Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Our Endless Numbered DaysOur Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I believe that this book was a rather nice breath of fresh air, or at least it remained so until the end, when it kinda turned my stomach.

If any of you remember the neat stuff of The Wasp Factory or Life of Pi, you'll get a taste of all that here, but definitely not as crazy in either sense. All of the action and twist is much more homely and down to earth, sticking to the forest, so to speak.

It's definitely a cross between survivalist fiction and a coming of age novel, but all that doesn't quite surprise you will at least give you very nice taste of reading. Peggy's voice is very strong and the pacing is excellent, sometimes moving back and forward to the aftermath, never giving anything away until the right time.

It was a pleasant read, but I won't quite go so far as to say I was blown away by anything in particular. The surprises are merely horrifying, not mind-blowing.

YA, or not? I suppose it is. No one ought to lie that things like this revelation happens, but it only makes it a good novel because we're treated to the survivalist bits as well. All the characters are and will remain quite memorable. There's much worse praise out there.

Hell, it's a sight better than a number of the more recent SF classics I've read lately, and heads and shoulders above some other classic traditional fiction tomes I've had the pleasure (or not) of reading.

Still, the novel is only bold... to a point. There's no magical realism (which I probably would have gushed about) or severe twists of plot (which I would have applauded). No gimmicks, either. Just a solid tale told solidly, with beauty and strength.



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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

LightlessLightless by C.A. Higgins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After great deliberation, I nudged this one up to three stars, but if it wasn't for the end, I would have left it well in the comfortable two.

I was annoyed for the majority of the novel, knowing that the stilted characters could have had more life, that there could have been more hints as to who, exactly, was supposed to be the hero of the tale, or, indeed, if there was one at all that I could sit back and watch, going, "Oh, well I don't like that person too much, but at least they're painted prettily."

Indeed, the best I could say about the first 2/3rds was that it started out with action, continued faithfully with action, and kept us In Medias Res until we were bogged down in constant interrogation-speak reminiscent of a million and a half cop shows.

I was struck mostly by the incompetence of everyone. I mean, Everyone. At a certain point while reading, I kept trying to think about ways the book could have been made Better, and an idea came to me, fully-fleshed and all excited with a desire to live: This Could Have Been Made As A Comedy.

Just a few tweaks here and there would have turned Ivan into the spunky Stainless Steel Rat, loveable and absolutely capable of getting out of as many messes as he gets himself into. Ida the Interrogator, the bumbling but sociopathic inspector. The captain and the scientist were throwaway shadows with no more life than puppets, and the engineer, who arguably gets almost the most stage-time, spent most of the book being hopelessly outclassed and stumped by THE COMPUTER. It was almost a satire. Terry Pratchett could almost be heard in the other room, shouting hints to the story.

*sigh*

The whole thing smacked of a second-rate C.J. Cherryh lesser SF novel, or perhaps a 60's pulp. I know this sounds rather cruel, but unfortunately, the only thing about either the writing or the ideas behind it that I really got into, from the very start, was the fact that they were on a spaceship that had housed a small black hole in its innards. Everything else just had me asking unfortunate questions, like: If this is such a heavily-funded project needing the best and the brightest, shouldn't they have gotten more than just three crew? And shouldn't they have been a LOT better at their jobs? Seriously. It wasn't a comedy, no matter how much I thought it could have swung, successfully, in that direction. Hell, I know that Connie Willis could have made this novel comedic GENIUS.

Okay. Now on to the better parts. It took a long time to get there, and the reveals weren't that surprising, but fortunately, there WAS a LOT of them. The twist was the return of really old SF ideas, but because they were here at all, it forced me to bump this book up into a higher rating bracket.

SPOILER ALERT ::: SPOILER ALERT :::: SPOILER ALERT

And I bumped it up because: 

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress comes to mind, despite it ramping up revolution to include the whole system rather than just the moon, a subversive emergent AI that seems to have more personality than all the characters, combined, and well,... that's it.

And the characters become a bit more likeable, because: Almost all of them died.

END SPOILER ALERT

It was a serviceable novel. It mostly kept my attention.

It just didn't stand out too much.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

An Ember in the Ashes (An Ember in the Ashes, #1)An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The beginning was the most difficult time for me. I had the most horrible suspicion that we were only going to get a fantasy knock off of the Hunger Games mixed with a bit more GrimDark elements than we usually get in a YA novel.

I can't tell you just how relieved I was when it spun out of that orbit and became a rich tapestry of characters, plot twists, and an exploration of what it means to be free.

Sure, we've got a lot of budding and fraught romance elements, too, and mommy dearest was one of those little extreme pleasures that makes my head swim with just how Evil she is, but all of that takes a distant back seat to the plot. I honestly had a hard time getting into it for the first third of the novel until right about that time when the Augers started making everyone's lives extremely difficult, and then I settled in comfortably for a nice ride.

The trials weren't too onerous, and I could sympathize well with Elias's desire to get the hell out, even if it meant becoming Emperor to do it. The fact that he was willing to give up everything in order to NOT cross that line just made him a real hero in my eyes, no matter how horrible the consequences. I really liked Helene. She had her own cross to bear, and it was no less interesting than Elias's, and the revelation of that one was both a comfort and a delicious source of pain we can revisit endlessly in the upcoming novels.

Laia also came into her own nicely, and it wasn't a moment too soon. Her story was merely becoming a long line of abused trust and a strange orbiting of Elias. The moment she got her agency and took control over her life was the moment I fairly cheered aloud, much to the consternation of my little daughter, who thought I had stubbed my toe.

Perhaps I had, but I had stubbed my toe on the entire book. It was painful some of the time, and definitely annoying at the beginning, but it certainly made me perk up and pay attention to where I was going afterwards.

I'll just say one thing. MAGIC IS NOT YOUR FRIEND. I loved all the hints and the history of it, though, and the old stories were some of the best in the entire novel. It's a lighthouse for the future of the story, I bet. In the meantime, let's see where this little ember of a revolution will take us, shall we?

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance, #1)The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am and always will be a huge fan of Godpunk fiction.

There's a bit of it floating around out there, but most of it is hidden behind the cloudy minds and bodies of mere mortals, only occasionally poking its bright sunny head out to dazzle and amaze.

Sometimes it's the sun. Sometimes it's not. At the moment, I'm feeling the blaze.

Fortunately for us, we've also got authors with great and deep understanding of the greater and lesser mysteries, the writing chops to pull off an entirely new mythos that can turn those mysteries into something brand new again, even if they've been so very, very old. Jemisin has taken us right back to our very beginnings, with the worship of the sun and the void and the great life goddess and given us a truly fantastic tale of revenge, freedom, and most importantly, of love.

