Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Circuit: Executor Rising (The Circuit #1)The Circuit: Executor Rising by Rhett C. Bruno
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Do you like your future solar system full of high-tech iron domination that nears but doesn't quite cross over into religious nuttery? Yeah? So do I. This is Space-Opera! Not Sparta. Space. Opera. :)

There's fighting, sure, but it's not really war. It's free zones and oppression and great Earthly tragedy and a long economic spiral of an old trope of Reliance On Special Substance. In this case, it happens to be only harvested on Earth, but none of this is what makes this novel special. This is setting, and SF really loves its setting. It's all good, of course.

For those expecting something very similar to the author's Titanborn, think again, unless you mean a similar visiting of father/daughter themes, a very special planet named Titan or a planetoid named Ceres, or a handful of other things that never get in the way of enjoying the novel. Indeed, it only enhances it. You can expect a lot more tech, a lot more glam, and probably a bit more action.

But honestly, I think I loved the characters in Titanborn just a bit more, or at least that's what I thought until I finally realized that no one was really quite what they appeared. I got this weird idea that I knew who the bad peeps were and who were the good, eventually settling into the idea that they were all just people, instead, with all the mix, but then I was handed a zinger near the end.

Could I have wished to know whether or not there are actual villains, or precisely WHO is the villain? Hmmm... maybe? I don't know! When all of the main character arcs played themselves out, I was satisfied with everyone's changes, and some were rather more impressive than others, while the rest were a perfect setup for grand sequels. By the end of the book, I'm rearing to go. The author is pretty damn smooth when it comes to that trick. I'm hooked.

So what characters do I love? And is it *really* like Firefly as per the blurb? Well, I'll answer the second one first: No. Not really. These peeps are pretty much their own people.

Cassius probably surprised me the most and became my favorite character by the end, but Sage had the strongest personal development. Talon is good for sympathy, through and through, and I have fallen into that trap completely.

I suppose the real breakout character is one that some of my friends will appreciate the most: ADIM. I mean, come on? WHO DOESN'T LOVE HUMANIFORM ANDROIDS? Amiright? Right?

We've already been discussing a certain character from Titanborn and how much we love him, but now we've got his original template right here, to a rather offset degree, anyway, but it's hard not to make the connections.

This *IS* the author's first novel, but don't worry. It's quite fun and a very solid read that doesn't betray the reader's trust at all. :) I can honestly say I'm looking forward to following all the novels, including the third in this series which is Coming Soon. :) Woo! Woo!

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Cycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the UniverseCycles of Time: An Extraordinary New View of the Universe by Roger Penrose
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like to refresh myself on my intuitive understanding of physics every once in a while since I won't ever admit to understanding more than 30%-40% of the math.

Even so, what I do understand is still more than enough to endlessly fascinate and make me sit around fantasizing and ruminating and dreaming up new ways to describe what I know and how to apply it in interesting ways.

It's the curse of reading a ton of SF, too, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this weird little habit of mind games and flights of attempted non-entropic fancy.

That being said, I did understand everything in this book, at least in the broad strokes, because Mr. Penrose almost never deviated from common ground.

You know, background radiation proving the Big Bang, gravitational lensing effects to prove or disprove dark matter and/or dark energy, and a few other common steps along the way to build a standard case for our current understanding of the cosmology.

No problem. He's a good writer and his analogies are interesting even if they're ones I've heard a hundred times. You know, like the one about Einstein on a Train. Raindrops on a tarmac for mass distributions of black holes and the eventual release of their captured radiation over a grand long time until entropy has its final way.

Where the good stuff is, (in my opinion,) lies in the idea of time and its reversibility in the grand 10 to the 124 schema, or if we eventually throw this whole universe down a gravitational funnel, the 10 to the 125 manifold. Is this the reversal, the homogenous transformation of matter back into straight energy that preceded the original big bang? Is this an ongoing cycle that repeats?

Well, that was what *I* wanted to know, anyway. Let me let you in on a big spoiler: (view spoiler)

Honestly, this is good, even with all the talk about the lambda, Einstein's cosmological constant, and how it still maintains a strong presence in the grand discussion, but really? I truly have a much better time trying to wrap my puny little brain around the string theories more. Holographic universes also float my boat. Still, for all that this text tried to convince me of an old theory that may or may not be quite up to date, it's still a fun read.

Maybe one of these days I'll do more than just nod my head at some of the more complex equations. :) Truly, enough exposure to these, book after book, IS doing me a lot of good. Maybe if I collect enough great analogies and get a spinal shunt with a couple hundred external parallel processors to hang my brain on, I'll be just about ready to transform a few tensors. :)

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Beyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair ReynoldsBeyond the Aquila Rift: The Best of Alastair Reynolds by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember Galactic North fondly, but I must be honest here. This collection, while it picks up two stories from the previous collection, namely Great Wall of Mars and Weather, everything else is new to me. Alastair Reynolds is easily one of the best SF authors writing today. He's not sneaky about it, either. This isn't any kind of artsy-fartsy writing. This is Space-Opera filled with so much imagination and planning and detail and truly wide vistas of thought, time, and space, that I'm surprised I don't hear fanboys and fangirls screaming his name from the rooftops.

Well, maybe they do. I've usually got my earbuds in my ears so I find it hard to hear them. :)

Let me tell you: These stories of his are SO COOL. I mean, like glittering jewels of complete mind-blowing and written with real talent and clear vision, dense and perfect world-building and a plethora of seriously interesting characters.

I'll try not to spoil anything, and I'll skip a few directed reviews for some of the stories, but there were a few that you should really pay close attention to. (And I doubt you'll have any problems doing so, because they're also fun as hell.) Most of them are placed outside of his Revelation Space universe, but there are a handful that is firmly ensconced. Diamond Dogs is a who's who of places and peoples and a really sharp cut. :)

But mostly, I'll focus on the pure creations:

The story that bears the name of the novel. Beyond the Aquila Rift. It's a mindfuq. Clever and interesting space mechanics and a really cool surprise. No more spoilers. :)

Minla's Flowers was an awesome telling/retelling of Merlin and a bootstrap raising of a civilization... Also with a twist.

Zima Blue is was probably my favorite story out of the entire collection. And yes, it had a twist.

Fury could have been the start of one of my most loved novels ever, but no, it was just a novella, and very much a homage to Asimov. :)

The Star Surgeon's Apprentice was scary and delightful at the same time, and dare I say horrific? Oh yes. A dear story.

Skipping a few stories, I get to Troika, and don't miss out with a little listening time to the original music as you read this beauty. There's a bit of reality modification, but mostly it's very Russian. :)

Sleepover really grew on me by the end until I was completely giddy with the implications and the imagery.

Trauma Pod was an absolutely delicious body-mod Punk-AI horrorshow and I just had to laugh.

Las Log of the Lachrimosa will be fun along with Diamond Dogs for those of you still devoted to the Revelation Space books. I know I enjoyed them.

The Old Man and the Martian Sea was a fine capstone to the stories and I think it might have been better moved below Babelsberg, but I still liked them both. :)

In some ways, this short story collection is better than at least 3 or 4 of his full length novels. That's pretty impressive since he writes truly mean novels. :)

Thanks goes to Netgalley for this wonderful opportunity to read one of the greats of SF!

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The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic BrainThe Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain by Brock L. Eide
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Long before I cracked open this book, my initial reaction was: "Oh my goodness, a reason I can feel good about myself without a lick of effort! Do I want a shameless ego-booster and and fluff pop-psychology mood enhancer?"

