Thursday, December 31, 2015

God's War (Bel Dame Apocrypha #1)God's War by Kameron Hurley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I went through several transformations as I read this novel, or four if you include a priori expectations after judging a book by its cover; for some weird reason, I thought this title would be more UF than a gritty SF title that masquerades as a fantasy.

It's not really as confusing as I make it out to be. No gods are involved in the telling of the tale, just a bunch of people who believe in Allah and Jehova in a far future world that seems awfully like the Gaza Strip, only filled with Magicians who control bugs by their will and shapeshifters (Shifters). Traditional military hardware is available everywhere you look, too, and most of our focus is firmly on a hard-as-nails normal female.

We get to see her in her youth as a part of an official assassination squad, the betrayal and her downfall, and her poverty and life as part of a small squad of bounty-hunters.

I had some issue with this. The writing was rather sparse when it came to fleshing out each of the characters and it took me a long time to care who each of them were, other than Nyx, of course. And then there were long sequences in the text where I was flooded with names and names and names and very little hook to keep my interest. At that point, my hopes rested entirely on the brilliant and complex world that was being laid out before me. It was absolutely enormous and complex and well-thought out. My only concerns were with the characters.

And then I had my first transformation. I didn't have a problem with the boxing, and the small squad scenes were so-so, but when Nyx and I got to spend some time alone, the text came alive. I shuddered and thanked all the stars in heaven. The novel went from burdensome to snappy.

My next transformation came when the rest of the characters finally started coming to life through their choices and actions, and it took just a little bit too much time to get there, but it did, and for that, I am eternally grateful. The climax was especially personal and rich in both action and characters, and at this point, I am now a fanboy.

Worldbuilding kicked this off, but eventually, the characters carried the day. I'm not going to have any issues picking up and devouring the next books, unless I have to start from scratch. :) Who knows? It's not like I've done any research on this series. This is my first Kameron Hurley book, and I'm rather impressed. It is rather dense in places and not always an easy read, but I can say it is very rich and I'm very happy to begin my journey here.

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Dare MeDare Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second Megan Abbott, and it won't be my last. There's something about her razor-sharp writing that is so damn compelling and interesting that goes well beyond the subject matter.

I'll be honest. I don't care too much about cheerleaders and cheerleading, but when you mix a near Machiavellian cruelty to the scene, with all the world-weariness of 14 year old girls, and write the living fuck out of it, it becomes mesmerizing.

A lot of people say that Abbott writes Noir, and it is definitely her writing's strength. Sharp lines, stark definitions everywhere, and a deep undercurrent running through the tale. Was it suicide? Was it murder? How is Beth involved? Is the Coach guilty? It's all questions and blinders, and it never sinks into a normal murder mystery. Our narrator Addy so well-crafted that I doubt I'll ever forget her.

Everyone's complex. It's hard not to make a serious connection to Lolita, from the cover of the novel to the layers and layers of personality within Addy and all the versions of Beth and Coach French to which we are treated.

It's a mystery. But it's also the heaviest novel about cheerleading I've ever read.

Indeed, that I ever want to read. The competition is there, of course, but the way all these girls get prepared as if for war, punishing themselves far worse than they punish each other, is just as bad as any of the most intense sports-competition stories I've ever read/watched/or experienced.

The microcosm is damn oppressive. It's easy to imagine transporting these girls to an upscale brothel in the 50's under the complex and caring touch of a well-meaning madam, or cutting off a tit to be that most excellent archer of Amazonian fame for the glory of Diana. *sigh* Disturbing. Glorious.

The fact is, the writing is so damn good that I fell into the story despite myself. It's truly brilliant in that respect, but I still don't care for the actual subject. My Bad!

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Veiled (Alex Verus, #6)Veiled by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another solid edition, but it suffers from being less personal on any front. I mean, Verus as a probationary Keeper (a cop) of the Light Mages? It sounds like the plot needed a bit of stretching, to me, but okay, I'll get over it, let's see where this takes us.

Politics. Of course, it has to be politics.

Fun fight scenes, interesting developments in the mage world, and a pretty glorious take-down mission full of intrigue and double-crossings, but like I said, less of a personal novel. There's no new grand reveals or anything when it comes to Verus or his friends. If it wasn't for the politics and the sense that some major shit is going to come down in the upcoming novels, I'd almost say to prospective readers to skip this one, but it was still entertaining even if it felt more like a military action than an UF novel during the last quarter of the novel.

To each their own. I still thought it was good.

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Hidden (Alex Verus, #5)Hidden by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those rare series that only seems to get stronger the further you get. If I'm completely honest with myself, I think it might be a function of my previous investment, but it doesn't feel that way.

So, Verus is still sliding, but the hints of a possibly heroic character change is still on the table, even if he hasn't quite picked it up. I don't think it really counts that he's only being heroic for those that he considers his friends, but at least he's doing it even when said friend is being an asshat.

I like Anne. I didn't really like her back in book 3, but she's really grown on me through this book. It helps to actually know her history, I suppose, and the fact this novel is all really about her and Verus makes it super easy.

These books are a delight to read mainly because they go down as smooth as silk, the magic is fascinating, and the characters equally so. Evil is complicated, as is good, but more than anything, these novels devote a lot of space to asking some rather hard questions about human nature. They're not just forgettable entertainment, anymore.

So who's hidden? Our dark side.

Gotta love it.


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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Chosen (Alex Verus, #4)Chosen by Benedict Jacka
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one had a pretty nice flavor and I think I liked it much more than the previous one. Verus is beginning to gather a good handful of friends.

But, alas, this novel brings out all the old skeletons in his closet and tests not only his ideals, but his friendships. Can a dark past truly be overlooked? Is it right to even do so?

The brother of one of his poor victims has brought together a magical assassin squad to seek revenge on all those dark mages involved in his sister's death, and most of the novel is rightly and deliciously focused on reasoning with or narrowly escaping their wrath.

This novel dealt with the hard questions and the hard solutions, and no one came out of it unscathed, including Verus.

I thought this was one of the strongest of the novels, but I do have one complaint. I'm kinda tired of Elsewhere. For a magical realm, it does very little enhance the novels. The fact that it was used again as an information-revelation device made it seem like a kind of cop-out, but that's not to say we didn't need the information. We did. Unfortunately, it kinda dragged around the otherwise well-paced novel.

The popcorn UF is getting a bit meaty, and I have nothing but good things to say about that. :)

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Vicious (Vicious, #1)Vicious by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one was thoroughly entertaining. It's not deep or earth-shattering, and it doesn't even truly turn the whole hero/villain thing on its head, but as a character study of many flawed peeps with powers, it succeeds brilliantly.

Three were no truly and deeply likeable characters, besides perhaps Sydney, but they were definitely all interesting. Hell, I liked them a lot more than any of the characters from The Magicians, and they had a lot more time to develop and change over three books.

But I'm not saying that I don't appreciate Vic and Eli, because I do. Eli was always pretty static, even if he was a mask with something sinister underneath, deluding himself that he was chosen by god to eradicate the EOs even if he was one himself. Victor, at least, had the sense to make friends. He's certainly not blameless, and while he's the ostensible "villain" of the tale, he functions a lot better as a dark hero. I even cheered him on after he had his stint in the block and I was very satisfied with the end of the novel.

For people who liken this to a comic book, I see your point. Just another superhero story with a twist, right? I'd agree with you on principle, but in the particulars, the book was actually written well and had good pacing. I enjoyed jumping between the two time frames and wondering mildly how Victor's plot would finally unhitch.

Was the tale surprising?

No, not really, but it was very entertaining. In the end, isn't that what really counts?

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Monday, December 28, 2015

Shadows of Self (Mistborn, #5)Shadows of Self by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing the adventures of Wax and Wayne from the previous novel, I was surprised to find that this one was a much stronger novel than the previous one. Perhaps it's because the first one did a fine job of introducing the characters and letting us enjoy one more round of allomancy tastiness, and now we can revel in the established strangeness with more freedom, here.

But probably not. I honestly loved diving a bit more deeply into the history (of which we're all pretty familiar in the first trilogy) and getting involved in the machinations of gods. It's great nostalgia, since, of course, we got to see them BECOME gods. Too cool, right?