I sit in awe. I've been fortunate to read a number of really fantastic novels recently, and this one stands tall and proud among them, like a worldtree within a shining forest of worlds.

The opening of the novel was unfortunately the weakest part for me, but I was able to feel our heroine's hopeless plight pretty much right away, enjoying her progression of defiance to acceptance as it all became so clear that her life was forfeit no matter what happened. Did I say enjoy? Actually, that part made me squirm quite a bit, but the fact that she was able to come to grips, retain her sanity, and even lose a little more of it in the process, was, in fact, truly enjoyable. I can't believe how tight the romance was, or how cleverly it managed to pull on my heartstrings. (I'm generally not that susceptible to romance on the page. So much of it is unbelievable crap.) In this case, I sank right into it and rooted for them both with all my heart.

After finishing the novel, I can't quite see where else it might go except far away from the characters I've just enjoyed, but I've got the entire omnibus sitting right here. I was very satisfied by the end and truly floored by it. I almost want to leave it be and enjoy everything that this novel will eventually become to me.

Can anything truly top this ride?

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Friday, September 25, 2015

The Girl in the Spider's Web (Millennium, #4)The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is good clean fun, with none of the major problems I was prepared to pour upon it. While it isn't based on any of the notes that the deceased author left behind, only the characters and the situations, I still love the characters.

Our favorite hacker-girl is still kick-ass and running huge circles of Sci-Fi all over the more traditional mystery scene. To note: Wet get lots of references to technological singularities, emergent AIs, MMORPGS, darknet, and even an ill-conceived MCU geekspew.

Technological fantasy is rampant, and it's pretty damn awesome when mixed with more avenging of women and children. I'm telling you, it's all mindless fun. It doesn't break new ground from the original fantastic trilogy, except with Lizbeth's twin sister, but that's okay because it's a STANDARD PLOT DEVICE for mysteries.

The journalism schtick is pretty convincing, too, but I'd expect that from an actual journalist who picked up the pen to write this.

It isn't bad, people! It sucks you in and has a pretty damn satisfying kick the NSA in the nuts conclusion. Great palate cleanser, too. Clears my mental plate clean for some real SF or Fantasy that's niggling me. :)

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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hardwired (Hardwired, #1)Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know why I never got around to reading this back when I used to see it all the time in the bookstores, even knowing that I was such a cyberpunk fan and the whole field was blowing up left and right. Maybe it was all the hardware and the focus on guns and metal that turned me off. I didn't really care about this kind of "punk" so much as I cared for the "cyber".

Granted, back in those days, I might have picked it up, read the blurb, maybe a few random dozen pages, and concluded that it was too cowboy-ee for me to care and I never would have begun anyway.

But today, I have a slightly more refined sensibility. I still don't care for westerns that much, but at least I've picked up the classics and seen that they were, in fact, good. I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood.

So while I'm still not a huge fan of the genre, I can at least appreciate what it does very well, and in some cases, much better than any other type of fiction. The main characters are Cowboy (yeah, that's what he goes by,) and Sarah, and both of them are very well rounded and interesting characters, full of subtle and not so subtle flaws and merits, detailed and fleshy histories, and an eventual love story that is neither gushy, idiotic, or verbose. It was built on quiet respect and blooming friendship. It was almost completely unlike what I was beginning to suspect the novel would wind up being.

Oh no, though, you say, what happened to the cyberpunk aspects? Was there lots of computer-y stuff and explosions?

Why, hell yes, I say! Dogfights in the sky! A battle against the orbitals, lots of scary smuggling runs, but more importantly, a heroic message about getting out from under the short-sighted concerns of the crazy, sick, and bodyless brains in crystal. The worldbuilding is more than solid, filled with past and lost wars, body-sculpting professions, and cocaine-rockets. (This did come out in 1987, after all, and it both shows and shows itself off well.)

Was I expecting it to be a bit of a knock-off of Neuromancer, riding the wave of such a fantastic book? Well, yeah, I guess I was. How did it stand up? Great, if you like more hardware and aerial battles that would make rather more pedestrian space-operas hang their heads in shame. I actually got into the battles, and I've never been one to particularly like military fiction.

I was very impressed not only by the execution of this novel, which never felt much like a knock-off, but because I really got into both the main characters. They weren't flashy or snarky. They weren't bigger than life like Holden in the Expanse or unreliable but still awesome like Kvothe in Name of the Wind.

Cowboy and Sarah felt like real people with real problems in a real world doing their real goddamned best in a really shitty situation.

I honestly liked this book a lot, even if it isn't my normal cup of tea. Why isn't this author sitting on more laurels?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tau ZeroTau Zero by Poul Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a novel to showcase ideas, it succeeds. As a novel to showcase misogyny and thin characters in an attempt to bring real storytelling to hard SF, not so much.

I'll talk of the good parts first. I learned, or eventually recalled something that hadn't immediately made a connection to me right away but it should have.
The word Tau has a dual meaning in the text. One is Proper Time in Physics, and the other refers to coming full circle, both of which happens in the text.
Reducing Tau to Zero means they're going faster and faster and faster to the theoretical maximum of speed, even to the point of traveling between galaxies within weeks. They're already well and deep into the relative future by necessity of going so fast, making them realize that there's nothing left to lose because they've left everything they've known far behind.

The end idea pushes them outside of the framework of an oscillating universe and gives them the opportunity to pick and choose from the cream of any galactic honeypot along any time because they're outside of the framework. It's pretty damn cool, and even if the physics isn't accurate, the base concept that turned into the impetus of such an ambitious idea novel was striking and gorgeous.

It's both better and worse than Stephen Baxter's Ring, which, in hindsight, is an updated and expanded novel to do Tau Zero better than Tau Zero. The Ring had a lot more attention devoted to character, and although I can't say it was better, precisely, I can say that the development and progression into far time was a lot more fascinating, especially with the Human/Xeelee wars and the eventual grand-scale exodus from this universe.

Tau Zero was definitely a tighter novel, focusing on time and relative distances between stellar objects all the way to clusters of galaxies to the shifting of antimatter/matter oscillations underlying the fabric of reality. It was very fun to see Bussard Ramjets going far beyond their theoretical limitations, too, but I prefer Niven's treatments a LOT better. Hell, I was thinking during most of this read that I preferred Neutron Star. But by the end, Tau Zero pulled away from most of the similar SF pack by getting fantastical. (Sorry, I have a soft spot for Bigger, Kick-Ass, and Mind-Blowing concepts.)

Though, in the end, I agree with the Hugo awards for 1970. This was a runner up, and Niven's Ringworld won. Ringworld had Woo! You can't go wrong with Woo!