The answer was, of course, "Absolutely! Gimmie, Gimmie!"

For, you see, I have dyslexia. I have also spent most of my life in serious pursuit of overcompensation, too. I couldn't read before age 13 and I spent most of my effort trying to "fake it" just so I could get through school without being ostracized.

It didn't work. I almost quit school feeling like a complete and utter outsider who was pretty much worthless, which was pretty damn awful because I knew I was smart. I just couldn't make sense of all the easy things that everyone else had an easy time with, while all the complicated intuitional systems-theory top-down approach to a theory of mind came utterly easy to me. Complex ideas? No problem. Conclusions based on very little shown work? No problem.

So then I decided to compensate for my disability by tons of Naruto-like effort and after 8 months working on a single book, I finally came to a Theory Of Reading that relied on an idea-based approach that circled streams of words rather than the words, themselves.

Suddenly, I could read! Well, sort of. I could gist the hell out of anything.

More and more effort was required, and practice, practice, practice, mindful and careful attention to all basic practices of reading and writing, until I eventually worked my way out of special-ed and into honors courses and two degrees in college and eventually to an average 600-700 pages (or more) read per day.

And then we arrive to the reading of this book.

Is the M.I.N.D. approach to understanding both the trials and triumphs of dyslexics useful and edifying? Yes. Yes, it is. I recognized all the ways I think, which is quite different than how most people think. Do normal people build models of interconnected ideas in their heads and attach them all to memory episodes and narratives that tell stories, constantly retelling the tale about oneself as they keep changing and growing?

Um... maybe more than I think?

Is it a useful model to consider myself as having too little RAM, so I have to push almost everything into Permanent Storage on the fly with narrative "cheats"? Yes. Does this explain how I still can't hand-write legibly without losing the full train of thought before I even finish a sentence? Yes. Does it explain why I am always so damn SLOW when I start any new task, but then, after a long, long learning curve, I then blast out the door? Yes.

Do most dyslexics have similar stories? True success stories that NEVER begin in school but generally show an outrageous disproportion of hella-successful people in real life?

Probably.

I began reading this book from a snide and self-serving pessimism, thinking it was about time that I got some damn recognition instead of ostracism, but I finished it feeling a a pretty warm glow of understanding and camaraderie with the entire subset of the population of which I belong.

Maybe this book was meant for me, after all. In a real way. Not just the way I began it.

And perhaps this book was really meant for my 13 year old me, even more. Can I forget lifelong depression and self-worth issues? Yes. I can. Might it have been so much more productive if I had a book like this at a much earlier time?

I'd like to think so. And that's why I'd recommend this book for anyone with loved ones who have dyslexia. I'd recommend that you read this book to them, aloud, so that the understanding sinks in for both you and them at the same time. The connection you'll form with them will probably be invaluable, perhaps even life-long.

Dyslexia isn't a disease. Even ADHD, which is often a misdiagnosis of dyslexia, falls under the category of people who simply Think Differently. We have lots of talents, but those talents aren't easily identified when the expectations are for completely different skills. :)

Good book. :)



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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

My Real ChildrenMy Real Children by Jo Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I'm going to allow myself a completely biased review. I'm going to be utterly, shamelessly gonzo.

Just a warning, though: This is mostly a character study. Only the end proffers up a choice.

The rest of the time, we're given to enjoy two characters who are the same woman, Pat and Tricia, who both live in completely different realities and who make very different choices, but she they later begin to bleed together into one consciousness, but only later in life.

Sound like it's up your alley? There's very little action besides living a life or two, full of happiness and unhappiness, tragedies and triumphs, and, as the title implies, a lot of children.

So what is this novel, then? It's deceptively simple and oh so horribly complex at the same time. From the surface, it's utterly charming and a perfect joy to read, letting us see different sides of not just Pat/Tricia, but so many other people as well, surprising us with the sheer multitude of directions that any of us could have taken at any point, if things were just a little bit different.

Like the ideas that a more permissible social world could exist and lead naturally to higher technological progress, or how a more repressed world could paradoxically promote wider peace, nothing is entirely clear-cut, but it was great to see our world butt-up against another with moon colonies and an actual Mars mission by today's date.

Don't get me wrong. This novel isn't precisely an alternate history novel. There are background elements of it, but the real importance is all character-based. :) She isn't important, so she says, but I choose to read the novel in a slightly different way.

Under the surface, I see a lot of implications and near-wish fulfillment, an alternate and glorious escape from some of the less-talked about horrors of our world: Agism, age-related memory problems, the assumption that older people can go crazy based on an outside view, but perhaps it's all MUCH different in reality. Maybe those old people are only behaving that way because they're combining completely different realities and getting confused, naturally, because they both happened.

It's so beautiful. It's revolutionary. Hell, I may not look at another old person the same way again. Because... WHAT IF???? Amazing. Cool. YAY!

This may be a wonderful character study of a novel, full of so much coolness and real people, but more than that, it's doing something only the very best SF can accomplish.

It surprises and makes us wonder.

So after all this, I'm telling you, dear reader, that this book KICKS BUTT! :) :) :)




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Monday, March 28, 2016

The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of UsThe Incredible Unlikeliness of Being: Evolution and the Making of Us by Alice Roberts
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Netgalley!

This book tries to do a couple of things, and while I have no direct issue with any of its aims in any one particular, I kept asking myself a very important question, and asked it often, namely: "Who is this author writing to?"

At the opening, I got the impression that this was going to be a grateful pat-on-the-back for all evolutionists and those who believe in science and reason, and indeed, this is what happens, but instead of a few long focuses on a few of the pieces that make humans beautiful and just like the animals we come from, it gets bogged down "hip bone connected to the thigh bone" syndrome.

Instead of a readable series of anecdotes (whether personal, which there are quite a few, or a history of science, which there are also quite a few,) we're also subject to what reads like a first or second year college biology textbook, or perhaps even worse, because it's meant to name drop and exact upon us the price of knowledge without having the depth or experience of being an anatomist, general biologist, or just being extremely well read.

I'm no expert, but I followed most of this book pretty well and understood where the author was headed nicely and enjoyed a number of new info-pieces that I had never come across before. As a reader of lots of fiction and non-fiction, I know there's a fine line to be drawn between too much info-dump or too little, especially in popular non-fiction, but then there's the importance of my repeated question. "Who is this writer writing to?"

If you're reading this book, you're probably already a convert to the alter of science. Aye. My opinion isn't going to change after being shown hundreds and hundreds of examples how and why we're similar to so many kinds of animals. I understood that a long time ago. If she ISN'T writing a book to convert us, then this gigantic overview of the grandeur of the human body might have been better served as a slightly MORE detailed book (or series of books) with a lot more time spent teaching with a lot more depth. Unfortunately, even that's out of the scope for a book of this length, so I'm back to my initial question.

It dawned on me, late in the read, that the book might be best served as something to put on your coffee table. Anyone who's attempted to read it will know just how either *scary* trying to get through it is and will be doubly impressed that *you* got through it, or your scientist friend will see it on the table and proceed to write down all the other books that you should have started with.

If you just want to impress your educated friends and don't want to actually read this book, just display it, then it's probably a fine choice. If they pick it up and thumb through it, they'll pick up on the author's enthusiasm, may recognize her from her science shows (which I have never watched,) and they'll open their mouths in wide "O"s when the big words start tumbling across the page.