Well, it's not so simple as that. This story's end was telegraphed from the very first pages, and the only reason it didn't fall into the blah category was entirely due to the strong writing and the choice of trope. It turned this ostensible fantasy/western into a timeless tragedy.

Which was pretty pleasant.

We all love a great tragedy. Comedies make us sad, and tragedy bring us great joy, after all. Gotta love it.

And no, if you're looking for gigantic battles rather than personalized shootouts, be forewarned. This novel has a comfortable feel, always pretty close to the cuff, and the constant shifting between Ruin and Preservation is creating some pretty precious pearls in the world.

This place, 200 years after the first trilogy, is finally beginning to grow on me. I think I'll also always prefer Sanderson's adult titles better than his YA.

There is plenty of shape-shifty gore, limbs being torn off by coin-shot, corruption, and drunkenness (mostly by Wayne). I really enjoyed this title. It might not be my favorite of Sanderson's works, but the fact is, he's done a fantastic job across the board. His average work, like this one, is still a highly-polished Three-Act-Story with brilliant and creative magic systems, well-crafted plots, and a real feel for the epic implications.

Don't miss out on this if you like his novels!

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The Yellow Wall-PaperThe Yellow Wall-Paper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was reminded of this little piece by a fellow reviewer and while I read it way back in college, several things still stick in my mind.

First, the prevalent psychology of Freud during the time-period: This novel portrays the kind of circular thinking that could happen to anyone in that particular time and station. Any person of a protected, apparently weak, and especially underclass station could find the confines so stifling that it might break their mind. Of course, this isn't to say that every woman had it this bad, or that they had weak minds. I'm just saying that Freud pointed out something that was happening during this time-period and all of a sudden he gets catapulted into prominence for stating the blinding obvious. Going crazy was an escape.

This led to the arrival of hoards of writers, revolutionaries, men and women of all walks of life all deciding that they'd show how much they weren't influenced by Freud. There was the huge push to make things equal between the sexes.

Hell, I think that part was very healthy. Ms. Gilman was a perfect revolutionary. She showed us how insane a person could get being put into that society, under those social rules and regulations, and even made her character sympathetic.

This is one of those works where it is so much more satisfying to read when we understand where it came from. It's even worse when we understand that this was pretty much a regular part of the times.

And then, there's Oscar Wilde.
He had a speech on his deathbed (perhaps apocryphal), where he saw the ugly purple wallpaper on the wall next to his deathbed and made a pronouncement, "Either this wallpaper goes, or I go!"

And so he died.

Death by wallpaper.

Was this a commentary? Who knows. Perhaps it was a slight twist and turn in medium, a hidden knife, a big idea slammed by wit.

But then, I'm only a man, but I'm proud to say that this story sent me on a long kick of feminism literature back in college. I'm sorry to see that the whole subject is so out of vogue. The backlash backlashed and backlashed again briefly and backlashed until I'm hella unsure where the pendulum has landed. I'm pleased to see it still lives a bit in SF and Fantasy, but but the rest of the genres seem to backsliding more often than they get it right.

I mean, what the hell is a Romance novel, except a means to pigeonhole women into a narrowly confined role and teach them to stare at the pretty wallpaper? Some YA novels feature nothing but abusive and truly creep-the-fuck-out characters. Where the hell is the lost ideal of equality between the sexes? All I see these days is frustrated sexual fantasies that rely more on power plays than love.

Someone, please let me know where I can get some relief!

Anyway, I always liked this story, and it allowed me to flex my imagination and enjoy the surrealism of the literature of the day in a way a little more accessible than others of the type that I just couldn't get into as much.

It was still a mindfuq, and put into perspective, I think the novelette gave a great deal of meaning to women. People's perceptions of themselves change over time, obviously, reacting to past mistakes, past preconceptions, but as a cross-gender analysis, I have to say that no one is completely free of the wallpaper.

Anyone can be caught up in their social roles. I know I've felt as trapped as our crazy protagonist. It's not just women who have needed to gain a measure of self-awareness.

We all need to say, "Enough is Enough, Already!"

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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Aeronaut's Windlass (The Cinder Spires, #1)The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've honestly not read that much steampunk, but those that I have read all seem to blur together with common airship themes, nobility and rank curs, Victorian style duels, and plain adventure. As an entire genre, it suffers in my mind as becoming old hat. Perhaps if this novel had come out a decade ago, I'd have been so damn impressed and enthused with the whole idea that I'd have enthusiastically endorsed it regardless of a decent story, especially if the characters were bright and delicious.

I was anxious. I'm a big fan of Dresden Files. But then, I loved his Codex Alera, so having seen him treat epic fantasy as well as UF, I started with a bit more forgiving outlook.

So how well did Butcher pull this off?

I think it ended extremely strong. The taste of things to come is Very exciting, but of course, without strong characters, that would be meaningless. It isn't meaningless.

My initial reactions to the novel was a bit more turbulent, with more than a few fractures in my Aetherial Crystals.

None of the characters started very strong. They seemed very workmanlike, like a standard template, and it took a while before Gwen or Grimm or Bridget or anyone else started to grow on me. Of course, that's probably because Butcher decided, for good or ill, to develop everyone primarily by their experience on stage. Captain Grimm is a notable exception, and he happened to be the one I liked best, first. Gwen just seemed like a major disaster in the making.

All of this improved as the story advanced, hitting quite a few standard steampunk tropes along the way, and by the time the swashbuckling and the monster killing was fully under way, I was fully invested.

But the best part of the novel was the ship, the Predator, and the aerial battles, from the chases to the larger naval battles. I've never been that fond of military actions, but perhaps it's merely a function about how well they are written. These were done very entertainingly.

I may be alone in disliking one aspect of the novel:

The cats.

Yes, anthropomorphic cats. Intelligent spies, war-like nature, and upset at how inconstant those damn humans are. Okay, that last part was funny. The rest just never struck me as that great. Furry meets steampunk. I WANT to think it would be a good mash-up, but I was left kinda cold.

That being said, the novel became quite good by the end. I'll definitely continue the series later.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

Life During WartimeLife During Wartime by Lucius Shepard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's going to be very hard to describe this work as anything other than genius.

Almost from the very start, I found myself slowing down and being dragged into the hellish nightmare of war and such densely imaginative prose that I discovered that there was nothing left for me except to become completely submerged and try to breathe the canned air that Shepard provided. I became Mingolla. I began seeing patterns in the very fabric of reality that might help me survive his life. I became paranoid. I grasped at any and all straws. I grasped at Debora, who was just as fucked as me.

What really blew me away was the way the stories appeared like bulletholes ripping spaces in the mist, swirling and leaving deep impressions that made a whole that was much, much grander than trying to survive the feuding families that had torn apart South and Middle America, or even coming to grips with the immense implications of so much mindfuckery. I loved the stories within stories within stories. We were treated with a dive within the mind's labyrinth, the Mayan king on one hand and the ghost of the conquistador on the other, laughing in insane merriment as they drove a whole world into an excess of dissolution and hate, marked mainly by the burning embers of obsessive hope and love.

My god, what an intense and immensely crazy ride this was. Rabbit-hole crazy. And I had no choice except to fall deep within its labyrinth. It's a mark of a truly fantastic tale when it grabs me so tight and surprises me with tears, anguish, hope, disillusionment, anger, more anger, a seething cauldron of anger, and finally, love. Is it real love? Hell if I know. Remember, I've become Mingolla. Maybe he's right. Maybe the world is completely insane and the only thing we can do is cling to each other, making whatever damn sense we can of the moment as we change with each other, and pray that we can hold a sense of the eventual and far-off understanding for safe-keeping, and that we still retain that last tiny ray of hope after we've arrived.

So damn beautiful. This novel is poetry. It should never be entered into without knowing the risks.

It's an important and brilliant piece of literature. Period. It deserves your complete attention, kiddies. This is no fluff. This is no popcorn. This can be, potentially, life-changing.

I've always hated war. I've never even particularly enjoyed the best that movies or other fiction have provided. But here's the brutal truth: While I hate war, this novel has shown me a special kind of horrible beauty that I'm unlikely to ever forget.

Like the mad-painter and his gorgeous murals that he'd booby-trap to destroy any potential admirer, and destroy the work itself in the process. It's crazy. It's also one hell of a statement of Art.

