Sunday, January 24, 2021

Bear Head (Dogs of War, #2)Bear Head by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Decades past Dogs of War, we've got ourselves a very different situation. Indeed, we've got mars, animal-form bio-mod workers, and a funny little fascist problem that has been brewing.

Indeed, I just thought this was going to be a fairly light (for Tchaikovsky) adventure with some of the previous awesome aspects (and perhaps characters) taken in new, perhaps freakishly cool directions.

I didn't expect head man Thompson. I mean, he seemed to be a regular class-A A-hole that I would gleefully love to see mangled at the end of a great narrative. I didn't think I'd be laughing my head off with the great twists in store. But I did.

And between bees and bad news bears and those damnable dog collars, this Hard-SF treat is a real treat.

Oh, and I never would have thought that Tchaikovsky would have written a sharp satire meshing an iconic narcissist with the prisoner's dilemma, but he did.

He truly did.

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City, #1)House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this.

The fact that it absolutely is an Urban Fantasy in all ways possible is something of a dual-edged sword. We're already far into the life-cycle of UFs in general so we tend to get kinda jaded and praying for originality when we pick up new ones. The fact that this one is a whopping 800 pages instead of being broken up into the first three books of a longer normal UF series is STRANGE.

Or not so strange, considering how many fans will eat anything that Maas puts in front of them.

That being said, I pretty much hated the first huge story sequence, almost prayed that everyone would just die in a horrible way, including the main character. Party this party that, sex, sex, sex, and WHO CARES.

But then big changes (wishes come true) happen and my interest finally perked up. And that was my start of actually enjoying the novel. And then it kinda slid around before getting interesting again. Suffice to say, we go through lots of story changes, plot changes, even basic description of MC changes. I don't mind that so much if the changes make sense and provide a depth of character. And they do. Mostly. And then the betrayals and the decision comes around and I got fully into the novel again and rode the rest of this huge honker all the way to the end.

Putting this side-by-side with Court gives it a sense of narrative style that is very familiar, even if the actual tale and setting are all the way different. And the story itself wasn't bad. By the end.



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Thursday, January 21, 2021

The Weight of the World (The Amaranthine Spectrum #2)The Weight of the World by Tom Toner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm going to rate this a 5 for worldbuilding and attempted lit-SF treatment in the way of Gene Wolfe but a 2 for sheer enjoyment.

I wanted to enjoy it. Let me be clear on this. There are some wonderful scenes, better action scenes, and wordplay in naming that deserves a lot of props. It's sprawling, like a far-far future Jason and the Argonauts with many human-alien species and strangely-changed long-lifers who have been around for thirteen thousand years. It has a lot to admire. I even got into it pretty hard by the time we got to space and I especially loved Perception every time he was around.

However.

It may be just me, but I tired very quickly of the never-ending weirdly-spelled names and places, the almost-recognizable but not quite aspects, and the less-than-satisfactory characterizations that could have saved a lot of this by just being VIBRANT enough to push through the naming conventions and make it STICK.

As a consequence, I OFTEN had to go to the glossary at the end and it wasn't fun. I CAN enjoy that kind of thing and have, in some particularly brilliant cases, but for this, I discovered that I barely cared about any of the characters. It got better by the end, as these things generally go, but it was something of a slog for me.

Let me repeat, however, that this IS a rather vast and interesting far-future with lots of subtle easter-eggs and a very imaginative wide setting that I probably would have enjoyed more as a vast, well-funded tv series that relies on the visual more than anything else.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Winds of Dune (Heroes of Dune #2)The Winds of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

No matter how competently a novel can be written, and this is absolutely a COMPETENT novel, it must still fit in the full chronology of the original series.

Yes, this is a very special case. Yes, this slips in between the 2nd and 3rd novels of Frank Herbert's Dune series. Yes, it attempts to slide around in that delicate area of Paul's EMPIRE and Paul's full decline.

In THEORY, this might have been a fine novel. In THEORY, I might have even LOVED the ideas presented here, building the reasons for the full political nastiness in Children of Dune, the reversals, the tragedies.

But what we've got here is not only Dune-lite, but a larger embellishment of Bronso, the Ixian, which had no mention in the originals. Sure, we've got the continuation of the separation of Paul the man and Paul the legend, but that had already been happening naturally and even more impressively during God Emperor of Dune, with more tongue-in-cheek, better analysis, and better heartbreaking commentary. I loved Leto II. He may have been a monster, but he was a monster fulfilling his father's Terrible Purpose.

Bronso, on the other hand, is rather ... ahem... mild. Sure, we give Paul more credit for the effort he put into his own downfall, but that was pretty damn clear in the originals already. And Leto II knew it clearly, too, even as a kid.

The reveal, too, in Children of Dune, was a lot more powerful. Did we really want all the reveals before the novel unfurls?

Personally, I wouldn't recommend reading this novel in chronological order. Read it after the original series or as a curiosity AFTER God Emperor of Dune, perhaps, as a 20/20 hindsight thing while being fully aware that it is filler with just a few stop-gap plot fill-ins and an otherwise fine SF adventure that would have been perfect in an unrelated series.