I know, I know, I sound like some uneducated yokel when I say this, but I seriously wanted to DNF this book many times. It was either extremely remedial in long passages or I was completely out of my depth in others.

I loved the portions on the brain and our sex organs, thought the one on the eye was rather cool, too, but for everything else, I either had a hard time keeping my eyes focused or I started questioning some fundamental aspect about the book, such as: Where are the symbiotes and all the biota that make up the human body in concert with our standard, not much different DNA from the Fruit Fly? Where is the expression of our DNA explored and how did we become what we are from all these many different starting points that follow from the fish and the primates and so many others? I'd have LOVED to see a lot more pondering along those lines, getting my blood pumping from some cutting-edge theories as well as the history of what we USED to think.

I'm no expert. I never claimed to be.

But... I also don't think I was the right reader for this book. It was either way too many details and being bogged down in the author's big brain or it was way too few, without the precise and logical steps to prove a thesis.

I wanted to like it a lot more, but I don't think it was a complete waste of time. I did get some enjoyment out of it. Maybe it ought to be read in a piecemeal way, grabbing the pieces of the anatomy that interests you the most.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Talent for War (Alex Benedict, #1)A Talent for War by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This just might be some of the most creative Space Opera You've Never Heard Of. Or maybe you follow the Nebulas, the best SF nominated by other SF/F authors, and you recognize that this is fan service for and by the professionals of the field, and so praise from these people usually means that the writer has Talent.

Talent for War, or not, I have to agree in pretty much all particulars. What struck me right off the bat was the heavy elements of Mystery lit. It's solid as hell, in fact.

It's merely a strange coincidence that there's models for human minds in VR environments, FTL travel, space battles, and quite alien aliens. It doesn't change the fact that this is a good mystery. Murder is only a part of it. It has a much larger scope when it becomes a post-mortem of an old heroic battle full of buried secrets, espionage, and a complete rewriting of our future history. (Or will it be?)

We get to relive the past thanks to the future tech, but both portions of the story, whether it's with Alex, our MC, or Sim, the man who would be an iconoclast traitor. Both were fascinating.

But what made this space opera really special? The details. There are so many little quirks of the universe thrown in, from classic (and nonexistent) paintings to truly delightful worlds full of hidden mysteries. As an adventure, there's so much to get lost in and wonder about. As a mystery, the details drag you right into the tale and make you believe. :)

At least, that's what it did for me. I'm not a huge fan of space opera in general, but I ALWAYS appreciate a smart tale written smartly, and this falls under that category. It isn't overfull with overused tropes, thank the universe, but it may seem slightly slow to some fans of a certain sub-genre of the SF field because it *mostly* reads as a post-mortem on old battles, from tactics to strategy, with all the reversals of fate and the surprising revelations that the "official" records have squashed. I clicked with it because I like to dig under the surface of things, too, but in this, it's doubly fascinating because of the sheer amount of layers we get to uncover.

It's a work of Imagination and care, and that's no joke.

I was warned that I might find this slow, but thankfully, it turned out to be just my speed. :) I'll take depth AND breadth any day. :)

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Saturday, March 26, 2016

Deadhouse Gates (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #2)Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While clearly a superior book, in my humble opinion, to the first Book of Malazan, I'm deeply disturbed by some of the turn of events at the end of the novel. Namely, WTF? Uggghhh. It makes me want to sit in silence for a while and try to digest it a bit, but no. A lot more things happen in this novel than just one man's (or many men's) reversal(s), be it choice and with so-called reason or utter desolation filled with a demon's pity.

I was initially worried that I'd be bogged down in too much war, but no, that wasn't even a concern for me this time. I was too invested in the characters, especially the Assassin and the Historian. The thief was fun and the author's penchant and focus on old dead civilizations and archeology serves him extremely well here. The explorations really got my heart pumping even as my mouth dried.

The refugees and the desperate march was particularly effective, too, but more than anything else, the promise and the fear evoked by the Whirlwind was very good.

Ancient armies fighting endless battles, the dead all around, and the mortal armies of the Empire and the defenders, made this war extremely pernicious and chaotic, even if the gods weren't throwing wrenches into the spokes of everyone's war machines. We even got to travel by sea and pirate with the best of them.

This novel may as well serve as the definition of Epic. The direction and the focus is always clear. The enormous cast, with all their hopeless desires, clash and collude on grand scales, while the plights stay close to the cuff.

Oh yeah, and who loves the dogs? That's right. It's me. And I loved every instance where the Coins of the realm became the downfall of (often extremely literally) of nobles and the other financial ministers; I was laughing with delight, even.

The deaths of the children were hard, but distance made a lot of it bearable. There's one scene with our fearless Historian that I'll never forget, even if I *know* it was a blatant attempt to tug at my heartstrings. It still worked like a freaking charm.

Do I love the series? Yes. I do believe I do. I need a slight break though! Very emotional.

:)

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Friday, March 25, 2016

The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy LifeThe Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life by Rodney Dietert


I'm extremely impressed with this book.

It's very well documented, including both primary research and building on four decades of game-changing discoveries. Far from being dry, it happens to be both amazingly exciting and potentially a life saver for us all.

What the hell? Am I blowing the lid off of the is non-fiction book?

Possibly yes, possibly no. The fact is, nothing in here is wholly unique. The emphasis and the well-reasoned possibility and direction of future research is.

So what is this about? Put simply, or even extremely simply, is that we are made up of two sets of genomes. The mammalian genome topping out at about 22k base pairs making up about 10% of our body's biology, and the other 90% of the genomes which work in concert with all of our mammalian parts to convert energy and regulate EVERYTHING else. They the true puppeteers of our lives and it has been that way since the very beginning, and just as true for every other living creature on the planet. We are each Biomes of huge complexity, and what was more interesting, at least to me, is learning that our guts are only a small part of the picture. Every part of our body is made up of particular regulatory patches of bacteria working in concert. If they fall out of balance or if a particularly clever subset fills a vacuum caused by a particular die-off, then we get sick, increase our chances for huge numbers of non-communicable diseases.

Antibiotics cause obesity.

Get it? The proper flora dies with the disease and then weakens us to further complications. That's pretty standard stuff to learn these days and we get it. The problem is, the normal biological model is slow to catch up and treat the whole SYSTEM, including research into methods of increasing not just classes of bacterial strains, but even long, long lists of specific ones, including Akkermansia Munciniphilia, which has been shown to specifically reduce abdominal fat, and I'm just mentioning only this one.

The rest of the short list in this book targets a lot more than just obesity. It turns out that the widest range of non-communicable diseases are covered here as well: from depression, obesity, cancer, heart disease, autism, Alzheimer's disease, to a much longer possible list.

You've heard that processed and pasteurized foods are directly contributing to a loss of our personal Biotas, right? That once we stopped fermenting our foods and stopped eating raw, then completely different sets of not particularly helpful bacteria sets up camp in our guts and skin and every other part of our bodies, right?

Hell, I'll attest to the viability of everything here. I changed my diet to 50% raw greens and suddently discovered that I was no longer depressed, lost the gastrointestinal maladies, lost weight, had a brighter outlook on life, got better sleep, and generally became a new man. WHO KNEW? lol This was years ago for me, and the changes remained because I encouraged a new biota in my gut.

This book takes it further, with TONS of reference material taking up 1/4 of the book, calling out for a change in our biological outlook, ending in a change in paradigm.