Shepard's own conversation in the field of literature is more of a gigantic fuck-you to all the writers out there who think they've ever gotten close to telling a Truth. This guy can WRITE, damn it, but whatever he touches, circles, and swoops-in to illuminate, he then shells with artillery.

Fucking amazing shit.

I remember this author from the Eighties being a part of the cyberpunk movement, but that characterization is completely unfair and not worth setting up. He's got maybe a few connections, the seeding of tech and immense discomfort, but beyond this, we've got a masterpiece of storytelling that goes beyond most pigeonholing. He's a force of nature.

I'm never forgetting this work.


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Friday, December 25, 2015

The Return Of The Sorcerer: The Best Of Clark Ashton SmithThe Return Of The Sorcerer: The Best Of Clark Ashton Smith by Clark Ashton Smith


I'm just going to mention my favorites in this short story collection.

The Return of the Sorcerer - I can appreciate that this came before some of my favorite horror films, Evil Dead, Lord of Illusions, but I'm stunned to see how many themes and tropes have carried over the years to be embedded so firmly in our horrific psyche. This story is rife with oblivious misunderstandings, but who cares... it's supposed to play upon our greatest horrific imaginings, and if it is heavy, it can be excused because it is a short story. It's also from 1931. It feels pretty damn modern, though. Kudos!

The City of the Singing Flame - So pretty. Missing that taste of other worlds and strange creatures in an alternate reality, full of huge moths, pilgrims in an occult dimension, and an awe-some fraternity of inconceivable life and mind? This is such a pretty story of discovery and sight-seeing. Once more into the flame!

There's a lot of tales that feature necromancy and devils and other kinds of dark gifts. Pretty decent, and even rather modern in flavor, so I'm rather surprised that it came out so long ago.

They ARE very hammy, though, and quite amusingly so, but nothing more deep than, say, a D&D game or one of those EVIL B-Movies of yore. EVIL! EVIL! lol

The Dark Eidolon - This one was probably the most turgid prose I've ever read. Yes, Turgid. Like the biggest glowing evil member of fallen humanity and dark gods. It says a lot that the least evil character is the ancient emperor seeking immortality through necromancy is the most innocent among them. :)

Very b-movie stuff. So much necromancy, so much EVIL! Pretty fantastic, all told, but only if you're a fan of the horror. No suspense, really. Just outright, unhidden, horror. :)

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lost Stars (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens)Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel went down very smooth, with two well-drawn characters destined to be best friends, lovers, and eventually bitter enemies. What could make it better? Being in the Star Wars universe with cameo appearances of both iconic characters and situations.

But, you ask, "But wouldn't that take away from the impact of a well-drawn adventure following these two children well into adulthood?" And I reply, "No, not really, unless you're a die-hard snob who believes that an entirely new worldbuilding scenario is necessary to be considered good SF."

And then there's the other side of the equation: Those people who are die-hard fans of the franchise suddenly being treated to a nice and classic tale done very well.

It's a Star Wars Gaiden. A side-story. No less important than the primary tales we know, it fleshes out the universe delightfully while never bogging us down. It's a simple tale, but rather powerfully executed and very easy to eat.

Popcorn adventure? Sure. Well-written popcorn adventure.

It also serves to enflame my joy after having seen that wonderful new movie that I have practically no complaints about. Not even reused space-battle tropes. Can you believe it? I mean, let's face it, the old galaxy was never known for its intelligence, so I can't fault them for performing the same crap tactics that led to defeat over and over again. I'm not even blaming the writers.

Oh. Wait. I'm an apologist. Um. I think that also means I'm one of those insane SW fanboys I read so much about.

Oh who am I kidding. Yeah. I am. I always have been. I thought I had grown out of it after reading through the Kevin J. Anderson SW books. I thought I was only testing the waters when I played (read: GM'd) the SW RPGs of 3.5 and later, the 4.0 systems. I was just doing my cultural duty when I played all six episodes 3 times for my 3 year old and play the SW soundtracks for Xmas.

I'm not a fanboy. No. Not really. I know there are worse examples out there. I don't actually own a SW costume. (Anymore.)

Okay. I got that out of my system.

Yeah. If you're a fan of Star Wars, you'll enjoy this novel. Even if you don't really care for SW, I can pretty much promise you that you'll still like this. The intersections with 4-6 are mildly geekworthy, but they're strictly Otaku.

Thank you, everyone, who promised me that this would be a decent book to read. I should not doubt so much. :)

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Fight Club 2 (Graphic Novel)Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What was I thinking when I felt trepidation upon seeing this title creep into my life? That it would be nothing more than a cheap cash-in on Palahniuk's crop? That I'd be wasting my time?

Oh, silly me.

Sure, it picks up a decade later with our MC and Marla with a kid and a picket fence, but don't let that fool you. Tyler never died. Ideas always pick up followers. It's never the other way around.

Remember, the original Fight Club started under a veneer of normalcy, too, and it got really fucked-up. Well, just so you know, this does too. You might say it's taking the franchise to whole new places.

I was sooo thrilled to learn that Cloe never died. What a trip.

So if I were to rank this little gem with other great titles out there, I think I can easily place it proudly in the Saga field, with a bit more blood and queasy notions than that esteemed title. Yup. Fight Club 2 is good. Very good.

I may be biased. I loved the original, too. The only way to prevent a sequel from feeling cheap is to go much farther and break new ground. And this definitely does. Hooray! :)

Want a match? How about a free couch?

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Descender, Vol. 1: Tin StarsDescender, Vol. 1: Tin Stars by Jeff Lemire


Do you remember the film AI? Yeah. I loved that, too.

What if I could get all the delicious goodies from that film and mix it with a complex galactic empire beset by huge robots called Harvesters that are a lot larger than the Death Star?

Oh yeah. Ohhhh yeah.

But don't stop there! Make sure your heroes are full of pathos and mythic qualities, mix in some good storytelling and fantastic art... and you've got this.

I love SF, but THIS is why I love SF.

Just how many factions, be it aliens, robot haters, robot sympathizers, and robots are we dealing with, here? I'm gonna start loving this series. My only complaint is in waiting for more to come out!

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Childhood's EndChildhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Old SF sometimes has a kick to it that nothing modern can quite manage. There's a speed and economy of words, of action progressing so quickly that I feel like I'm on a roller-coaster ride and it's all downhill.

This is what Childhood's End feels like.

It's hard not to write about this book without giving away spoilers, so I'll just warn you now and get right down to business.

It starts out with damn old tropes and bit of spunky adventure, but it quickly becomes obvious that all that was a lark. The real story wasn't glamorous in the traditional sense. It was certainly glamorous in a few instances, but it did manage to do was pull off both tragedy and glory. Or the old definition of Romance, if you so prefer.

Who are the overlords who have disrupted and forced humanity to behave? They hid their faces for good reasons. Our race has had an old premonition of its end, and these tragic figures figure heavily.

But wait, is this a novel about them, or humanity?

Humanity has had its last hurrah. Our childhood is done. It is time to move on and discard everything we might recognize as *our* lives.

There's no sense of the life we known continuing. It's certainly the end of the novel. There's no hint of anything resembling future conflict, no hook to give readers further meaning or interest beyond a "Hey, look at those pretty lights!" moment.

Of course, the point is that when we're ready to put down our toys and pick up the mantle of adulthood, we'll not understand a damn thing from this side of the veil, and that's just fine from a story standpoint, and it definitely has a lot of impact. It doesn't pull any punches with me. I like that.

But then, I'm handed a full-stop.

There's no where else for this novel to continue, even in my head. There's no further wondering or amazement. When it's done, it's completely done.

Even our tragic overlords sit and pity themselves, never having changed as a people from page one. They're stuck in the same cycle forever, living out the same story, guarding and watching other's children grow up and leave home, without ever once having a taste of something truly grand.

Of course, that's the point.

The fall from heaven, always being cast out, learning that the greatest hell is the one in your own mind, always separate from the state of grace. Yes, they are a tragic race.

Fortunately for us, the readers, Clarke doesn't expound. He weaves a simple tale from start to finish and ends it on a full-stop.

Am I the only one that wishes that such a story might have been teased into something much greater, and have avoided that dreaded full-stop? If SF is in a constantly shifting conversation with itself, including the other writers of the craft and the public that reads it, then this book is an utter conversation-stopper. There's no where else to go unless we change the nature of what is written.