And that leads me to the not so great in this novel. It's not enough to ruin it for me, but I hated the treatment of women in it. It's not much different from SO many novels of the day, granted, but this crap really grates on me. It's like reading crappy sex scenes. My eyes kind of glaze over and skim till the meat of the story comes back. Tau Zero DID have story, too, an exploration of what it means to be cast adrift into deep time, losing their anchor to Earth and the possibility of ever meeting up with anything remotely like themselves ever again. It went through despair and a great deal of military psychology and a heavy reliance on democracy/committee-speak rather than a strict authoritarian rulership, which makes sense if you're trying to appeal to an American public, and some of the best parts of it were the attempts to keep morale up.

Unfortunately, the characters never did much for me. I'm SO SPOILED by modern SF and Fantasy.

That being said, it was still a great idea novel!

(So why am I reminding myself about The Number of the Beast by Heinlein? Because his ideas were even better along weirdly similar lines, and a lot more fantastical? Possibly. It's unfortunate that it also had some weird-ass hangups and sophomoric fixations, too. I'll never win! ;)

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Monday, September 21, 2015

The Drafter (The Peri Reed Chronicles, #1)The Drafter by Kim Harrison
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Need Diagrams.

"For what?", you ask?

For the line of betrayals, lost memories, altered timelines, and secondarily, who is faking love and who really feels it. But mostly, we need diagrams for the betrayals. I really got caught up in the heavily claustrophobic feel of the text and being stuck in poor Peri's world.

At first, I was struck by how much similarity there was between this novel and the horrible mess that was the Interland Security and the F.I.B. from the Hollows, letting the intrigue grow up and blossom into something that Harrison could never really get away with without losing the thread and the threats in her other excellent series. And then I was blown away at how absolutely complicated and convoluted this new series could really get.

Plot? Oh yes, this one is very plot-heavy. It also has a fantastic benefit/disadvantage ruleset for Drafting, never letting us envy the drafters despite their ability to redo moments of their life to find a better outcome. I mean, how good can it be if you forget both timelines after using it?

And then there are the Anchors, those interesting uber-powerful psychologists that have the ability help drafters recall what was lost after using their powers. Can you smell a setup for abuse?

You have no idea.

That's why I Need Diagrams.

It's either that, or I'll have to re-read the novel right before the second comes out. There's simply a LOT going on and I'm impressed. The novel is a deep exploration of the handful of rules set up at the very beginning, twisting and turning us around inside so much memory loss and intrigue that I would have sworn this was a spy-fic, only spies don't get shafted nearly THIS MUCH. Do I pity Peri? Yes. Do I want to see her unravel the horribly knotted mess of her life? Yes. Do I get this really sneaking suspicion that if she does this One Thing, she's going to immediately quit being everyone's doormat and kick some absolutely serious ass afterward? Oh hell yes.

It's the reason I read Harrison, after all. She always builds up some awesome stories and then slams them out of the park. The satisfaction quotient on this novel doesn't sit where I truly want it, but that's okay because I trust the author and know she's building to something really grand.

That's not to say the novel wasn't enjoyable on it's own, because it was. It just didn't explode the way I know Harrison's works have been known to do.

And in all honesty, even the Hollows series didn't truly begin exploding until a few novels in. They were good, but not the level of great that I now expect.

For this novel though, I have a very good opinion on how it's going and a pretty good estimate on how big the explosion is going to be.

I CAN'T WAIT. :)



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Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Rook (The Checquy Files, #1)The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to have to be honest with this one. I didn't love it. Perhaps I came in upon the UF bandwagon too early or too late, and while I think it's a fairly polished and frankly never ending tale (which I do like, on occasion,) but it just comes across as more secret service urban fantasy schtick. No amount of amnesia gimmicking or clever info-dumps will disguise it for what it is, and I was saddened by the lack of underlying, grab you by the balls, tension.

It did pull off a very well-done piecemeal of episodic tv-like modern fantasy, though, and I'm sure I'd have really enjoyed it if it was a prime-time CW hit, but the fact is, a 31 year old amnesiac shouldn't actually read as a YA protagonist. I like YA when its centered around an actual youth. There are only a mere handful of protagonists that I can accept as the exception to this rule, such as Herne's Iron Druid, who happens to be a few millennia old, but I'm afraid Ms. Thomas has none of the required personality traits to pull that off.

I will say that I do appreciate the long plot, new developments, and above-average enemies, but I am completely spoiled by the whole chess plot after reading Dan Simmon's Carrion Comfort. This novel just can't compare. But that isn't to say this novel doesn't have a lot of excellent points.
It is very readable. A lot happens. It's full of action and revelation. It ought to be the primary focus for anyone just now getting into the YA/UF scene. It packs an awful lot of story in such a small package.

Unfortunately for me, I never quite connected with the MC. I didn't really care about this secret English agency. I never really got the sense of urgency, despite all the calls out into the field, the underlying terror of the grafters, or whatnot. But because this novel was well above the average crap that is out there, I still appreciate it for what it is, and I'll support and read its sequels to come. I've read a LOT worse.

Until then, it was a pretty fun ride! (But to put things into a bit of recent perspective, the movie Kingsman was much more enjoyable, even if it didn't have psychic fungus.)





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Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Library at Mount CharThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is going to be a difficult review because I love it so much.

I'm not going to have Steve warm my bones under his light, anymore. I'm not going to have the thunder out of the east to have my back. But in the end, it is in Carolyn I trust. I have faith in her, and I'll have to have faith in her for the rest of my life.

Confused? Read the book. You'll know what I mean afterward. :)

My word, I can't get over how much new mythology that Mr. Hawkins crammed into such a short book, or how much of it wormed its way into my brain. I haven't been this enthused about any book like this since American Gods, and I have to admit this is a BETTER EXPRESSION than even that.

Gods walking the earth is one thing, but to actually watch them perform an infinite regression of events to create their own successors in such a way that the poor sap doesn't even realize it until long after the big battle is a scale of craft that ought to be left to actual gods, and not some person named Scott Hawkins, who, out of the blue, blew my mind by actually pulling it off.

I cried after Carolyn succeeded in getting her revenge, and I cried again after I realized what she had become by doing so. I don't need a heart coal to see me through to the end, though. I just cried like a little baby when Steve finally succeeded.

This is an IMPORTANT work. It's going to stick in my mind for a damn long time, and even now the story is continuing in my hindbrain, either resurrected endlessly, or a victim of the Black Book. Or, maybe worse than any of that, it's going to stay with me because I Never want to let the story go.