So it turns out that if we treat our symbiotic partners as PARTNERS, they can heal us directly. Huh. Who'd have thunk? The fact that our healthy and natural bodies are only *slightly* mammalian, that the fully mapped Human Genome Project surprised the living hell out of us with the realization that (*we* as in our Human DNA) is only about a 1% of a person's complete biota, and that in treating only it, we're basically spitting in the wind.

The trick is to recolonize our biota, to have a very specific game plan for each individual, since while there's over 10,000 bacterial species that work closely with mankind, any one of us might have somewhere around a 1000 of them in current residence, and it's pretty plain that mothers pass along anywhere between 42% to 78% of their "additional" biota to their babies at birth, so similarities ARE genetically passed on, but only a small portion of those genetic similarities are human. It it worth noting that the range I just mentioned represents C-Section babies or those that actually travel through the vagina. C-Section babies, unbenownst to most of modern medicine, leaves our babies, (including myself and my daughter) with incomplete biota, leaving us a LOT more susceptible to autism and all the other non-communicable diseases I mentioned.

Autism used to be rare, but now it hits 1/68 children. That's a 500% increase in 40 years and it's only getting worse. This isn't even a selection bias.

Fortunately, the term Rebiosis is a bit of a hopeful term, because it means bringing us back into a healthy biota at any age. It's MOST important for newborns, but of course we could all use a break from peanut and wheat allergies, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, even anxiety and depression by JUST GETTING THE BALANCE RIGHT. Huh. Cool.

Modern medicine has a lot of research it still has to do, but we as a people really need to be aware that this isn't some fad. We are a lot more than a single set of genes and we've known this for a very long time. It's time to treat the whole system and stop trying to just treat the Mammal.

I know I'm not doing the book great justice with just this little blurb. It deserves to read and digested for yourself. Pun not intentional.

(Or maybe it was, a little.)

Thanks goes to Netgalley for this wonderful book!

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

GhostwrittenGhostwritten by David Mitchell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I feel like any review I make of this novel will be an unfair one, so I heartily recommend that you read some of the absolutely gorgeous reviews already out there, but I will leave you with a single impression:

The Uncertainty principle Thus applied to writing fiction (or Science Fiction): You can know where a story is at any point in time or you can know its velocity (it's pacing), but you can never know both at the same time.

:)

Seriously, this book is pretty damn awesome. Each of the nine viewpoints are grounded so deeply and across wide spaces and cultures across the Orient, and truly fascinating in their own rights, that it'd be easy to read the whole novel from a light-theme touch a-la Cloud Atlas, but instead, we've got a seriously strong SF theme going on here.

It's been out long enough that I'm not going to worry about broad spoilers, and knowing a few facts might actually encourage new readers of Mitchell, especially if you're into SF.

Quantum intelligences, people. Yup. Disincorporated personas. Ghosts. And a bit of a fourth-wall breaking if you read REALLY carefully or just make an interpretation from the damn title of the book. :)

Someone's been doing a bit of backpacking across PoVs, and I think this book might be seriously more fun to read the second time around, knowing what I now know.

Can I trace some newer novels like Touch and The Lives of Tao back to this book? Well, I can try. :) Do I think it might be a great companion piece, just in sheer scope, to The Boat of a Million Years? Yes I do.

Do I think this novel might have made it REALLY huge in the eighties? Um, yes! Do I think it's also way before its time? Sadly, yes, that too. But it doesn't change the fact that it's pretty damn virtuoso and possibly a bit more interesting in some ways than Cloud Atlas. I know people like to go on about how the other novel is all that, but there was something about this one that knocked my socks off a bit more. :)

All I can say is, have fun tracing all the threads! I can almost guarantee that you'll never trace them all without an atlas. There are a ton of easter eggs just popping up between the different stories here, a representation made small when you think about what Mitchell has been doing with the rest of his novels together.

I'm not surprised, of course. This is a first novel and all first novels like to set up a promise to the readers that will be continuing on a later journey with the author. :)

I'm pleased! I will be continuing this ride, later, and perhaps I'll go backpacking! :)

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Big SheepThe Big Sheep by Robert Kroese
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thank goes to Netgalley!

Perhaps I should say double-thanks? The novel more than lived up to all expectations and perhaps a great deal more. In fact, from the outset, I didn't really get the sense of a lot of promise. It seemed to be a pretty standard Private-Eye (sorry, Phenomenological Inquisitor) with a pretty heavy SF bent, full of light humor and quirky intent.

What it became, after a while, was anything but standard and anything but simple. In fact, even being a long-time reader of both genres, I thought I had things pretty well figured out by page 30, revise - page 80, revise - page 120, revise - oh hell... it did SEEM to lead me to the right, even cool conclusion! But no, I was reliably and enthusiastically proven wrong.

Can I tell you want a delight this is? It gets even better, too! The writing is crisp and it knows what it's about. Strong voice, clear plot developments, interesting characters, and tons of truly interesting twists that made great use of both mystery standards AND a couple of armloads of beautiful SF tropes while never feeling stale.

Indeed, I came out of this read feeling as if the one initial promise, that this was some sort of PKD successor, was entirely on the mark. It took a while to realize it, from a straight textual progression, but the entire novel, taken together, IS absolutely worthy.

I might even say that it's a better read than PKD, if I were to be so heretical. It's not quite as philosophical or religious, but it certainly has the bat-s*** crazy down. :)

The only thing that it took a bit to get used to was the humor. I just didn't think the banter was all that funny at first, but it did grow on me as the complexity of the tale grew.

Hell, I think the really funny jokes are all plot-driven, not limited to a line-by-line hit parade.

If you are looking for something with a lot of panache and crazy cool happenings in a great one-to-one genre mashup of Mystery/SF that leaves you feeling refreshed and elated, then by all means, GO GET THIS BOOK. :)

You cannot imagine how many spoilers I wanted to give away. There were SO many great scenes to discuss and laugh about, with tons of in-jokes I could be sharing with you... right this instant.
This is so aggravating. :)

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Three Days to NeverThree Days to Never by Tim Powers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It definitely is full of the who's who of cabals, famous personages, Time Travel, and just enough quirky psi and technological hijinks to want me to catapult this novel to one of those must-read realms of creative SF.

I mean, what does Einstein and Charlie Chaplin have in common with time-travel that mimics the trajectory of a swastika? Or a novel that attempts to do the same in it's plot progression? Theoretically, these are some damn cool villains.

The opening is solid and grounded, and even all of the Shakespeare quotations make perfect sense as a means to focus oneself in a timeline. It's cool!

So why didn't I love this?

I think it's probably the characters. I kept losing my "care" focus.

The family stuff was interesting in retrospect, especially when some of that family isn't family but is yourself at a different age or across an erased timeline or as a sacrifice to a better timeline that turned on itself to bite you, your progeny, or your friends on your ass. I love the fact that it got really wacky and strange. Truly.

But it also took it so far away from my love of the characters that I started going glassy-eyed. Especially when the ghosts came into play. Or the sex changes. Or the ragged bursts of time travel and reattachments of lifelines on a revolving helix of galaxies.

Or something like that.

Just how many Mary-s WERE there? Yikes.