It's a great story. Don't get me wrong. But it's about as subtle as an SS boot on my neck.

Still, this is a classic for a very good reason, and it will always be memorable, even if there are a lot of imitators. I think this one is going to remain superior, even if I think some of the old cultural quirks (such as referring to blacks as negros) really needs to be edited out, and damn "literary integrity." Leaving that stuff in at this late date serves absolutely no purpose to either the story or the character. It only serves to date the novel and pull it out of an argument that it should be considered one of the "Great SF Masterpieces".

But even so, it still deserves to be on that list, even with its faults. :) Truly a great re-read.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Man in the High CastleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is complicated for me. I only cared about Juliana's story as an actual story. There were times where I was invested with Frank's tale, too, and Tagomi had his moments, but as a complete and cohesive novel, the overt tale wasn't anything special. Nothing much happened except the hint of an attempted coup, the beginnings of an attempted assassination of an author, and the near-tragedy of a jewelry maker.

So what's all the fuss about? Why do people think this PKD is the bomb? Why did it earn a Hugo back in '62?

It's complicated. Just like my relationship with the novel.

Let's get the heavy out of the way. The whole damn thing was written with the extensive use of the I Ching. Hell, I learned the I Ching and used it extensively after reading this novel, just to get a deeper feel. This is a practical crash-course in PKD's fascination with all things mystical and religious, focused on a tight beam of almost pink light and driven right into the heart of every character's life. It's easy to extrapolate into all his other works from here, or backtrack to this instant. Everything is connected.

I loved this part of it. The twists and the turns, the inexplicable and the merely odd things that happen to the people, all of it could be blamed on the I Ching, and by extension, the vagaries of real life. Truth is hereby written.

I just don't think it made for a particularly exciting tale... just a pretty profound one.

And then there's the other part of this book which generally captures most people's attention. It's an alternate history where the Germans and the Japanese won WWII and split up the USA into occupied territories. We spend most of our time in the Japanese sector of California, where Frank is relatively free of the threat of being thrown into a gas chamber for being of Jewish ancestry.

Nice set-up? You bet. PKD's details are vast and deep, too, throwing us into an immersion both amazing and scary as hell. It's a crash course in cultural mindsets, too, although I cannot be any kind of expert on how the Japanese really think. I cannot tell anyone how accurate it is. BUT, I can say it was a huge eye-opener the first time I read this.

As a novel of worldbuilding, what PKD accomplished here is beyond excellent. Perhaps it only seems so this far down the timestream from when it was written, and perhaps it is a genuine masterpiece regardless of when we read it, but a great working knowledge of all the historical players is almost a must before dipping your toes in this water. I think I'm not too bad at history, having read a great number of non-fiction books, but since I wasn't living through the events, I felt lost a great deal of the time.

It was almost as if PKD almost refuses to divulge the hidden treasures in the events without our active and fairly intense participation, but it wasn't so much the name dropping that I had troubles with. It was the importance of the events that happened to each of the characters that stymied me. So, again, we had to return to the I Ching and divine the deeper reasons.

Themes can and will be untangled with enough effort, and they're pretty cool, but this novel is by no means a simple and straightforward read.

And then there's the third awesome aspect of the novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a prophetic and I Ching written novel that's hugely popular in this alternate world. It depicts a world where Germany and Japan lost the war. An additional I Ching reading about the veracity of this novel tells us that it is a hidden truth. It's real. And people all across the nation seem to realize it, talk about it, and generally obsess over it.

How cool. Right? A mirror of the universe *mostly* reflecting our own and driving its inhabitants a little bonkers in exactly the way that PKD's novel did for us in this universe!

Well, it wouldn't be PKD without at least TWO world-shattering shenanigans, right?

So, I've got all these high props of the novel and a teeth-grinding annoyance held out for it for the SAME REASON. Am I and this book in a relationship? Yes. But it's complicated. ;)

Very cool stuff, but it requires a lot of effort to really enjoy. It's high maintenance. :)

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Monday, December 21, 2015

Chimera (Parasitology, #3)Chimera by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay, there's still no zombies in this book, not that I was actually expecting any, but all those Throwbacks are such a close fit, I just had to add the descriptor.

How did the trilogy end? Was it a satisfying ride? Did it fulfill all my expectations?

It was okay. It didn't quite wow me like Newsflesh did. I enjoyed the feel of falling deeper into Sal's viewpoint all the way from book one and having a slow burn, and it did promise to have a pretty interesting finale. So now that I've made it through book three, did it fill the promise?

Yes, and no. I got the feeling that the story was there and the expected grandness of destruction was also there, but at the same time, it just wasn't pulled off.

It didn't suck. Loose ends were picked up. Sal got to confront or engage with all the interested parties, and no one was left unscathed. She wasn't a real fighter, after all, and being a family-gal will only get her a so-so epic rating, but I still feel like the series could have shined more.

Perhaps I didn't like the feeling that the entire tale felt like we were being pulled from one camp to another like the a tide, or like the we just had to touch all the bases once before settling on one final solution. It simply didn't wow me, but it did give me some closure, and for that, I'm grateful.

I love my parasites. Brain parasites are always going to be precious to me. I just wish... well, I just wish that Tansy had been allowed to grow and flourish in the series. She's just NOT INTERESTING as a coma victim. Sorry. She was so damn awesome, too. I never wanted to have her live out her days on the page as the victim. She had so much LIFE in her!

*sigh* Could my one complaint drag down the enjoyment of the entire novel? Or even two novels?

Possibly. Likely, even. *sigh*

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ashley BellAshley Bell by Dean Koontz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a trip this was.

I've already been pretty much a lifelong fan of Koontz, but I haven't read all of his novels. Lately, I was into the Odd books, all of which I really enjoyed until the last one, so I had a bit of trepidation with picking up an opener for a new series.

I shouldn't have worried. It might have been just a case of getting bored with an old character. No biggie.

He got his mojo back with Bibi. She was delightful and full of literary life. I mean, come on. I LOVE reading stories about writers who write about writing. None of this was fourth-wall stuff, but the novel came awfully close. Good thing Koontz is a wonderful writer with prose that is like peanut butter.

Smooth peanut butter: rich with that ability to make my lower cheeks glow and put the tingles in my fingertips. Of course, he serves up this prose with a nutty bread and brain cancer, so it's not all happiness and light. The results are, though.

For most of the book, it was on par with most of his solid novels, a strong four stars, made with simple and fluid storytelling designed with keeping all the denominators low, always familiar, always comfortable. I don't think that's a bad thing. He reaches the greatest number of fans this way. What makes the novel great is the deep-seated insistence that Imagination is King. It's charming as fuck. I couldn't agree more.

I'll try not to give away any spoilers, but I will mention that if you, dear reader, are looking for a non-paranormal thriller, then just go away. Don't look back. This book isn't for you. If you like the premise that imagination can and will save your ass, then by all means, pick up this book and revel in it.

I did.

Here's a winner, folks!

Me-->Not a hater of successful writers if they can pull this kind of novel off without being sophomoric. Kudos!

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Saturday, December 19, 2015

Broken MonstersBroken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yup. Five stars.

Actually, by the half-way mark I was simply enjoying the novel for how much depth and detail all the characters got. The mystery and the murder and the mayhem hadn't even really begun yet. I just got to revel in the characterizations. I didn't mind that there were a handful of them, from the cop, her daughter, the killer, the blogger, to the heroic ex-addict ex-murderer ex-slumlord.

True, at some points I wanted the story to go ahead and commence, but by the point where I was actually feeling my heart beat and my juices flowing, I just didn't care any more about wanting things to start. I was already invested in the characters in a way that reminded me fondly of the best SK. You know, the complicated and flawed and vividly drawn peeps that take over an entire novel, leaving an actual plot to stew simply in the background and you don't even care. That's where I was.

It was turning out to be a very decent thriller. I even got some meta moments when Clayton talked about meaning in art and the depth and the impossibility of creating anything new. It's all just rearranged ideas. I get ya, you crazy bastard. Or was that Ms. Beukes speaking through him? Ah, well, it doesn't matter either way. I could see the desire to make something real war against making a commercially successful thriller, and I know she isn't cynical. She's trying to push it through despite all the pressures. I loved that.