I'm recommending this for the Hugos for next year. It's not quite fantasy. It's more SF, and even Carolyn laughs at the notion of magic, so there you go. This novel is officially replacing my current top pick of Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson, too.

I am absolutely amazed by what I have just read, and I'm bumping this one up to one of my top ten novels of all time. It's just that good.


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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

KindredKindred by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is pretty much a historical novel with a bit of SF icing, focusing almost exclusively on the relationships built between a mid-1970's modern black woman who is continually sent back in time to save an ancestor from an early death. Unfortunately for her, she's a black woman on a slave plantation, and she's stuck there for a disproportionately long time, sometimes even bringing her white husband back into the past with her and sometimes leaving him behind. Theres a ton of time dilation, where moments pass in the modern world and years pass in the past, so it brings a real sense of horror to the story as her real life tumbles away into long absences with her husband.

Of course, the real story isn't about Dana and Kevin, our moderns. Or at least, their intro brings to life a closer contrast of living as a slave, and not always entirely that different from those living in such humiliating circumstances on the plantation. Sure, science, medicine, the abolition of slavery, the freedom to speak your mind, all of that is very well and good, but it says a lot right out of the gate that Dana was able to fit into the frankly horrifying life of the past without too much struggle. Life as a temp slave as she struggled with her dream to become a writer seemed to be merely an appetizer before the grand meal of humiliation and torture.

I can make a pretty solid argument that most people live an all too-similar picture of daily grind and humiliation, and it's only in the matter of degree that anything has really changed, either that, or it's a matter of sublimation.

Dana was seen by too many of those past slaves as an black who pretended to be white because she was educated and tried, with varied success, to stand up to the one person she was nearly irrevocably tied to: Rufus, the son of the plantation owner, who despite Dana's best efforts, still turned out to be a fucking ass. Is it merely cultural? Is it thoroughly cultural? Butler's argument really seems to push aside individual will, time and time again, with every push in the right direction met with an equally feverish backlash.

Sure, we could have had these reversals take place as a science fictional trope, but Butler does something much more interesting. She blames people for being people.

Those times were a travesty of human stupidity and misery, and it's an even bigger blow to us as a species that it's hardly isolated or unique. We live in our own version of slavery, still, even if so many of the particulars have improved, we're still weighted by expectations, assumptions, and bloody-mindedness no less destructive.

Be kinder to our writers. Give them an outlet to create wonderful mirrors to ourselves, such as this novel.

I'm very sorry to know that Butler had passed away, and I'm sorry that it has taken me these many years to finally come around to reading her for the first time. If she was still around, I'd like to thank her. Since she isn't, I'll thank everyone who still remembers this book.


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Monday, September 14, 2015

Acceptance (Southern Reach, #3)Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really 3.5 stars

I'm already tired of my previous argument that the first book was the unconscious and the second was the superego. There's no where else for this book to go except a healthy balance: Hence the name, Acceptance. My argument is too trite and obvious.

So, instead, I'll move on to how this novel either succeeds or doesn't as an actual novel meant to entertain us.

I had issues with the previous novel which did get much better once the Authority crumbled, and this novel takes place entirely in Area X, which I very much prefer. The place is a character, after all, and it had been filled with so many delicious developments that it was a shame to just get a dry point-by-point debriefing. I wanted to be plopped right back into the action, to revel in the gorging fruit and flame, and enjoy that unbearable lightness of being.

Well, as the argument goes, we've got a compromise.

The book is chock-full of good reveals, but unlike the first novel, the timing on them weren't quite as good. The first novel had an excellent horror aesthetic, rising and falling between intellectualism, memory, and being absolutely confronted by the Id becoming externalized, backing off and rushing forward like the tide.

This novel is stuffed full of characters like Saul the Lighthouse Keeper, living out his last days before the great change to the Area, (which I liked a lot), Grace the original psychologist and the director of the Southern Reach, her past and her current new self, Control, and (thank goodness,) Ghost Bird. All of them do their part to fill in the gaps we've been missing, and there's a lot of gaps that had to be filled, but that's the purpose of Ego. It's here to make sense of things that can't be quantified, just like Area X.

Here's your first warning about spoilers, people.

I really WANT to talk about the reveals. They're fun and worthwhile. I want to have a nice long discussion about them with people who like wormholes and pocket universes, alien intelligences who've perfected biology but who've outgrown the patience to try and communicate with the dregs, the altered starscape, and the functional immortality and time-dilation within the Area. But I won't, out of respect for those who still want to be surprised. Because, let's face it, if you've gotten this far, you're RELYING on the surprises to keep you going, because the plot is kinda unreliable and organic, which fits the theme, of course, but if you're looking for something to actually HAPPEN, or for the Area to finally be Provoked, as was hinted at earlier, then you'll be disappointed.

Can a novel be carried entirely by it's reveals? No. Can they be entirely carried by only a few of the characters, who, like cancer victims, must find in themselves a reason to carry on despite everything that has happened? Maybe. It always depends on how the story spins out and what kind of things we can pull away from the tale, as readers.

Some people are going to take away a lot more from this novel than me. I loved the ideas. I'll rank this novel very high as an idea novel, rather than one that is written well. What really pains me is the hints that Mr. VanderMeer IS a very talented writer, full of great aesthetics and a great sense of timing, which, unfortunately, he declined to pull out for the readers in the second and third novels. (It's not quite as bad, in the third novel. My interest was held much more in it than in the second.)

I just feel as if the novel could have been great with a bit more plot-push or a complete submersion back into the weird. Either way, we bring it back to the characters, or we bring it Fully into Area X as character.

*sigh* Apparently, I have to Accept that the Area (the Id) and the scheming people (superego) must make up a third, ultimately less satisfying character.

Sure. It might be healthy to integrate the two, and it is a mark of character growth, whether it is within Us, as readers, or the peeps we are reading about, but let me ask the important question:

"Don't we, as readers, read for the conflicts, and not the resolution?"

It's where the action is. It's what puts us at the edges of our seats. Acceptance means the loss of conflict. Great for living life, but not so great for the readers of an obviously excellent setup and prolonged execution of an idea story that happened to have truly fascinating and well-drawn characters. It has so much potential. It's really reaching for the stars. I love that about it. I just wish I hadn't felt cheated at the end. We're still sitting on the fence. Neither Id nor Superego are going to win this one. It is ongoing, forever.

*sigh* Happiness and adjustment, in this case, is very off-putting and creepy, especially if you're eventually going to transform into the actual ecosystem of the Area and become a functionally immortal monstrosity.

(And don't argue with me about the thousands of great examples in Horror that leave us without happy endings. This is a one-off of those. This is an unhappy ending posing as a well-thought-out exposition and persuasive argument telling us that it's actually a happy ending. Or it's the ultimate argument, taken to extremes, of "Life must go on".)