At least when Heinlein did it, he spread out the weirdness over many books in small doses and grounded fully in good stories. :) Let's do an all-out 4th dimensional viewpoint romp, shall we? It's impressive, but it's even a bit too much for me! Whoa. :)

Maybe it's just me. I also don't like it when authors don't do ENOUGH of the weird stuff. :) Maybe I'm just impossible to please. :)

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Gardens of the Moon (The Malazan Book of the Fallen, #1)Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a delightful larger-than-life fantasy novel!

I was prepared to assume that it was going to be filled with an army of confused characters mired in grit and blood and that I shouldn't expect too much from the first novel because the series gets seriously good later.

I might have managed my expectations a bit too much, because I was delighted, instead. I've been a fan of the Final Fantasy RPGs since the first one, so I'm quite used to a lot of these tropes, plus I'm also a fan of the Cthulhu mythos, so godlings and demons raining down from the moon and infecting dreams, elder gods breaking through to the waking realm, and the dying souls of a race of immortals willing to give up everything for a final rest is all pretty much awesome. I'm ready to flip a coin and kill some doggies. :)

The admittedly large cast of characters didn't seem at all confused, either. I rooted for all of them at different times and I was very willing and able to hang my hat on the magic system with all it's Warrens and barrows and subdivisions and unique associations of interested polities. (I jest, I jest. I really enjoy the idea that magic is associated with space outside of regular space, as implied in the naming system.)

Best of all, though, other than the fairly cool poetry and very well thought-out world-building that's obviously much, much deeper than what we see here, was the fact that there was so much damn magic! I think I enjoyed learning how it worked as much as I enjoyed watching it blow stuff up. I was duly creeped out by the puppets, the abilities manifested by soul-hopping, the shambling dead, Luck, and so much more. My interest was definitely piqued and I'm rearing to go.

I'm an old uber-fan of WoT and I've tasted quite a few other series. The one thing I see the most connection between, when it comes to like/like, is Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archives. That's high praise for both series, by the way. If you like one, you'll like both, even. :)

I'm going to continue with this series with great joy.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

The PrelapsariansThe Prelapsarians by John Gaiserich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am truly honored to have read this book. I mean, honestly, I knew enough to expect a dark tale of post super-volcano Yellowstone set in the Caucasus region, full of the horrors of cynical survival and very Russian sentimentality, but I hadn't expected this novel to burrow so DEEP under my skin and have me weeping with hope and horror at the same time.

It only barely touches the SF realm, and the exposition at the very beginning of the novel says it all. It's a set piece, a simple, if horrible setting, that does very little to explain just how impressive and deep my love for these characters really go.

Sure it's a mercenary group surviving in the chaos of the region, many years after the ash choked and continues to poison the world. A magical drug that breaks down the ash in your lungs becomes the most valuable substance in the world. But this is NOT what this novel is about.

The novel is about having lost everything and learning to hope again. It's about love amidst battle scars, regaining that lost idealism before the Great Fall, of knowing that we were always lost, but that we still clung to hope in all the myriad ways we were always meant to, be it sex, violence, or all the flavors of religion.

And it's all here. Every character is as real as can be. I loved and hated them all. They were flawed and beautiful. All of them were tragic and the epitome of everything that was good and lost, even while they were all lost and loyal and heartbreakingly true to life.

The prose is workmanlike, but interposed like a knife in the back were passages, either read from journals, spoken from the hearts behind dolorous lips, or wrenched from the agony of life, were some of the most beautiful passages of pure poetry, reminding us that life is not all grim and dark even when we are taught the hard way that living is pure hell.

There is a lot of religion and religious thought, but it's all out in the open, in the hearts and minds of the players, and I can't fault them for it. Their lives are hard and the search for meaning is probably the one thing that kept their hearts beating at all after so much time.

Is this a truly great work?

Yes. I think it might actually be.

Was it hard to get through?

A bit, but not in the way you might think. It was good reading. It was actually hard on my heart.

This is one absolutely gorgeous piece of Art. Don't miss out on this. It might be rather unknown, as of yet, but it absolutely shouldn't be.

I completely recommend this for everyone who believes in a gut-wrenching tale of hope and despair among the survivors.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Central StationCentral Station by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know you've got a winner when:

You keep saying to yourself, over and over and over, I hope this never ends, I hope this never ends.

You get so deeply immersed in ideas, with so much world-building and awe and exploration of humanity, post-humanity, robot, evolutionary AI, and how everyone interacts, explores, and lives together pretty much harmoniously, that you cry and say, I live here. I will always live here. I have already been living here.

You snap out of a nested story self-reference long enough to realize that the author just Louis Woo'd you or slammed you right into a data-singularity mine within the Game-World or you just found your way to the mythical land of Pac-Mandu.

Woah.

This novel is not a plot-heavy. It doesn't need to be. It follows an ensemble list of characters, all fascinating and wonderful in their own rights, following a dense nested stream of short stories tightly tied to the place of Tel-Aviv a good long while AFTER the technological singularity had had its way with the world and the solar system, until everyone from normal humans, noded humans, cyborgs, demi-godlings, and most especially, the "Others" (Post-Singularity Intelligences) coexist and live in an extremely idea-dense world.

Its full of Jewish-Robot religions, a wide assortment of post-mortality packages, Strigoi (data vampirism, damn I loved Carmel,) and a heavily advanced system of MMORPG's that is tied very tightly to real-money systems, and can help you earn enough to book passage off-planet by way of captaining a starship in-game. How cool is all this? I can't even begin click off all these hundreds of wonderful ideas, and so many of them get explored so deeply, too.

Yes, it's a setting piece, but the characters are much more than just setting. The themes are also deep and introspective and Lavie Tidhar loves to explore everything deeply and interestingly.

I just couldn't get enough of this novel.

But don't expect a plot payoff, mind you. This isn't that kind of novel at all. Think about an interwoven tapestry of dense short stories that touch and caress Central Station, itself, and just revel in the glory of sensations. You won't be disappointed.


As something of an afterward, I do want to bring up one last thing. Another reviewer mentioned that the feel is close to Hannu Rajaniemi in many ways, and I have to agree. Hell, the one thing that decided me on reading this book was that reference. It sold me and sold me HARD.

So what about a post-analysis comparison? Both artists love their nested stories, their sometimes nearly hidden easter eggs, their wide and exhaustive knowledge of the SF field, and the glory of the godlike *idea*. Both imagine a Post-Singularity solar system. The difference between them are pretty fundamental, though. Lavie Tidhar focuses on reflection and coming to grips with reality and just plain living. It's gorgeous. Hannu Rajaniemi doesn't ignore those themes, but he also ties some really damn BIG rip-roaring adventures and plot twists among all the nested stories.

You might say that this novel has a bit more yin to Hannu's yang. This might be a major selling point to prospective readers. Who knows? I know I loved it, but it IS quite different in tone. :)

I could read this novel forever. I could keep reading its like from now to eternity. It's just that good and it's BRIGHT in my head.

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Roadside PicnicRoadside Picnic by Arkady Strugatsky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This old Russian classic SF is surprisingly relevant and fresh today, sans all the copious amount of smoking going on. :) If anything is going to give this little gem away, it's pretty much only that.

It's very tight, masquerading as a scavenger adventure that becomes a black-market thriller that becomes a Question about the nature of intelligence, discovery, and even the most basic question of all: "What the hell are these aliens thinking???"

After all, they just left a huge mess by the side of the road, not even bothering to say hi to the damn locals before dumping their half-eaten crap and leaving their high-tech soda bottles.

