritty as ever, I have to admit that I also had a slight bit of an issue with the first half or so of the read. It jumped all over the place between the present and the past and while it all eventually became obvious why it might have been necessary, it was still slightly off-putting. There were slightly less raunchy/funny descriptive elements than before, too, but that's a grab bag of happy oddities and discoveries that not everyone might enjoy. In other words, I loved them but not everyone would.

What really worked was the cat-and-mouse game between these death-birds. :) Psychopomps? Yes. Absolutely. Psychopomps utterly using and using up their hosts? Absolutely. Poor Miriam. She had it bad before and all of that old dark past becomes clear in this novel. It's quite a big reveal her as a character and despite any issues I might have had with the reading, it all gels together by the end.

It's definitely still one of the grimmest and darkest UF/mysteries with supernatural elements I've ever read. It's hard to like the main character, but she does grow on you like a piece of necrotic flesh. :)

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Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8) - An Audible Original DramaUnseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8) - An Audible Original Drama by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this story was never exactly anywhere close to one of my favorites in the Discworld books, I'd be remiss in saying it isn't excellent.

I mean, it has everything. Star-crossed romance between orc and kitchen maid, underdog sports story, and a heartwarming tale of raising Ankh-Morpork out of the mud and into civilized behavior once and for all.

A game of Foot the Ball can make all of that happen.

Brilliant? Perhaps! It has all the elements that people love and this particular Audible production has a full cast of actors and actresses to bring a ton of life to it in an extra-special edition. I have a grand fondness for full-cast productions. :)

So why didn't I give this a full five?

Because I felt the excisions in the text. Sad, but true. It's short and abridged. That, and I never really get into sports tales. Alas. But that's just me! But despite all that, it *IS* an excellent production that is nonetheless entertaining as hell TO ME. :) Despite me. ;)

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 7/13//18:

Valente is always worth re-reading IMHO. And other than making a few grand sweeping comments about birds and husbands, I have nothing to add to this marvelous piece of literature. The land of the dead versus the land of life in Russia. Mythology versus societal upheaval. Love, love, love, and none of it innocent.

Just like Russia. ;)



Original Review:

Breathtaking, quintessential Valente, making what might be a fairy tale into a gorgeously Russian love story between one unlucky girl stuck perpetually in the space of an hour who never got to marry the birds and the God of Life.

Of course, it never ends well, because she's conscripted into his eternal battle with Viy, Death, and regrets it, while simultaneously mastering Life in the middle of Leningrad during WWII, which ought to be considered one of the worst moments in human history.

Do we love life? Is he capricious and cruel and uncompromising and sweet? Is he locked in the basement and forced to listen to his wife make love to a mortal man? After that, can he still be true?

I cannot do this justice. Our heroine cannot fully commit to Life, and finally betrays him.

For all the truly magical qualities of this novel, the beautiful writing, the amazing mini-tales, I'm left in a state of profound sadness while being amazed at the sheer beauty of the tale.

It's raw, right down to the core, and horrific, sexy, full of the seeds of hope and longing and everything that makes the world so complicated and scary and wonderful all at once.

I sit in awe.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Ascent of Gravity: The Quest to Understand the Force that Explains EverythingThe Ascent of Gravity: The Quest to Understand the Force that Explains Everything by Marcus Chown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a highly entertaining history of gravity, full of quite interesting anecdotes and the gradual unfolding of our understanding from Newton through Einstein through our quest to reconcile quantum mechanics with the one aspect we're most familiar with but which we understand the least.

From the first page to the last I was enraptured. It's a tour of the inverse square law, the connection between electromagnetism, light, and matter, right down to the physics that keep most theoreticians up late at night even now.

Humorous, insightful, and fairly comprehensive, it focuses on the subject well, describing the manner in which gravity functions and how it behaves. I'd recommend it absolutely as a beginner's book with a special delight for those of us enamored by the LAW. :)

I personally had a great time. Not much new, honestly, but it was a delight. :)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Blackfish CityBlackfish City by Sam J. Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5

It's okay, and them's the Breaks! ;)

I honestly thought this book was all right. Not fantastic but definitely strong in the worldbuilding, characters, and plot progression. The real stars are the floating ramshackle cities out in the Arctic Circle and the wildly delicious custom nanotech plague.

Everything else was a pretty cool but standard dystopia of Syndicates (mob landlords) and shareholders (super rich owners who are above the law), with fighters, skaters, hedge nano-wizards and bonding with animals thanks to the nanos. Pretty cool? It is pretty cool. Ish.

There's an obvious agenda here, the haves versus the have-nots, an almost mystical progression toward having a city without maps based on memory and the memory-plague mystery called the Breaks. I liked it and I was pretty entranced by it, but I'm not quite certain I buy where I was taken with it.

You might say that the Beginning and Middle was good, but the end left a bit to be desired.

Still, rather interesting. It was just the story itself that kinda flagged. Alas. Orca-savior? Cool in the particulars but maybe not in the whole.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are very few things I can say about this novel except it's Brilliant, Brilliant, Brillant. That, and I am afraid I'm a total fanboy of all Russian novelists and this one in particular.

And I thought Dostoyevski was good. Damn. This one is completely modern, absolutely unappreciated in his time, dead young, and hailed as one of Russia's most popular novelists. Ever. And for good reason. The satire, written in the 50's, lambasts Moscow's '30's and continues to be a threat to all Russia today. It became super popular in the 60's America and was the direct inspiration for The Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil.

Does this ring a few bells?

Let's get down to the reality of this novel a bit. The Master is the novelist writing about Jesus and Pontus Pilate. He falls in love with a woman, and she with him, and her name is Margarita. She becomes a witch. And in the meantime, we've got ourselves a total retelling of Job, a satire that raises the level of Cons to all new heights. *What? Moscow has CON-MEN?*

And of course, we have hard-drinking cats, the Devil, and Pontus Pilate running around Moscow, present day. Lots of action ensues, with decapitation, thugs running amok, plays that are really major shakedowns, rampant nudity, the walking dead, and the UTTER HORRIBLE TERROR that are all editors.

Did I mention I might have just found one of my favorite all-time books? Yeah. This here is gonna have to fight for room on my top 100 list of all time. Maybe it won't have to fight very hard. In fact, I might have to bump it up into the top 20 or maybe even top 10.

It's just that good.

I was reminded a lot of Neil Gaiman's American Gods in a very good way. I was also reminded of a lot of modern comic masterpieces. In execution, it's half-Noir and all literary despair in the other.

I'm in love. :) I wanna do a huge Russian kick now. Maybe re-read all the greats, and then head back to this one and revel away. :) Just. Wow.

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