But then something very odd happened. Things got trippy at the climax. I started giggling and wondering why so much of the dreaming happened to be so regular and similar across the characters who converged. I had a Koontz moment. It was awesome.

And then it got paranormal on my ass. What a damn surprise! A good thriller just became an excellent horror! That's when my stars aligned and pushed out a five. :)

I'm a horror geek. But don't let that fool you. This was a damn fine novel even without my bias. I'm a fanboy. :)

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Equations of Life (Samuil Petrovitch, #1)Equations of Life by Simon Morden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's a lot of good things I can say about this novel. It has good plot, good pacing, and it does the whole subgenre of techno-thriller justice.

I enjoyed the main character, Petrovich, for his almost unbelievable mash up of personality traits. I mean, who else except in a techno-triller will be a hardened survivor of an apocalypse, a computer geek, an untrained but very well read and brilliant mathematician, and a self-serving asshole with combat skills? Oh. Wait... something like this does happen fairly often, or at least close variations on the theme.

I'm not complaining. It's entertaining for what it is.

It's a very easy read compared to a lot of the books I've read recently, and it passed very smoothly down my gullet, like vodka and sake. (But not at the same time!)

It is kinda funny, though, that I'd be reading no less than a half-dozen novels this year with AIs. Hell, earlier this month, I just read The Hive Construct, which was almost the very twin to this novel, at least in broad plot and action. It's almost as if a one page synopsis was shared between publishers or the underlying zeitgeist of throwing yourself at crazy AI's is so firmly embedded in our collective psyche (Thank you, 2001 Space Odyssey) that we've just got to rehash the same theme a million times, and preferably in cities where we can have the most collateral damage.

Though, to be fair, I much preferred the writing and the characters in this novel over the other one I just mentioned. It's also worth mentioning this one came out years before, as well. I'll soon get into this one's sequels. I liked it. It's a popcorn SF adventure, done all modern-like.

And who knows, maybe I'll get a taste of how the world will be after the GUT starts getting some applications. :) I'd love to see some speculation up here! ;)

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RadianceRadiance by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was A-Fucking-Mazing.

This is what all SF aspires to be when it grows up and speaks like David Foster Wallace channeling Roger Zelazny.

I want to have this book's babies.

Do I like this? Oh my lord... do I like this??? Okay. Word of warning: don't bother reading this unless you KNOW your mythology, and I'm not just talking about the greeks. There's a boatload of Sumerian in here, as well. Each and every city is appropriate. Each and every name is square on the mark. This book is brilliant. BRILLIANT. It shines with Radiance.

Okay. Now down to the nitty-gritty. We slide easily between motion picture scripting and stream of consciousness, with a few actual epistles thrown in. It's accomplished and speaks of a grand familiarity with traditional mainstream fiction, even going so far as to rise as high as any of the past masters. Don't be fooled into thinking that because this is SF that it is anything less than masterful. I'm going to have to read this one several more times to pick up everything, but even on my first quick read, I picked up more than enough to shiver with delight and drool from both sides of my mouth because I am, essentially, a level-headed person.

One thing that is common upon practically every level of this read, and the title gives it away. Radiance. It's all about bringing forth the best version through the magic of light.

You can read this story from the surface, getting into the magical mystery of Severin and her disappearance, or the magic of moviemaking, but all of that's just the easy route. Another route is to read between the lines, to see that every person and every place is pure metaphor that work, time and time again, to bolster the initial and ongoing themes of bringing meaning out of death, magic out of life, and raising the standard of understanding everything else with eyes as sharp as the sun. All the artists in this book are on a quest to bring their Art to the next level, and none of them are failures. They are the embodiment of beauty-crafting, myth-building, and obsession. Percival and Severin is a perfect example.

An entirely different level of this same theme caught my attention right off the bat and turned me into a giddy mess. Ms. Valente turned our solar-system into a heaven and a haven, the best of all possible worlds, a place where everyone and everything could survive, custom-made to support life and happiness. I think of all the pulp SF out there, not forgetting Burroughs or Bradbury, that had lush life on Venus and Mars. Of course, she took it much farther. Mercury had it's own unique species, as did Jupiter and Saturn, their moons, and all the way to Pluto and Charon, which had a huge vegetable stalk connecting the two moonlets together in an endless dance, with strange cows and lotus flowers ready to provide life and sustenance for humans when they arrived. It was gorgeous. It was a dream come true, and artistic rendering that turned our hellish system into a horn of plenty, and yes, everywhere was giving us air to breathe. This, too, was the artist giving us a brilliant conception of the world through the Fae Light of movie magic, and I admit that I fell into its spell as deeply and completely as any of the very best books I've ever read. It was told so well that I drowned in not giving a fuck about having realistic science. This was all about dreams and magic, as only our deepest joys of a mythical hollywood could conceive.

Is this enough to propel you to a wonderful reading experience? I hope so. But wait... I haven't even mentioned the Callowhales.

And I won't. They're very important, and increasingly so.

This is one of the best books I've ever read. Maybe it just speaks to me, and me alone, because I love complicated flights of immense imagination, detailed with such density and beauty that I was forced to slow the hell down and savour each word, each turn of phrase, each reference. Was I doubly amazed by the structure of the read when scenes replayed themselves as to throw all of my ideas about what I was reading into entirely new light? Hells yes. The writing was masterful. I know I said that before. I'm saying it again because I have to sit back down with this book, SOON, and study it. I WANT to study it. It is so damn rich as to turn practically everything else I read into shallow piles of doo.

:)

I can't believe this is just the first novel I've read of hers. I've been hearing about her works for years, and yet I just never got around to reading any of them. I wanted to. I really did, but something always got in the way. I seem to be saying that a lot about a handful of authors, recently. Well I'm FIXING THAT. I'm going to be reading the rest of her works very soon. No one that can write like this should ever be dismissed or ignored. Brilliance is Brilliance.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Summer Tree (The Fionavar Tapestry #1)The Summer Tree by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this work. I think I'd rather give this one a 3.5 on sheer enjoyability, having the reaction that I'd read this all before, and it's pacing was slow, slow, slow, but after having read it and having some thoughts as to what Kay was trying to accomplish, I'm revising it up to a solid 4.

There is a lot to love in this novel, but unfortunately, it takes a long time for it to develop and ripen. Right off the bat, I noticed that this was taking an old trick that so much Fantasy (and much SF) seems almost "Required", coming from the late seventies and eighties. I'm referring to the need to pull ordinary people from our modern world and putting them dab square in a Fantasy. (I'm looking at you, Donaldson and Zelazny.)

I don't like it. I never really have. The character's lives are usually unremarkable in the real world and using them as a hook in a Fish-Out-Of-Water tale tends to get very old, very quickly. Too much time is spent acclimating the reader into either a rich tapestry of mythos and worldbuilding, or a flat and slow slog through old themes done YET AGAIN.

This one starts out that way, and I groaned. I truly don't mind being thrown head first into a rich tapestry without any foreplay, and that is what I love most about modern Fantasy titles. I call it respect for the reader. Drawing out a tale to poke the butterflies and unicorns or to see how grand the King and Kingdom is as a modern yokel just bores the living shit out of me. That being said, this novel wasn't too bad. It was slow and the general pacing could have been much improved, whether by actual plot or just the illusion of things happening, but once I got over that, I discovered that the whole book was nothing more than a novel about character discovery. There's a good deal of Tolkeinish things going on, including names and events we aren't privy to yet, and may never be. We've got standard Fantasy tropes everywhere we look. It's not really about that. It's about the character growth.

Something big does happen, but it's more of a prelude to the rest of the novels.

What really struck me as Important in this read was the language that Kay used. I'm not referring to dialogue. The dialogue was functional. No, I'm referring to the placement of words, the economy, and the sheer beauty of what was being conveyed. If I wanted a rip-roaring fantasy tale, I came to the wrong place. If I wanted beautifully written prose, minus the dialogue, then I definitely hit the lottery. I got into the book by this door, and it continued to surprise and amaze. The characters who first started pretty flat began showing grand definition by way of their actions. They grew. Some of them grew a lot. Others just grew more powerful.