I really want to like the novels, people. I really do. There's a lot going on that I appreciate with my brain and it's turtles all the way down. It's my heart that rebels.

On the other hand, I'm totally open to comments and discussions on this one. It deserves a lot more than just this.


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Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Annihilation Score (Laundry Files, #6)The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I may be a card-toting fan of Charlie, here, but I know this novel deserves a ton of praise despite my bias. For one, he actually shifts from Bob Howard's character to Mo, his smarter, more competent half, and does it so well that even an ex-angry-white-boy like myself can feel like she feels GENUINE. That may be very hard or very easy, considering that I'm actually rather hard on books in my heart, while often giving them a pass in the final analysis, or the fact that I am, indeed, still only a boy and have never been a girl.

That being said, Mo struggled like hell against all the pigeonholing that everyone tried to slap on her, and I loved every single second of it. I haven't rooted for a character this deeply in a while. And this might sound a bit like blasphemy, but I'm having a very hard time deciding whether I love her more than Bob. It's that seminal question old Heinlein fans had to ask... after traveling with Lazzy so long, did you find yourself preferring his mom in To Sail Beyond the Sunset?

Okay, maybe that might be too obscure, and we're actually talking about marital strife, not child-dynamics, but still.

I've very much enjoyed Bob's hyperbole, SO dry humor, the shifting horrors of bureaucracy treading while surrounded with lovecraftian nightmares. He is a hapless programmer who eventually became The Eater Of Souls and therefore is a FORCE, especially after the previous novel did everything in its power to crush the Laundry and managed to kill off a lot of good friends in the process, leaving him in the possession *ha, get it?* of 80 years of secrets.

But now comes Domonique, his wife, catching him in a horribly compromising situation, and her own pet demon in the guise of a violin made of bone and eldritch horror decides its time to take vengeance on her man for what appears to be infidelity (it isn't) with a vampire (damn those running for your life circumstances), and Bob's little counterargument by way of tiny glowing worms in his eyes.

I understand why their marriage is breaking down. Truly. But it makes me so sad. Neither of them wanted what eventually happened. It's not like Bob actually wanted to be able to become the most powerful necromancer in the world, able to rip an entire population of other-dimensional horrors out of the heads of a roomful of civil servants; and besides, the paperwork is a real killer.

All this, mind you is merely a setup for the novel that actually came to us. It's like Charlie decided to put his incredibly facile brain to the task of treating the whole vampire phenomenon to a huge dose of this universe in the previous book, and found itself unable to cope, and then decided to do the same thing to the superhero phenomenon in this one.

And again, NOTHING can survive the bureaucratic mangler.

I loved it. I haven't been forced to read this slowly, for such obvious and prolonged sessions of pleasure and horror, in a long time.

These books are funny. They're funny in how they've completely twisted my view of popular culture. The superhero angle was absolutely not derivative. Their origin story is closely tied to the oncoming shitstorm of CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN, the invasion of all the dungeon dimensions onto the earth, and the invasion is only masking itself as popular belief systems. Dreams and hopes. So when superheroes start popping up all over the place, so do the supervillains.

The only way to combat such a nightmare is by using Upper-Middle Management to put together a task force to train and retain new superpowers, transform people in Pervert Suits into Law Abiding Constables, and put a civilized lid on the whole mess. Screw you, Xavier. This is a job for Home Office.

So delicious, and SO dry. :)

I could go on and on about this novel, but I'll stop here. There's a reason this has become one of my absolute top SF/Horror/Humor series, ever, and I can feel the waves of struggle underneath to turn it into something deep and serious, besides. I love Mo.

The whole novel just screams of a downhill slide with truly horrific consequences, and it delivered with prejudice. Hugely entertaining. Heads and above the competition, although, to be honest, I know of NO AUTHOR that fits this mold. Believe me, I've been looking for others that can pull off something like this, and yet, I've never seen anyone that has been able to do THIS.

Dare I say it? I keep looking and looking, and I'm not exactly unread. Dare I say that this series is UNIQUE?

Uniquely good, even, and rising to new heights. I liked the previous novel, but I positively loved this one. :)

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Friday, September 11, 2015

Authority (Southern Reach, #2)Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Honestly, I wanted to stay longer in Area X, not get relegated to an almost sterile administration building for most of the novel.

Control (the man, not the action) didn't even really begin to grow on me until well-past half-way mark. At least there were elements of spy-fiction, but in all honesty, the conflict in the novel was rather too light.

I know we're not supposed to have answers in this kind of novel. I don't really expect them. It's all about the journey and cultivating a sense of wonder as a reader, trying to figure out the rules for yourself, seeing if you can do any better than the poor characters actually having to live it. (So to speak.)

And yet, I had to wait until almost the very end to get that mere glance I was hoping for, and then it slipped beneath the water again.
Too little happened. Most of what teased me were the long conversations with Ghost Bird on the other side of an interrogation table, and I did look forward to each and every one of those, but it wasn't until Control had to leave the administration building that I started to gel with the novel, and that's a shame, because I actively started LIKING the novel at that point.

I'm partial to being thrown into the actual action, not just having a taste of squabbling coworkers making a hash of sending so many damn people into Area X.

If I were a more critical reader, not willing to give credit where credit is finally due, I might have said I didn't like this book. Most of it bored me.

Fortunately, I'm not a super critical reader. It did progress my understanding of Area X by way of the people on the outside, and even if they, also, are stumped, then at least they came by it honestly. Or dishonestly. Whatever. :)

Ghost Bird, even for being placed on a pedestal and turned into an Object Of Understanding by everyone else, still remained my favorite character in either novel.

Now, here's the tricky part: It's become painfully obvious to me that we're dealing with the themes of unconsciousness and Id (Annihilation) and consciousness and SuperEgo (Authority), both exploring the physical manifestation of the subconsciousness and how it rises out of the bog into consciousness. Annihilation was floating up, and Authority was sinking down. By extrapolation, Acceptance is going to be all about finding a workable balance, ending in EGO.

Of course, I'm already of the opinion that Ghost Bird already has a pretty good grasp on it, I'm just going to go out on a limb that the tale will be about someone else. Perhaps Control, but probably a third we haven't met.

Truly, the novel IS good if you analyze it. Too bad that it kinda fell flat in execution. Or perhaps that's my own SuperEgo being super critical because it knows, in a deeper sense, that super intellectualization is such a damn bore. :)

Am I right?