I mean, seriously? Who do these Americans think they are, despoiling such a pretty Russian countryside? *sigh* And then there's the whole mess about consumerism and capitalism, giving us a pretty complete and coherent condemnation while never quite "saying" anything. It's all just shown, and shown extremely well.

And then there's the now obvious connection to the much later work that is heavily indebted to Roadside Picnic, the redoubtable Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy. Others have gone over the connections better than I will, but I can say one thing freely: The two are very similar in the gross, between the oddness within the area and the desire for both understanding and possible trinkets, but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Sure, we'll keep asking questions in both novels, long after they've ended, but this one keeps things pretty light even when the MC is crawling through the mud. I blame it on the alcohol. But then, this is very much a Russian novel.

I think I might go ahead and say that I think this one is the tighter SF story. The first novel in Area X was delicious for the surreal and the details, but this novel had a lot more action and straight talk for those who prefer their tales snappy. Don't be surprised, though, if you get more of a bellyful of the evils of capitalism rather than a deeper exploration of aliens and our own ultimate insignificance. It's there, but the sneaky diatribe against the West is actually the superior portion of the novel. (Superior both in fun and plot and the things that our MC must endure, rather than sheer page space.)

This is quite an awesome classic SF and I heartily recommend it. It obviously had a lot of love and care poured into it, and the results are fantastic. :)

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Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Scar (Bas-Lag, #2)The Scar by China Miéville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So. I have a question for you.

When's the last time you watched vampires go fishing?

No?

Then where the f***ing hell have you been? Seriously!

Okay, so the effort involved is a bit more than even the undead can muster, and a fleet, or no, actually, a whole *nation* of boats has a hard time with this fish story.

Of course, Miéville finally gets to show us how he deals with an epic war scene, interesting treatments of betrayal, kidnapping, Stockholm Syndrome, and extended spycraft, but what's really interesting is how deep the details go.

Don't read this if you're skimming or intend to skim. There's just too many deep and awesome tidbits that fly by if you're not careful. I mean, I've been extremely curious about how all these different races came together in the first place, or at least how humans arrived or emerged on this world, and YES, there are a couple of fly-by-night anecdotes that tell us that this IS, Indeed, SF. Damn awesome reality bending SF, too, with enough hints to stuff a goose or at least one of the more interesting inhabitants of New Crobuzon. (And don't worry, at least ONE of the races will come along and clean up the mess.)

I actually really loved all the sequences that filled out my slowly budding knowledge of the Bas-Lag universe, like what's involved in being Remade or the more esoteric races that cannibalize and twist the dominate technology of the world. Having airships and submarines is just icing on the cake, of course, but I think I might have been most thrilled by the continuing focus on scholarship and study. Who wants a real action hero, anyway? If we're going to get into the New Weird, then let's at least have the right characters available to make the fractal flower bloom, right?

Best parts include the changing perception of the Armada, from unfortunate press-gangers to a free and awesome society of truly epic minds and goals. Just like the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station, the city is a deep and revolving character in it's own right, changing, at least in its inhabitant's perceptions, into something complex and multi-layered and and not only flawed, but almost heroic.

Of course, when messing with a sea monster with all your might, it's not hard to be perceived as heroic, even if it is their own damn fault. :)

This is truly a classic and creative tale, and I can never do it real justice in a single stupid review. The novel is as rich in detail as it is in awesome description, interesting characters, and great payoffs. Just don't enter into a read with anything other than your full attention, or you'll be missing out on a ton of great easter eggs.

(I know. I had to start it again because I misapprehended the scope and creativity of the author. Hell. I should have known better. I've read a ton of his other novels. BUT. The Bas-Lag series is truly serious in its creativity, so READER BEWARE.)

:)

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King, #1-5)The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I feel like it would be quite unfair to judge all five books as a whole, even if they are bound this way, but "What, What?"

"See, some things turn out this way, see? Even classics, see?" What, What?

I honestly went through many changes while reading this work, but that may be entirely because I keep seeing how it has changed the world, our perceptions, and especially it's influence on so many of the cultural set pieces we enjoy across a wide, wide canvas.

I was thrown, willy-nilly, into a purely Disney Sword In Stone cartoon for the first book. Hell, no matter how I wanted to pry myself from that version, I couldn't. Wart., I.E., Arthur, and the doddering old English fool, Merlin, were perfect caricatures of themselves even as they turned into all the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea and taught valuable lessons of what it would be to be a Knight. What, what?

Okay, I WAS thrown off my game a little bit with the introduction of the Encyclopedia Britannica and at LEAST two references to Guy Fawkes, until I finally decided to turn off my brain and let this belated realization of a kid's story have its nefarious way with me. What, what?

I quickly realized, by style and attempted humor, that a certain author by the name Terry Pratchett took all the specialized elements of this book and made something with a much more comprehensive world and better timing on the comedy and odd juxtapositions. He owed a debt to this old YA classic, absolutely, and the borrowed style is as plain as day. I wound up liking it just fine once I managed my expectations, but I still prefer Mr. Pratchett. :) But what the hell was up with Robin Hood and Tuck, What, What?

Things got slightly better by book two, with the darker "M" themes, with witchcraft and Fae, adventure and even a bit of knightly heroism. I got into it, but let me be perfectly honest: I've been spoiled by these characters through The Mists of Avalon, so it's hard to want less depth, less straight comprehensibility.

But, like the previous book, I took a lesser critical view, and with book three and book four, I was utterly delighted to find out that most of our modern shiny knights in clean halls, bursting with honor, utter fair play, and utter moral christian virtue came from T. H. White. I wondered where the hell it all went wrong, or why such amazing and widespread departures from reality and history got introduced into our public mind like the great whitewashing of our time, and now I know.

Yes, yes, I know that the Arthurian legend has always been the sock puppet for each culture that re-appropriated it, but I'll always be partial to the popular incarnation of this from the times of the crusades. (I don't care which you choose. Early, middle or late, they're all charming.) Worse, I'm truly upset with the loss of the hidden messages wrapped in metaphors and anagrams. Hell, I would have given anything for just a HINT of a Rosicrucian chemical wedding. But no, this modern incarnation is all about modern social mores, being a good christian, and bringing out the great club of politics, as was seen MOST PERFECTLY in book five.

I can't say I disagree with some of his sentiments. I hate war, too. I probably would have done everything in my power to be a pacifist, too, which is quite fun to pull out INSIDE a book ostensibly about war, domination, civil-war, and enough personal strife and tragedy to choke a war-horse.

Instead, I come away with the shiniest patina of High Nobility, hell paved with good intentions, and impossibly wise Englishmen who don't really know what the hell they're talking about. Book five. OMG. Were you expecting an old Arthur getting it on as a goose and being subject to a political treatise on capitalism and communism? Or a truly unfair slight against ants?

Yeah. Me either.

What I took away from this? Monty Python and the Search For The Holy Grail. Book three, especially. That movie is an almost perfect counterpoint to book three. I think I'm gonna pop my dvd in my player right now.

Do I sound like I don't like this work? No. Or at least, I don't dislike it. It's clear and bright and it fairly pipes the British Anthem on every page. I've never been much for patriotism, but I'm almost propagandized into the tradition.

Oh, and yeah, deep sea diving is an almost perfect way to explain to the reader the difficulties of wearing armor. And Merlin was a poor boy in modern England. What, what? See? See?