There weren't any glowing light shows or epic battles, save for a few economical scenes that were positively Spartan or even Hemingway in their brevity, and I might have taken umbrage at that, because I like exciting scenes, but they were written pretty and evocative, if short, and they were good enough that I couldn't help being extremely impressed.

It took a long time to get into this novel, but I'll give it this: Once I did get going, I was good to go. I'm now in a state of mind that I could keep going with this tale forever.
It reminds me of later works that are so huge (I'm looking at you, WoT) that it takes 4-5 books before we start to even LIKE a particular character, or get impressed with how much he's developed.

It's a DAMN GOOD THING that this is a trilogy, or I'd probably throw it at someone. (I'm looking at you, Kay.)



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Monday, December 14, 2015

A Crown for Cold Silver (The Crimson Empire, #1)A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, a middle aged female Heavy Metal Rocker comes out of early retirement and decides to Bring Back The Band. She wants to Tear The House Down, with a passion and verve that seems very unlikely for a woman of her age... or so everyone thinks. The stage is set, a bunch of aging rockers fill the stage, but there's a twist: the auditorium had come for a Christian Rock Band with obvious religious tones. The battle commences!

This is what the story IS, assuming there's no actual music involved.

The middle-aged kick-butt woman, Zosai, is actually an accomplished warrior who had brought a kingdom to its knees, dropped out of the scene to live the quiet life, only to be Brought Back In when all her loved ones get massacred. She gets her old generals, who all think her dead, and take on the world.

Pretty standard fare, all told, except for the little hooks that make this epic fantasy stand out. Namely, the age and sex of the protagonist. I like her almost as well as I liked Chrisjen Avasarala from the in the Expanse series. She's a strong female protagonist who happens to be a bit more realistic than the legions of YOUNG and strong protagonists littering the battlefield.

The second bit of goodness that makes the book stand out is the insistence that a person's sex means squat. In that respect, it's very D&D. Everyone lives lives, has sex, goes to war or makes families. There are no cultural restrictions. This is obviously on purpose. Gay or Straight is meaningless except on a personal basis. No one is looked down upon or forced to be anything they don't to be... unless you're talking about religious persecution, and the self-flagellating religious nuts under the rule of the Empire are pretty crazy.

Other than these little tidbits, the novel is pretty standard fare for epic fantasy. It's long, there's lots of conversation and bickering and flirting between the band members, there's a lot of confusion on both sides of the war, and the epic battle is decent. It's better than older style fantasy, but pretty average for the modern stuff.

I wanted to like it more. Perhaps I'll enjoy it even more as it progresses further. It's certainly competent. I just think it needs to stand out more. The characters are fine and fun. The action is good, when it happens. Perhaps I want more plot. I don't know. It IS hard to review it because what I think it needs seems to elude me. I feel like it's missing "something".

Regardless, I'm quite happy to have read it.

Now on to other matters.

Alex Marshall is a pseudonym for "an acclaimed author in another genre".

As of this writing, I have not figured out who it is, except that it is probably someone in the Orbit brand of books who wanted to see if they could break successfully into the Epic Fantasy genre. It is rather annoying, because now I want to read the author's other works and see how much of a stretch and change in style is happening here. The curiosity could, very likely, kill me.

Let's see how long I survive! ;)

Thanks, Netgalley

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Rolling in the DeepRolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Good clean fun.

It's horror in all the grand traditions. Want B-Movie sensibilities? Check. Want monstrous mermaids? Check. Want a Sy-Fi film crew staging a mermaid expedition to get torn apart by the real thing? Check.

Did I say Sy-Fi? I mean Imagine Network. Sorry. I didn't mean to make any disparagements. We're NOT trying to make a statement about anything. Truly. This is just a good clean horror, all fun, no message. Really. We certainly don't want to ruin our chances to get a made-for-tv movie based on this novella by the Sy-Fi network. It's perfect for it.

Who survives this tale? The lawyers. It's pretty classic.

Of COURSE the lawyers survive. I mean, out of anyone to come out of the Mariana Trench, the greatest predators are NOT the mermaids or the sharks.

*sigh* If only there had been an appearance of Aquaman to save the day. That would have been PERFECT.

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Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Darkling SeaA Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"... the closest we can come to Star Trek without paying royalties."

Indeed.

So we've got a three way that includes intelligent fish, six-legged cultural purists, and... yeah, you got it... upstart humans. No conflict to start with, mostly just a fact-finding mission trying to get to know the locals without interfering, just like the Prime Directive says, and then we've got COMPLICATIONS.

You know. A bit of curious murder by a people who don't know it's murder. They're just curious. No biggie. I can barely hear the screams. After all, he's just a cameraman. Decent start. Reminds me of a blast-from the past homage to old SF. To me, it seemed like a direct homage to Brin's Startide Rising, although, to be perfectly honest, I preferred Brin's Dolphins. There was a lot going on under the surface, there, unlike the wide, but less deep, look at the locals. Cool worldbuilding, for all that. I like the attempt to bring a world to life from under so much ice, but I do complain that it still seems like a direct analogue of "regular people". Really? Just a society of shopkeepers and cultural mores closer to the Greeks or Arabs, in that guests under one's roof is considered inviolate?

Because of that, I want to read this novel like an indictment of our culture, but no, it tries too hard to be a deep and complex society meeting and interacting with two alien species and navigating through THEIR conflict. Damn the humans and their meddling. They never know when to butt the hell out, do they?

It's not a bad novel, but it feels like it ought to belong in the 60's or 70's set of SF novels, and NOT the New Wave set.

It's really, ultimately, only a First Contact novel, and it's fairly entertaining. Not extremely original or surprising, though. I kept expecting the glorious "Gun" to show up and prove that the yokel locals "have the power" to resist the invaders. *sigh*

Well, I can give props to the author for being a long-respected group of GURPs authors known for some really excellent worldbuilding props. I can't say they're fantastic at actual STORYTELLING, but this attempt wasn't exactly bad. Perhaps it was a bit old-hat, but it certainly wasn't bad. I felt like I was taking a dip in an old-style pool.

Perhaps I would have liked this more had I figured I was actually reading a Past Master's Old Script. I just wanted to see a higher dedication to originality and excitement. You know, not just a repelling of invaders and a subtext that right must always pursue might.



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Friday, December 11, 2015

Golden Son (Red Rising Trilogy, #2)Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly a fantastic sequel. This one is all story, losing and improving fortunes, and much heavier stakes compared to the first novel.

I think I like this one much better. We've got to gain an empire, after all, and try to do it without losing yourself, your friends, or your purpose. It's quite delicious and well crafted. There's a lot of action and none of it gets boring. There's a great mix of politics, motivations, subversions, plain heroism, and stark terror.

The writing is truly excellent. I was never once bored. This is more than simple popcorn entertainment. It's pretty epic.

:)

I can't wait for the third book coming soon!

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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Red Rising (Red Rising Trilogy, #1)Red Rising by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was worried that a crowd pleaser might be a dull book, a shallow book, or yet another silly recreation of Greek myths.

What I received was a truly excellently paced SF that read like a standard Fantasy rebellion story that had to have humble beginnings and the first great challenge to prove our Hero's worth. What places this work above so many other rebellion stories is its writing. I mentioned how well paced it was, and I'm not joking. It read like free-flowing water, always keeping me interested in character development and plot pacing while consistently grabbing me with each rise and fall. Success and failure, success and failure. It breathed and it breathed life into my enjoyment.

Oh yes, I enjoyed this novel quite a bit.

Eo was the standard sacrificial lamb to stake all the rage onto, and that wasn't nearly as convincing as I believed it could be, but everything else, from the fixing of his body to the staging of the great game on terraformed Mars to see who gets what postings or patronage, was pretty damn convincing and it allowed me to sink into the story without such near breaking points as I suffered when I began reading.

Honestly, I wanted to slap someone silly with questions like, "Hey! This is a marvelously advanced tech society! Why the HELL are they forcing peeps to do a robot's work?" Well. It's a plot hole I could drive a truck through, but I have to ignore it because it establishes major motive for the grand rebellion and I frankly don't know if it will be revealed later as an "Ah-ha" or a reversal later, so I'll just keep my mouth shut and keep my fingers in my ears. 