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Equoid (Laundry Files, #2.9)Equoid by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my god that was a sharp one. I'm bowled over, not only because this was easily the best Bob Howard story I've read, including all of the novels, all of which I love, but because the tale was freaking sharp. There wasn't an ounce of fat on it, and it drove me into a shivering horror state even as I was expecting great hyperbole, great dry wit, and a character I love. What I didn't expect was the absolute chittering horror that I felt as I read it.

It wasn't HP Lovecraft's deathbed confession or purple prose, although that certainly got to me in the end. It wasn't the singularly nightmarish aspects of the unicorns, either, although it came DAMN CLOSE. It was the idea of all those little girls playing with all those little ponies in the boarding school. That got me. That got me to my core.

I had to put the novella down for a few minutes to fucking recover.

Now, I'm going to admit something. I have been a long time fanboy of Mr. Stross, and I devour all his works like they're candy and get super giddy over the idea of the Laundry Files and wish to the sweet heavens that the Eschaton series didn't have that fatal flaw that prevents him from writing more.

I'm predisposed to give him the benefit of lots of leeway because of the power of my never ending fanboy powers.

Well, I'm telling you all, right now, that I'm forgoing all rights and status of being a fanboy and saying that this little gem of a story stands mightily and beautifully on its own without any kind of preamble, preconception, or good-will. More than that, I'm tempted to rank it up there with the very best novellas I've ever read. It has all the markings of the best. Tight story, great characters, and IMPACT. Oh god, the impact. I'm still scared shitless, and I'm an old hand at enjoying horror. What's more, this is great SF, too.

And what's more, it won last year's Hugo for best Novella.

I can't believe, with all my fanboy powers for both Hugos and Stross, I am JUST NOW getting around to reading this fantastic little gem. Maybe I ought to let one of those snails crawl onto my hand. I probably deserve it, now.



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Annihilation (Southern Reach, #1)Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So I went to the Natural History Museum in NYC and watched a wonderful IMAX film about the wonders of the ocean world, the horrors of a living coral reef, and animals that more properly resembled plant life. One life form slowly devours another, using all the myriad tricks of evolution, from symbiosis and natural selection, to rise, unerringly, to be the top of the food chain.

I felt like I just read a SF/Horror hybrid that was just narrated by Jacques Cousteau, full of even and progressive prose, leading me inexorably to a great change. I can't quite place it as either the end of a feeding or the opening sequence of a brand new symbiosis.

Either way, this was definitely an awesome Biopunk novel, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't have won 2014's Nebula. (And it did.)

I was reminded, of course, of Ballard's Crystal World, so many of Greg Bear's novels, but especially his novel Legacy. I can't ignore Perdido Street Station either, or any of the other great bio-enhanced SF that's out there, but I'll check my nostalgia at the door right here.

I was actually very impressed at the way Ghost Bird was handled, as a character, jumping back and forth from her past to her present regularly. Mr. VanderMeer purposefully turned his characters into cyphers, placed tons of limitations on them, and then set them loose to have their own life in this horrible place, but instead of staying limited, they broke out of their bonds like little expressions of fungi and animal-like protoplasms to slither across the page in unexpected ways. Ghost Bird, herself, was like a great ocean of denial, always telling us that she was no more than her surface appearing, and yet, every step of the way, she reflected back to us a great unconscious drive that kept pounding at us until she met the lighthouse keeper, and after.


Oddly enough, I had a horrible reaction while reading this. Does anyone know the music from Clockwork Orange? The one with the ditty about "I wanna marry a lighthouse keeper and keep him company?" Well, I kept hearing that tune throughout my reading of this novel, and what a counterpoint it was. I heartily recommend finding it and listening to it a dozen times while reading or rereading the awesome trippy crawler scenes. It opened up my experience in wonderful ways. :)

Horror is absolutely not dead, and thank god for it! It's just gone underground into New Weird and SF titles. It's been a good while coming, I know, but life changes. I'm just not certain whether horror is being consumed or becoming symbiotic. Who knows? It's the same thing with me. I come away from this novel feeling a bit infested. A bit glowy. Have I jumped the fence? I don't know. Maybe I'll never know.

There is one thing that I do know, though. I have to read the two sequels. It's too good not to.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Flux ('Mancer, #2)The Flux by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is going to be an easy review.

I loved it.

Unfortunately for most of you out there, the book hasn't been released yet and I'd be spoiling most of the greatest shit ever if I started blabbing too soon, so 

The first rule: You don't talk about FLUX. The second rule: You DO NOT talk about FLUX. Third rule: If someone says "stop" or goes limp, taps out the FLUX is over.

If you don't like that, then tough-titties.

Is it as good as Flex? Pretty damn close, and perhaps the last minute fixes before publication will wrap that up. Is the magic system still rocking? OH. HELL. YES.

Is it still serious, with real ups and real downs, with great and flexible characters learning and growing as their lives take new twists? Very much so.

Did we move away from Breaking Bad into some new territory? Is it just as good, with all the love and admiration we as readers can kindle and fan into another's life-blood of writing? I do believe so!

Did we get a painful and disturbing roller-coaster of falls and rises and falls before getting one absolutely fantastic payoff at the end? Without a doubt in the whole damn world, Yes.

I'm loving that little girl more and more and more, and Paul's no slouch. And let's face it, Valentine finally got her boy, and I can't be anything but happy for her. (Even if the property damage ranks an ES of at least 5.)

I don't care what the author says in his afterward. He's no Daffy Duck, filling himself with explosives to please his fans one last time before going boom. I think he's a freaking Keeper, and if us fans aren't able to keep him up with our own instant HP bars for the duration, then we're seriously piss-poor 'mancers, ourselves.

I AM A NEW FANBOY. I thought I was with the first, but this second proves that he's no fluke, and seriously no joke.

I'm tempted to say he's the new Authoromancer of urban fantasy, but it'd be wise to hold off on any pronouncement of kingship until at least his third novel, no?


(I am saying all this in full knowledge and respect for all of the fantastic UF authors I have already read. Do not take these statements lightly. These books are seriously awesome shit. (These books are single-sit reading sessions, with all the problems concomitant with such, including much angry barkings at friends and families who might have intimated a whispered desire to disturb my frantic reading. (For those who worry about their safety, I'm letting you know now that They Survived, but it was a close thing.)))

I'm so happy to have read these books!



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Monday, September 7, 2015

Flex ('Mancer, #1)Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I started reading this, I was struck by how much it appeared to be like Michael Underwood's Geekomancy, and after reading it, of course there were a few similarities, but where Geekomancy was all delightful snark and nostalgia wrapped into a wonderfully magical system, Flex was a lot more dark and serious, and...

Shall I say it? Yeah. I have to say this was the better novel of the two. Sorry, Michael! I love your stuff, but this was just too sharp!