I recommend to you, dear reader, if you like your legends light and Disney, full of talking animals and lots of anachronistic conversations. Contains all of the most popular modern imaginings of the Arthurian legend, sans the deep discourses, the deeper understanding of the Holy Blood and the secrets therein.

But of course, there's always the many maidens trying to take the pure knight's virginity. That never gets old, what, what?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant IntelligenceBrilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence by Stefano Mancuso
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley!

The book asks us, sometimes repeatedly, to step outside of our preconceived notions. Fair enough. I'm not a member of an old-boy scientific network, so I have no vested interests besides learning for learning's sake. So what does Mr. Mancuso ask us to swallow?

Easily enough, it's just the idea that plants are intelligent.

No biggie, actually. I was convinced pretty early in the book, especially when we throw out prejudices such as the need for a "brain" or "eyes" or any of the traditional "sense organs" we animals possess.

Think about it. Plants make decisions all the time, not just in hunting for water, discovering new pockets of phosphorous or other trace elements, competing with other plants, defending against and entering into agreements with bacteria, insects, and animals. Even the way they decide to propagate themselves show a remarkably diverse toolset, from communicating by delicious ripe fruit, chemically unique and heavily directed pheromones that entice very specific animals and insects, and mimicry. And when they choose to do any of it is based on a very complex decision plot.

But they're plants, you say. Just dumb plants. (I'm paraphrasing the the author's imagined critique crowd.) I mow the lawn. It doesn't seem to complain. How smart can it be?

Actually, pretty damn smart. The tips of even a small plant's roots can number 15 million discrete sensory apparatus, and larger plants, like corn, can have upwards of a hundred million. Think of the tips of the roots as the neurons. They make all the decisions. This is real. And real communication takes place across same species of plants over great distances just as real communication is possible and even likely across species.

True non-human, non-animal intelligence right here on Earth? Sure. I'm sold. Look at how plants have learned to communicate with us. If we're so damn smart, then why have plants started preening themselves like courtly lovers trying to land a hot mate with humanity? Hell, they still think that ants are pretty hot shit. Whole colonies will violently defend trees. We are cultivating orchards, food crops, medicinal plants by the hundreds of scores, and in return, these plants THRIVE.

They're alive. They think. If they give us more pretties, we take very good care of them. I would not be surprised if in the next 100 years, assuming we haven't killed off all the rest of the intelligent life on the planet, most of the plant life turns into one gigantic catering service to humanity. After all, as long as their root systems survive and they're given comfy environments, they're just fine with being eaten. They're not reliant on us, but they sure as hell know how to exploit us. :)

Believe it or not, all of this is proven science. Just because some of us don't believe what is obvious, such as the fact that more than 95% of the world's biomass is plant matter and it'll go on being the dominant life form even if all the animals including us die, doesn't mean it isn't true.

There's an interesting anecdote that paraphrases that we nonchalantly ignore the importance and intelligence and motive and sensory capabilities of plants JUST because they're slower than we can readily perceive. They're not less complex. In fact, they have all of our senses, plus a much wider capacity to sense. Theories have most plants linked up to at least 20 full-blown senses. Not just our five. Hell, I'd LOVE to be able to sense gravity. Oh, wait. I do: It's that way.

Okay, so perhaps his definition of senses needs a bit more fleshing, whether its animal or plant flesh, but I am convinced on the intelligence. :)

An interesting unproven hypothesis speculate that they work together as emergent properties rather more complicated than simply transmitting through the roots, either chemically, spatially, or even through the tiny clicking sounds that all roots make, whether or not it's the cracking of the cellular wall or it's a method of communication.

Swarming intelligent emergence within a root system. That's so totally awesome. Discussions of AIs and Other Computing Models are also touched in this book.

The only reason I knocked a star was in the total page-time spent exhorting us to just quit it with our animal prejudices, looking for intelligence that's just like us instead of what is apparent all around us. Systems Theory should have put a nail in that coffin of thought, but alas, the opposite is apparently still going strong. I wanted even more facts and even more wild theories, not more persuasive arguments. :)

Stop sitting around like a vegetable, people!


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Monday, March 14, 2016

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recommended to me as a cure for the heavy, blood and guts diet that's so prevalent in today's SF/F, I was more than just a little bit interested in an antidote.

What I found, instead, was a heartily tasty meal of perfectly prepared insects aboard the Wayfarer, enjoying wonderful conversations and a surprisingly diverse collection of humans, aliens, and a truly beautiful soul within an AI.

I mean, this is space-opera. Don't get the wrong idea. There's a couple of tight spots, thievery and tragic death. We are invited into ideologically divisive pockets of space and culture, the breaking of laws, and of course we get paid well to do a skilled job equally well.

But what I hadn't expected was the love.

There was a lot of love in these pages. Not just of the author to her extremely well-drawn characters, but between the characters themselves, hidden in nooks and crannies, blazingly obvious in other instants, and as wide and complex as the worlds the individuals came from. In other words, we got just the tip of the iceberg, and our imaginations fill in so much of the rest, to our delight.

So is this space-opera, or not? Of course it is! But think of it more like distilling and creating anew some of those old favorites, bits and pieces here from Babylon 5, ST:TNG, Red Dwarf, or even a taste of Enterprise. The tropes are familiar, but the tale-crafter, her worlds, and her spacecraft is most certainly not.

She's made something delightful and new, humorous and lovely, and at one point I would have said this whole novel would have been a light read, but no, there's real meat here. There's anger and hope and desperation with all the love and humor.

It feels real, and it touches my heart.

So did it heal my pained MilSF heart, my PTSD Fantasy mind?

Maybe not entirely, but it is certainly a very excellent palliative and perhaps with a few more gems like this, I might just be able to rejoin the service once again. :)


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The Red: First LightThe Red: First Light by Linda Nagata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ready, Set, Fight for what you believe!

This is a fairly fast-action milspec SF with great cyberpunk tones, but it's still more than just that. I mean, how many times do you get a modern military thriller with thematic tones of Daniel and Goliath, prophets, and some serious questioning of reality?

Oh, wait... :)

Still, this is one of easiest reads and clearest expressions of all those ideas that I've read, no obfuscation or trickiness. This is straight faith in your commanding officer and a willingness to throw away your career (even if you're heavily dependent on a huge support staff because you're a cyborg) in the service of your ideals.

What might have been a straight and interesting twist on cynical mission-based objectives quickly took a turn for the worse when we add mysterious hackers, a world-wide popular broadcast of one's fighting adventures, and the widespread subversion of the people's perceptions of reality through propaganda through personal "filters" that are a thin reference to our own world of ever narrowing perceptions.

(We find those people who think and feel the way we do, cultivate those ideas, and slowly begin to lose sight of the fact that there's a much wider world full of people who don't believe as you do.)

Kinda obvious, right? Well what happens when all of those constantly-adjusting google algorithms narrows everyone's perceptions so well that no one can even know what the truth is?

Ah, I guess this is the time for a hot knife to meet some butter, right?

I may not like milspec that much, but I have a very, very high tolerance for anything that is just plain good, and this is good. :)

I'm looking forward to more!

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Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks goes to Netgalley for the ARC!

1860, and all the true social horrors that the time can bring, can also be a time, in the right writer's hands, that can bring the greatest illumination upon all such subjects of a women's place in our day. Frances Hardinge is truly such a brilliant writer.