Harsh?

Maybe. But as a fan of the originals, I must protect my own.



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Monday, January 18, 2021

Paul of Dune (Heroes of Dune #1)Paul of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Out of all the Brian Herbert/Kevin Anderson books surrounding the Dune series, I was most afraid of and most interested in reading more about Paul, himself. I mean, he's THE Messiah. But by the same token, I truly avoided this particular book because he was so very EXCELLENT in the original Dune.

Why fix perfection?

Well... here's a good reason to read this book: it supplies us with a wealth of information for the ACTUAL jihad. And while that isn't the main plot for the novel, it was very interesting.

The actual plot is broken up into two. The first is an extensive flashback to when Paul was 12 and it gives us the whole build-up to the Baron, Paul's confirmation as heir, and the tragedy of Leto's marriage and the near-war that followed it. The other is all about Count Fenring and an extensive plot involving the Tleilaxu, which is also very interesting on its own because it's COUNT FENRING. The *almost* Kwizatz Haderach. The one that *could* have killed Paul.

Of course, I have a slight issue with this book because of a certain plot hole revolving JUST THAT, but I forgive it because I'm getting some COUNT FENRING.

Final estimation?

It's light reading. As in Dune-lite. It's not nearly as good as the originals but it does explore some rather cool surrounding aspects and that's the real draw, isn't it? It is what it is.

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Sunday, January 17, 2021

EyeEye by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm reading Frank Herbert's only short story collection for the second time simply because I feel like I may have given it too little credit back in the day.

How, you ask? Because despite having a picture of a Fremen on the cover, there is VERY LITTLE in here that represents Dune. I was obsessed, as I remain obsessed, about Dune, so the first few stories that were so/so and the excerpt from Dragon in the Sea DID make me a little annoyed. You know, fanboys want fanatical stuff to chew on.

Fortunately, the intro has a very cool insight into the making of Lynch's movie and Herbert's reaction to it. (Believe it or not, he was pretty cool with the changes, having bought-in to the industry's reasons for so much, but he really held out hopes for turning it into a mini-series. And I do, too.)

BUT, here's the really cool bit. A handful of these stories are better than just okay. A few are freaking amazing.

My personal favorite is Try to Remember.

For anyone who has seen Arrival or read Ted Chiang's story, they might point to Frank Herbert's much earlier story and go, HEY! THAT'S!!! but then settle down and see how they both diverge in different, but no less awesome, directions. It's now one of my favorite SF short stories. :)

Seed Stock happens to be Frank's own favorite story -- and for great reason. It is a wild future with some impressively creative quantum physics effects coupled with great action and better special effects. On a personal note, I can't help but try to fit it into Herbert's extensive worldbuilding and future history, thinking of the first time someone might have jumped across spacetime. The Heisenburg Effect. But either way, this story would fit just fine in any new SF movie with a big effects budget. :)

I think about 5 of the stories in the collection justifies all of them. Just don't expect a ton about Dune. :)

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Powersat (The Grand Tour, #1)Powersat by Ben Bova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this is a very solid, average, old-school SF novel.

It's focused on current events (circa 2005) surrounding energy dependence issues, political realities, and a nice, if almost cartoonish, technothriller cherry on top.

When I say it's average, I need to clarify it some. It's not an average *our* modern SF novel. It actually relies very heavily on real science, real political necessities, and the grand possibilities of building a solar satellite that beams diffuse energy down to the earth for collection in great capacitors. I very much appreciate the problems associated with the privatization of space travel, a-la Musk, and think it is very worth reading.

The subject matter is appealing, timely, and certainly not wildly fantastical. Bova is pretty great for real science.

A potential problem lies in its fairly accurate portrayal of a less egregious '70s male-centric scientist-entrepreneur saves the world plot. I say less egregious because the male lead, while being prototypically male, isn't exactly doing anything WRONG, but it certainly portrays women in the old light. Not that any of them were complaining, mind you. Please follow my line of thought: the novel harms no-one from a social point of view, but it is NOT the current, common, point of view that everyone seems to be judging else by, today.

Just because he's a male lead, he's suspect by today's standards. If he treats women sometimes as many women used to like to be treated, and often still do, IE., admiring them, being oblivious to signs, being victims of self-centeredness, or being, well... MALE... a lot of people seem to have a PROBLEM with that these days.

Me? Reading this, having grown up with MANY books that more or less have this same feel in the SF shelves, I would have just shrugged and focused on the ideas and the plot. But modern SF and Fantasy have swung to the far OTHER end of this spectrum these days. All the modern books I read now have female-centric leads or LGBTQ focuses. So much so that I now find myself wondering where all these old male-centric novels went. Are they all dead? Have they been nixed, as a whole? Are there no longer any male-led stories? I mean, honestly, I'd prefer a healthy mix of BOTH primary sexes and a truly representative mix of everything else. You know. To represent reality.

But in this case, reading Bova now? I feel like I just read a delightful, if slightly average, panacea. Nothing revolutionary. Just a breath of fresh scientific air without a modern Mary Sue.


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