We can scratch out most of the nostalgia and jump right into a well-crafted tale. The hero is a damn surprising hero, too. Just hearing about what he did, I honestly wanted to cringe and go... "How is that going to be fun?" And then after reading him in action, all my fears flittered away as I began to realize that this is the freaking Breaking Bad of urban fantasy. Just being a clever and unique magic system is fantastic, too, but my god, we jumped, wonderfully, from a guy who uses magic to do paperwork into a brilliant drug dealer. And not only does it work, but it's far from being the best aspect of the book.

Look. We've got an ex-cop who was branded a hero for accidentally killing a 'Mancer even as he respected what he saw, turned his badge in, as well as losing a foot, to become an insurance agent. If that sounds boring, then stuff it. Mr. Steinmetz makes it work well. The core of the book is about people who focus so much on what they love that they become travelling black holes of universe-changing power that comes with it's own built-in correction system.

For those of us who've played and loved the Mage storytelling system, you're right on target. Mr. Steinmetz acknowledges his debts here and to Mr. Underwood.

MC Paul's arch-enemy was fantastic. Paul was fantastic. Valentine was fantastic. And my heart-strings were so thoroughly manhandled by his poor burned daughter that I wasn't sure I was going to get out of this novel alive.

Sure, it might just be another novel set to destroy NYC, but on the other hand, I felt utter joy in the reading. I literally couldn't put this title down for the life of me. It was magical.

It's true I probably wouldn't have picked this novel up in the first place if I hadn't received an invitation to read its sequel in Netgalley, but that's my own damn problem. I'm leased to be proved an idiot. Never judge a book by either its cover or its blurb. Flex is no sophomore addition to a crappy UF collection. It's serious and it's brilliant.

All you peeps who want magic systems and UF and seriously excellent character progressions need to go out and pick up this title. It's pretty close to perfect.

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VALIS (VALIS Trilogy, #1)VALIS by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has everything except plot. I still love the fraking hell out of it. As a mind experiment gone horribly, horribly awry, I felt myself slipping into PKD's mindset and taking every point seriously, as you could just tell that he was. It felt like the ramblings of a man who had gone through something he couldn't explain and did his damned awful best to figure it out, but that includes religious horror, classical Greek authors, a ton of philosophy, and a life that is falling apart.
I've since read his Exegesis, or at least the edited parts of it, but I was personally horrified by his own accounting of the Exegesis that he was currently writing at the time of, and within, this novel. A million words. Ten novel's worth. All densely populated with thought experiments, rationalizations, religious thought, humor, self-deprecation, and so much more.

Knowing what I know now hasn't diminished my respect for this novel, just given it more dimension. At the time I first read it, I honestly thought that PKD had specifically picked this highly intellectual, spooky, crazy method to tell a story in a novel, while using himself as a split personality as a foil. I thought it was Brilliant. I know now that he just took out a lot of his salient points from the exegesis and made a slapped together novel. That being said, it still doesn't deplete the depth and the density of this great novel.

I shook myself after reading it the first time and sat around dazed for a day. If I'm going to rank my favorite novels by the effects they had upon me, by their lasting effects upon my life, then I'm going to slap this one up near the very top. It still gives me shivers, and it made me feel small in a huge world of thought.

I've since read all of the authors that he name-dropped, and have explored the catacombs, and can rebut and argue with PKD now; but first I had to be bitch-slapped by this great man before I could get back up and try again.

It was NOT an easy read, but it was a fairly short novel. It was also a heart-wrenching piece to get through, as well. More than all of this, it was also an extremely rewarding piece of fiction, if you're willing to put the effort into not only it, but into PKD's thoughts and your own growth as a person.

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Sunday, September 6, 2015

SuperpositionSuperposition by David Walton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an entertaining courtroom drama that happened to geek out all over the place with a coherent explanation of quantum mechanics AND a relevant hard SF extrapolation of the theories.

What is that in laymen terms?

Murder mystery meets many-worlds.

I'm sure those people who geek out over courtroom dramas will get a lot more out of this novel than me. I would have been perfectly peachy with an action-science thriller, and I'll be frank, this novel would have met a five star for me if it had been. It was polished enough in plot to stand with its head held high without diving into anything else, but I'll give it props for being very decent in both hard SF and legal mystery stuff.

My personal wishes have nothing to do with whether this book was excellent. And it was excellent.

The science was particularly well-done and engaging and it was also so damn relevant to the plot that I couldn't help but squee with delight at the explored and exploited plot-lines.

It wasn't set very far in the future, but the opened horizons made me feel that ever-so-desired sense of wonder I always pray for in a science-fiction novel.

There wasn't any worldbuilding here. It was just a widening of our myriad possibilities. If only we could have stayed on that side of the novel. *sigh*

Please don't get me wrong. I live for novels that genre-bend. It allows us readers to swim in oceans of new possibilities. I just don't like it when a mix feels like a noose to reel-in characters, even if it provided very decent and ongoing conflict.

I'm afraid I'm prejudiced a bit against mysteries. It doesn't matter how many I've read. They have a place in my heart, but they'll never quite open up my head. Otherwise, I loved all the ideas, no matter if a lot of them have been done before.

The novel has a modern sensibility and a very clear style. I'm sure most people would get through the novel quite easily.

It's the ideas within that will stay with me.
You ought to know what I mean, though. It's all about quantum alien intelligences, bridging the Holtzmann gap between the subatomic and macro, manipulating probability wave collapses, the mirror-image duplication of characters, and even e-paper computers that remotely tap into supercolliders.


It's the little classic stuff of SF. In a murder mystery/courtroom drama.

I'm pretty sure most other readers, whether they like mystery or SF, will get a great deal of satisfaction out of the novel. I wish you well with it!


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Saturday, September 5, 2015

Time Salvager (Time Salvager #1)Time Salvager by Wesley Chu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this more. There's a lot of great things that can be said about clarity of style, fairly well-developed and interesting characters, and a promising concept, and this novel had it all, including an interesting hard-sf opening with a doomed space battle with highly advanced humanoids, but unfortunately, all the promise kinda fizzled.

This is a time travel book, isn't it? There was too little time travel. Even the rules against doing it too much turned out to be so much hokum, and the worst that can be expected is just the time-traveller's body giving out. (Sure, that's bad enough, but there's always a way around such things. After all, they have time and times that are much better at healing failing bodies, but such a fix was never explored.)

Instead, we have an Evil Corp trope, which can be done smart or not, depending on the author's talent, but the fact that our future is such a shithole because of stupidity and greed is simply a too obvious worldbuilding technique. Clarity of prose can easily lend itself to a much more complex and compelling plot.