But ignore that. Everything else was pretty damn awesome. Rebellion stories these days seem to be a dime a dozen, it seems, so now we have to rely on a bit of criteria and judgment as readers to determine which are Good and which are Not. Is the rebellion believable? Do we care? Is there Deus Ex involved? Is the writing so good that we just don't care?

I'll answer that: It's Good. Yes,Yes, No, and Yes.

I'm hooked. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book in the series and the next after that. Setup is Complete. I've GOT to see how this popcorn story sorts its way out. :)
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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists (The Sandman, #4)The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now the good stuff really gets started.

Introducing most of the Eternals, we discover intrigue with Destiny, some deep sadness in Delirium, friendship in Death, capriciousness in Desire, and maybe a bit of reasonableness in Despair. Dream is there, of course, and he's rightly annoyed with his siblings.

He is, after all, the one who had perpetrated a great crime. Who are they to taunt him?

Ah, Nada. Such a tragic figure.

And she's only a plot hook!

Oh Hell... I'm not going to spoil Hell, but Dream goes back to right his great wrong.

I was so surprised with the outcome. Delighted. Flabbergasted. The implications were enormous and made me giddy with anticipation.

If the Eternals weren't enough to make things interesting, we also get the Aesir, Angels, Chaos, Chinese Gods, Devils, Fae, and Order knocking on Dream's door to threaten, bribe, plead. So totally delicious.

I read American Gods before Sandman, so I was grooving to this tune and this twist in a big way. Hell, this Volume epitomizes everything I love about the Sandman Series. When it thinks big, it thinks BIG. Let's not piddle around the the little crap, shall we? Let's move Heaven and Earth.

Woo! Woo! If only all comics could get this grandiose! (Of course, I later learned that some could get pretty close, but this is my first taste of something really good.)

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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Luna: New MoonLuna: New Moon by Ian McDonald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All right! What an ending! I won't spoil it, but it's one hell of a satisfying ride.

As I read it, I kept saying to myself, "Damn! This was MADE for HBO. (Or Showtime.) This could be done Brilliantly as a well-funded high-quality production. Hell, this would be even better than GoT, and not only because it's SF instead of F! It's full of glitz, sex, the weight of history, capitalism, and tradition, not to mention all the sprinkling of assassinations and attempted assassinations to liven the party. Plus, it has all the glory of THE MOON. Heinlein, eat your heart out."

First off, expect nothing less than a huge story of dynastic families struggling for control of the moon. There's tons of characters and a great many of them get stage time. That's not really a problem if you're used to some of the great epics. Hell, Even SOIAF (or GoT for everyone else) is rife with it. Tons of characters, lots of build, lots of tearing down, and a sense of something truly grand being laid out before us.

Now, I have to be honest. I've never read Mario Puzo, but I am, like most red-blooded males and females, quite familiar with the Godfather. I've enjoyed the character builds, the struggle for family, business, and love. I've loved the struggle so much that I get giddy even at the flashbacks and the humble beginnings. All these things rambled in my mind as I read Luna. Gloriously.

But.

Ian McDonald's wonderful novel is not a retelling or a knock-off of the Godfather set on the moon. But it is just as deep and complex and wonderfully fleshed out as if I was growing up in New York City, carving and empire out for myself in Adriana's reminiscence, or living in modern day Luna, seeing all the fruits of your labor and feeling a deep pride in your accomplishments, knowing that family, whether by flesh or sentiment, is the most precious thing in either world. Earth is the old world, literally, and the Moon is the New World. It flows very naturally, and all of these wonderful lives made a stunningly detailed tapestry.

I generally don't prefer epic dynasties in my reading habits, but when I do get through them, I'm generally floored by the amount of care and precision placed into every line, every word. There's something truly brilliant about the effort placed into this novel in precisely the same way.

So: Total Respect.

Soon after starting it, I did have to scale back a few expectations. I've read a few of his novels, before, and I've learned to relax into the characters, never expect grand revelations early or even mid-novel. On the other hand, I've learned that I can always expect a huge revelation or an action at the end.

I've learned to be patient. Trying to discover a plot in his books is like digging for clues of a lost civilization in ten meters of sand.

Fortunately, the civilization always exists. We did buy the shovels and dustpans and brooms. And McDonald even provided us a wide cast of characters (read archeologists and interns) to do all the heavy sifting. All we have to do is sit back and enjoy the process in mute admiration. Things have a way of unearthing themselves.

And what a story! I find myself itching all over to pick up the next novel, setting google alerts on his writing status for it, bemoaning the fate that I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO READ IT FOR SOME HORRIBLE FUCK OF A TIME. Gaaahhhhhrrrrgggghhhh!

Did I love this book? You better fucking believe it.

Did this manage to make my list of the best SF of the year? Yes. In fact, I would not be disappointed if it earned itself the Hugo for 2015 for Best Novel. It's hellaimpressive. It's a great epic read. It's also filled to the brim with imminently plausible science. Not a single thing was out of place. No handwavium for 68 thousand kilometers. That's also pretty damn impressive. But the bad? It doesn't break new SF ground EXCEPT in how it teaches SF to fear an awesomely new height in epic familial dynasties. I've seen things like this in Fantasy, too, but this happens to rooted deliciously and consummately in our Earth.

This was totally worth it.


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Monday, December 7, 2015

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country (The Sandman, #3)The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fairly short volume, but each story is tight and delightful. This is where I remember the Sandman comics coming into its own, and Morpheus himself hardly had any role in them. It's all about stories. Stories about stories. Of course, I can make the same argument about the entire run of the series, but like I said, this is where it comes into its own.

A kidnapped muse gets freed by her old lover. A cat's dreaming of a new and free world. What the Fae court really felt about A Midsummer Night's Dream. A world of masks.

None of these short descriptions really do any of it justice. Dream gets revenge on an artist that rapes Calliope for his success, and the revenge is so damn sweet it bears repeating a thousand times. You want ideas? I'll give you ideas... muahahaha... :) The cat's dream was of overturning the rule of man, while remembering that cats once DID rule man, but man dreamt of a new world with more of it's kind and changed the nature of reality. Can't cats bring themselves to reverse reality in the same way? It brings a whole new spin on the adage, "To herd cats."

But it was the story about the Shakespearian production that takes the cake. Dream invites the entire Fae court to watch Will and his entire cast of players in a private production of the famous play, becoming a dream within a dream within a dream in a real sense, and because Puck, well, shenanigans ensue. There was sadness and longing, and it was nearly, but not quite, 4th walled. I think this one was my favourite.

The mythbuilding is truly great stuff. :)

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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Slade HouseSlade House by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's so fun to see what people think is traditional fiction these days. Even Goodreads categorizing this one as Horror is funny as hell. This was SF. I mean, how else can anyone classify closed time-like loops, telepathy? Oh, all right, eating a soul is primarily an occupational hazard of the horror genre, so I'll give *that* a pass. The narrative structure of sending his darlings into the roach motel, over and over and over is kind of a dead giveaway, too. Get it? Dead? Oh, nevermind...

And yet, I'm still stunned that the world at large prefers to keep Mr. David Mitchell as a mainstream author while looking down their noses at all the other greats. This was actually a pretty standard fare among good SF, using heavy reliance on Clarke's Law to pull some rather cool tricks with the timestream while passing the rest of the novel off as a bogeyman story. I really enjoyed it. The characters were all stunningly well crafted and I loved seeing them all die. The end *was* a rather dues ex-machina, but the hint of the Bone Clocks tells me that this is part of much larger narrative structure and I'm definitely going to have to read his other books to understand exactly why this happened the way it happened.

That's called baiting. Drug pushers do it all the time, Mr. Mitchell. You dangled your drug under the nose of some of the most addictive personalities in the universe, the so-called "readership", and now we're hooked.

He's an evil man.

Other than my entirely justified grievance, I was rather thrilled while reading to see so many wonderful similarities in the narrative to a certain Tim Powers. It was like dipping my toes in the cold cold waters of The Anubis Gates. I'm only talking about the feel, mind you. Lots of interesting ideas and odd directions eventually focusing in upon its eventual prey in a methodically imaginative pace. I loved it. Of course, now I have to read a lot more of BOTH of these authors, but that's okay because I'm not dead yet. I can't regret not picking up these other titles because I still have the chance.

Am I excited? Yeah, I think I am. I might just be becoming a fanboy of Mr. Mitchell, despite my miasma of gripes. They're not directed at the man, himself, except inso that I want to hate him a little for not embracing his ACTUAL HERITAGE. *sigh*

This was one hell of a good horror/SF, people. Enjoy it!

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sky Ghosts: All for One (Sky Ghosts, #1)Sky Ghosts: All for One by Alexandra Engellmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to the author for providing me a copy for an honest review.

This book gets it right in the end. Good finale, good action, good eventual character development, even a nice celluloid ending. I was consistently reminded that I was probably reading a video game script during the last 40% of the novel, and that's not a bad thing in my estimation. There's some pretty good video games out there. We have firmly established that the Sky Ghosts are superheroes battling the other super group, the Beasts. Very comic-y.

If you like Urban Fantasy and expect snark as a matter of course, the novel has it, too. It may not be the best snark I've ever read, or even making it into the top 20, but it is snark. It tends to bring the apparent age of the characters down to the mid-teen level instead of the 17+ range that they're actually in, so I get the impression it's actually YA. It probably isn't, but that' just my impression.

Now, for the bad. The opening was fine, although I could have done with a few better character hooks to make them stand out better and keep my interest. Almost immediately after the rescue, I was dismayed to find out that I was going to be reading about a bunch of fairly well-behaved college freshmen in dorm, doing a bit of light exercise, playing video games, reading magazines, taking showers, and doing nothing else except joshing around with each other. As a means to get to know the characters and flesh them out, it was slow and annoying, and perhaps there's a lot of people out there that like this kind of really light entertainment, but I kinda expected a lot more out of a novel that has peeps with freaking SUPER POWERS based on nothing more handwavium-powered than simple WILLPOWER (and a bloodline). There was only one briefly terrifying event that mostly happened off stage, and then we're treated to a new setting. No more dorm. We get to do a bit of light exercise, play video games, read magazines, take showers, and do nothing much else than joshing around with each other AT A FARM. And that's just about it for the first 60% of the novel.

There are much better ways to develop characters than have them tell me, the reader, that they're bored. If THEY are bored, then what the hell do you think the READER is? A HUGE editing session would have been absolutely delightful. Pacing is truly a reader's joy.

The last 40% of the novel was good. Action, character development, twists, they're all there. It kept my attention just fine and never once did I wonder why I was still reading. That kind of polish and plot and development should have been active from the very beginning.

Unless, of course, the novel is designed to appeal to the early college crowd exclusively, directly tapping into the banal normalcy of waiting for your next assignment while nothing much of anything happens except snark with your friends. I'm sure there's a market for that. It seems to happen a lot in certain novels these days.

Don't get me wrong. I like a good snark. It's just not enough to carry more than half a novel, especially if it's not absolutely brilliant dialog.

Overall, I didn't think the novel was bad. I did actually find myself wishing that I had a good infodump of some sort to chew on while nothing much happened. A bit of worldbuilding or even just seeing a bit of New York (where most of it took place), would have given it some spice. Hell, I still don't know why the Sky Ghosts and the Beasts fight each other. The beasts rob people. Okay. Sky Ghosts stop them. Okay. That's... just... okay. Truly barebones. At least I knew where I ought to have stood, even if I didn't quite care beyond the impact of the characters... eventually.



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Friday, December 4, 2015

LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm probably going to say what a million readers have already said about this book: "It's language is entrancing and gorgeous."

It's got to be one of the most imminently quotable of all books, but what I think is most notable is its subtle commentary skewering the society we all know. The satire feels entirely unintentional and incidental against Humbert's machinations and obsessions with little girls and his special nymphette.

I was initially thrilled by Nabokov's facility by language and horrified by the subject, and that didn't really change for most of the book, but then something else started happening to my brain. The mutual seduction of a twelve-year old girl had suddenly moved beyond my outrage to a dumbstruck and almost clinical detachment, watching the tumultuous living arrangements of this father and his step-daughter as they traveled around the country and briefly attempted to settle down in a quiet town instead of hopping the border, watching it degenerate as the pressure of a confused and immature girl learns to play all the strings of Humbert's bow, and he lets her because he is ultimately so damn weak and drunk on possessiveness and mindless jealous rages, never once seeing the little girl for who she was or truly acknowledging that she was desperately unhappy despite moments of returned passion littered with her despoiled self-worth.

From Lolita's story, it was more than just the end of innocence. It was the indoctrination of a woman by the sick standards of all men, turning her into nothing but a whore turning tricks in order to survive. Humbert was trapped by his own desires, sure, and blind to anything but his own passions, but he only barely recognized what he was truly doing to her. No matter how many movies or plush hotels they frequent, no matter how many gifts he gave, he never understood that true understanding might have been the real key to her heart. (And I say this, regardless of the sickening subject of child molestation. It is only one side, and a truly sensational one in the horrific sense, but Nabokov's genius lay in telling equally important tales within this singular novel that transcend the hook.)

I truly believe that this story does an excellent job of pointing out exactly how perverse our world is, that we can accept such a mode of thinking as perfectly normal in such lesser doses, that the need to possess something or someone so uniquely and rapturously, can be easily carried to further extremes, such as carrying the rule of law, the continued subjugation of women, or even men by their own stunted ability to think or break free of all the things they understand to be right and just in a society so damn sick in its heart that I just want to cry and cry and cry.

Okay. This was a pretty effective novel on many more levels, but this is what I'm leaving this review on.

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Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Hive ConstructThe Hive Construct by Alexander Maskill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley.

The bad first: What a damn stupid title. There's practically nothing about it that has anything to do with the story except at some far remove. With nothing but the title and the cover to go by, I expected something with alien tech, for heaven's sake.

So, with that out of the way, let's get to what this novel ACTUALLY is.

It's a heavily political techno-thriller set in New Cairo in a society filled with plentiful artificial organ replacements that reminded me as a cross between Known Space Niven and pre-Empire Asimov while sticking entirely to the city in modern Egypt. To some of you out there, that might just tell you everything you ought to know or expect. Spoilers are hereby delivered.

For everyone else, it's really an ideologue-ish and politically heavy tale interspersed with action by city security forces and action by would-be revolutionaries and action by a lone hacker pulling 007 duty to clear her name of assumed murder charges that are, you might have guessed it, fallout from another political ploy. Zala, being the closest character resembling an actual hero in the tale, was unfortunately rather lifeless and failed to put her hooks in me early, despite her hackerish tendencies, but she got a lot more interesting with time.

I'm personally not a gung-ho rabidfan of techothrillers of any stripe, but I've read my fair share and I can sometimes get into them, but it's fairly hit-or-miss with me. I never place them in a category of must read fanatical goodness. Men and women with guns and holding political prisoners seems rather... um... dull. But that's what happens here.

We get the idea drilled into us that no one is truly bad and everyone has really good reasons for doing what they all do. Neither side is blameless, but neither side is truly bad or wrong. I don't mind that. What I do mind is that it sometimes feels heavy-handed and pretty obvious after a while. What saves the novel is the escalation of events in the last third and the explosive ending.

Remember what I said about Asimov? Yeah, only the butler DID do it. Kinda obvious from the start, and I kept praying and praying it might turn out to be some other megavillain or a dream sequence or some OTHER stupid reveal. Still, the ending was easily the best part of the novel, so I won't go poo-pooing it more than I have already. Zala turned into an all right character by the end. Aunt Nancy, on the other hand, was someone I wanted to bitch-slap for being so damn predictable.

Technothriller fans out there might enjoy this novel more than me, and I wish them all the best luck. In the future, I'd rather like to see more vibrant characters with much better hooks. Something juicy to propel my Care Factor through all the bang bang action sequences. I swear, this probably would have been better as a made for tv miniseries rather than a novel. I don't mind using my imagination, but there's only so much bang bang I can take on a page before my eyes go glassy.

Still, it wasn't a bad novel, and the author's love of both politics and programming shine through a clear as day. If I hadn't been reading this for a good story, and merely for edification or an imaginative exercise, I think the book would rather shine. Unfortunately, I was looking to be entertained with some good SF, not an action novel that teaches me to look at things from all different points of view, telling me to no pre-judge anyone, with just a few SF elements.

Well, like I said, some people will like the method and subgenre a lot more than me. :)


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