Did I really want to wind up reading about a small band of shit-dwelling future bostonians living a stone-age existence while a handful of super-bright and/or super-powerful tech-wielding outcasts befriend and later try to save the earth from the muck of industrial byproducts? No, not really. This was supposed to be a time-travel novel. There's all of HISTORY that could have been plumbed. Including that present's future.

Was I disappointed with the direction the story went?

Well, let me throw out a caveat: The whole novel was competent and the action scenes were fun, the characters were believable and the growing love wasn't too painful to read. James's handler was definitely a bright point in the novel, as was the turnaround of the auditor. From the very start of the tale, I was hooked and flew through the pages, just wanting to see what would happen next, thinking that I was going to be in for a real treat of imagination and discovery.

Of course, that's where I went wrong. Perhaps the fact that this is only a book one out of an unknown number will clear up and develop a better story, later, such as turning this primitive tribe into a team of outlaw chronomen, but then again, maybe not. I'd say this novel is redeemed, if it eventually turns out to be true, but otherwise, I'm stuck sitting on my hands and and wondering if I had just read anything more than a mediocre tale.

My only complaint is in the fulfillment of the social contract between author and reader. I wasn't as satisfied as I should have been, based on the promises that the prose started me out with.

We'll see for the later books. I'm not giving up just yet.

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Friday, September 4, 2015

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first N. K. Jemisin, and I'm truly ashamed that I hadn't gotten around to her writing before now. I'm just putting that out right away, because this shame is all my own, and it is deep.

Secondly, this feels like an intensely personal novel, to me, and for me, although maybe nobody will ever know why, except me. The way she treats the volcanoes and the earthquakes make me seethe with jealousy and rage, because it is just so damn good.

And thirdly, I'm stuck straddling the line between how much I enjoyed the POV developments and how they eventually revealed something truly great by the end and how much I wish I had known the secret from the very start. It wouldn't have taken much. Just another line following each heading. There would have been no confusion, no mystery. But no, it is as it is, and I'm very likely going to have to reread the novel to pick up any possible failings of my inconsiderate attention span before I dive into the second novel that follows this.

So what am I trying to say, here? That I'm a miserable failure who is taking this novel way too seriously and admits that he may have missed too much on the first read because the novel was too dense for his little brain? Possibly.

But what I'm really saying is that this novel has skyrocketed to one of the topmost favorite novels that I've ever read, that I'm squeeing about it, and that I think I've just found my newest favorite author of all time.

I like to think that I'm fairly well read. I like to think I have a fairly discriminate palate that shows in my reviews, even if they don't always show in something as simple as a star on a bar. I like to think that I can pick out works of deeply fine quality and works that have obviously been borne quite bloodily from an author's head, like Athena, only with much more gore. This is one of those damn fine novels that just REEKS of imagination, forethought, CRAFT, and one hell of a fine setup, a fine conclusion, and finally, a fantastic and sharp new setup.

I remember the moon. I thought of it throughout this novel. Its having been missing throughout all these damn cataclysms caused me as much grief as the idea that the Fifth Seasons are actually huge diebacks on the Earth, recurring endlessly ever since we killed the moon in some mysterious and immense SF past. We have people with amazing powers, almost godlike in scope, having undergone so much social and historical upheavals, themselves, that no one even knows their history any longer, or why they chose to chain themselves.

Warning. Spoiler ahead.

We have our main character and her shadow, seen semi-confusedly through different names and time periods, from childhood to adulthood to middle age; the last being set in the present, shown to us through the POV of her shadow through second-person and developing to a final convergence that gives us a truly wonderful reveal.

It even leaves us with greater questions and a truly immense possible conflict.

As if supervolcanoes and earthquakes and their control or release weren't enough conflict, right? We've the makings of one of the biggest revenge stories I've ever had the pleasure to read.

It's almost as if I'm reading a quality SF novel that has been allowed the freedom to go Super Sayan on me.

And so my jaw drops.

Am I utterly amazed after reading this? Yes. Hell yes.
Do I have any reservations with the author's writing, timing, storytelling, subject, characters, or reveals? No. Hell no.

I do want so say one thing after reading the afterward, though. Thank you, Ms. Jemisin for not giving up on this amazing novel. All of your blood, sweat, and tears have brought forth something truly great. I am indebted to you, personally, for changing my life and my expectations about what can actually be pulled forth from a great novel. You did something Big.

Thank you!



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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Neverending StoryThe Neverending Story by Michael Ende
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like many people of my generation, I loved the film adaptation (the first, not the second, thank you) and never realized that it had come from a book until a number of years later. In fact, I read it the first time in '07 and not only was I delighted at how imaginative it was, I was flabbergasted (joyfully so) that it lived up to its name.

It's quick reading, by any standard, but so deliciously dense in imagery, mythology, and an engrossing plot that I swore that if I had any children, this would be a staple of their diet.

Now that I have a little girl, I'm just too anxious to start reading it to her. I really can't sit still. I keep picking up the book and going, "Is she old enough, yet? Is she? Is she?" Then I set down the book and tear out my metaphorical hair and let out a forlorn cry. Then I get a fantastic idea:

I could just read it again, for myself!

Then everything is right with the world again and I'm able to write a new review.

This is easily one of my favorite tales, ever.


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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Peace War (Across Realtime, #1)The Peace War by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I almost pushed this one down to a three star rating on my reread, but by the end I got over the mildly racist overtones against hispanics and blacks and got into the actual war effort.

Honestly, even though this is definitely SF with all its discussion of high-tech versus slightly lower-tech population, it actually reads like an OLD STYLE fantasy, complete with old wizard and an underprivileged apprentice siding with the underdog portion of society, the "Tinkers", against the Peace Authority, who holds the high tech "bobbles". I didn't like that so much. It was old had, but this did get released back in 1984, so it might be just dated in my own head.

I liked the idea behind the "bobbles". Stasis bubbles, impenetrable force fields that can capture nuclear blasts as they happen and protect the populace. This is what brings our civilization to its knees, oddly enough. Unfortunately, I felt like I had to slog through half the novel before we got to the revolution overthrowing the Peace Authority. That was just fine. Lots of action and battles, heroic deeds and whatnot.

If it hadn't been for the slower pace of the beginning, I would have thought this would have been pretty rip-roaring fun.

It is, unfortunately, my least favorite of Mr. Vinge's works, and because of such high expectations, I wanted to judge this novel on his subsequent delights.

That would be very unfortunate, though, and I will therefore back-off and let this novel stand on its own.

It isn't fantastic, but it is worth reading for the ideas, if not for the somewhat mediocre story.

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