I can honestly say without spoiling a thing that this novel does wonderful justice for women and one's self-worth. I think we could all learn from setting such a bad example, and never mind all the missteps and mistakes that Faith will have to take through the novel. I certainly cringed and worried and delighted in all her mistakes and triumphs, even as I grew more and more worried about the eventual outcome.

For this felt like a truly great horror from the very beginning and never once let the tension slide, rocking hard with detail, sharp characterizations, and wonderful reveals. One might call it dark fantasy, of course, or historical fiction with a magical realism bent, or even a fairy tale so rooted in reality that one could never dig deep enough to kill the tree, but alas, it works best as a truly thrilling horror with a wonderful twist.

Can I dance around and whoop with joy, now? You betcha! (Spoiler: I already did.)

The one thing that I'd really like to mention about the book is something I can't really do without giving out some true spoilers, and I'm loath to do so. BUT. I was fascinated with the author's choice of subject material, and for any of you who later have read this great novel, think about this: Don't you think the author, herself, might have thought that this little wonder of a tree might have been absolutely perfect for herself, being a writer of outright lies?

We all know the old adage about writing fiction because it is the surest path to the hidden truths, do we not?

Is this novel not only a perfect tale, but also a bit of a mirror to the fact of her own writing? I think so. And I can't think of a better compliment I could ever give.



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Saturday, March 12, 2016

After DarkAfter Dark by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a clever little tale about night people, dreams (of all kinds), and subtle humor, mixed with grand and interesting detail in the style of so much horror fiction and a brooding (mostly) off-screen terror that lurks in the night.

Did I mention it's Japanese? Sure, it should be kinda obvious from such a big name like Murakami, but this is, after all, my first foray into his works. What can I say? I thought it was pretty damn great. I didn't have any expectations, so I just let myself flow with all the many characters and let myself enjoy the impressions and the interesting conversations and enjoy the admittedly adroit tension that lurked like a hot thread throughout the night.

I loved the whole idea of Alphaville, but then, I am a sucker for all things SF, even if it's just a discourse about SF, imaginary or not. :) But then it all ties back into dreams, too, and while the majority of the novel is so firmly grounded in reality and hard-hitting details and thoroughly interesting character studies, it has it's other moments, too. :)

I'm really looking forward to more of his work!

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Dreamer's Pool (Blackthorn & Grim, #1)Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a gentle Fantasy with all the traditional, read archetypal, side-characters, but it's real strength is in being a great character-driven novel.

I consider Orlan and Flidais to be side characters in this story, with Blackthorn and Grim being the true gift from the author. With Blackthorn and Grim, this shouldn't be much of a stretch to see, despite Orlan's PoV time, because that guy was just too idealistic and good-natured and romantic a prince to make it as anything other than the subject of the novel and not the real meat. :)

Flidais was much worse: being the put-upon trope princess who serves as a backdrop and not a real mover. Which is a shame, because her real role (Sans Spoilers) did have quite a few more opportunities for fun and mayhem, but alas, this would not have served, likely even supplanting, the true tale of Blackthorn and Grim.

I've spent all this time on the side characters, but what's all the hullabaloo?

Think a revenge-filled wise-woman with a hulk of a devoted man watching over her, forced into service under the Fae to do good in a small little land, and you've got just the tip of the ice-burg. The novel was complete unto itself, with a good take on an old, old celtic trope, missing almost all of the tripe twists that are expected on such an old tale, resting all of its strengths on characterization, depth of world-building, and serious attention to detail.

I fully enjoyed the novel. It was such a nice change of pace from all the war-driven fantasies I've plowed through, recently, returning to the roots of Fantasy, as in Fairy Tales.

There's a lot of plot-drive about men and women, the nature of justice with rape, with perceptions and misunderstanding, as well as truly good-hearted people being wrapped up in the whole mess. (And bad ones, too.)

What can I say? I think this is no way a flashy novel or ranking up there as anything I'd peg as the standard, but as a very good novel with great characters, I think it's damn sweet. :)

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt, #1)Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

War, war, and rumours of war, and yeah, war is here and war is HERE!

I wish I liked epic fantasy novels of war more. I'd probably be a bit more enthusiastic.

The wasps are an implacable and vast, vast army, an empire made up of slaves, slaves, and yet more slaves. This is a foe that makes me feel a knee-jerk reaction. Hell, most of the arguments made up of those still living in the lands that haven't been taken over make it sound like the ramblings of ignorant peeps in the face of the Chinese. All the stereotypes are still in effect: clever, devoted to their ideology, and you know the trope.

What really makes this novel stand out are the races of humans, whether Apt or non-Apt. Those who use magic can't use tech at all, even latches on doors, but they can take on the aspects of the insects (or arachnids) that they're linked to. The normal races of humans (for they're all human) have a thriving steampunk society and they fear the magic. Of course, all types of people show up in every land, but how they deal with the types allows for a lot of diverse conflict situations.

Cool and interesting world-building here.

Too bad so much of it was placed firmly in the service of so much eye-watering war. Sure, a great deal of character building happens with the show, don't tell school, but my eyes glazed over with most of the time being a slave. Things picked back up by the time of the rise in the ranks and the rescue comes around, and I finally began seeing the promise of the MCs.

I finally got into the stride of the novel very late, and that's a shame. I'm now into it and I'll probably continue reading the series. My only regret was the potential storytelling that didn't happen early on, revolving around the rules of the world and the exploration of any and all possible loopholes in the restrictions. Hoards and hoards bore me unless we've got some truly amazing viewpoints. The amaze factor wasn't here for most of the novel, but there were some very cool moments, placing this firmly in the category of immensely serviceable epic fantasy with still-good potential with a somewhat uninspiring beginning.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Rising (The Alchemy Wars, #2)The Rising by Ian Tregillis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know, I just can't tell whether this novel just happens to have solved any of the issues of the one directly prior to it, whether I preferred it because it was filled with a lot less outright torture, whether this just happened to tickle all my funnybones at exactly the right time, or whether I've just gotten used to the writing style and it just doesn't bother me anymore.

Any way I look at it, though, I loved this second novel. I had no issues with any of the main characters, even if mr. robot suddenly changed his name to Daniel. Wtf? Anyway. It doesn't matter. He's still awesome.

Longchamp turns out to be one hell of a military leader and the blood and guts sections are mercifully spread out and don't overwhelm the flow of the text. That being said, it injected quite a bit of life in the tale.

Berenice, as untrustworthy as she is, made a truly interesting and wonderful addition to this novel. I liked her much better here than in the first, but that may be mostly because she redeemed herself by the end of the first, at least as a cool character. :)

More than anything, the denouement of this novel was truly fantastic. It's one thing to have disparate characters doing their own things for wildly different reasons, but it's essential that the whole package gets giftwrapped and handed to us, the eager readers. What can I say? The payoff was DELICIOUS.

There were a TON of great reversals and high-tension moments throughout the novel. It is a gem of pacing.

But most of all, the end of this novel was what I expected to happen at the end of the first novel, so now, all my faith has been restored. Hell, I wouldn't have minded at all if The Mechanical and The Rising get re-released as a single novel. Or who knows, include the third in as well, once it gets released. And then we'll all sigh a grand sigh of relief. :)

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The House of Shattered Wings (Dominion of the Fallen, #1)The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After a strong start, I was delighted to feel a little sympathy for the devil, revelling in a prodigal use of magic, the temptations and the promise of learning a new magical craft, but soon after, I wondered why we were stuck in the house...

And then the book turned into a murder mystery! Oh! Fallen angels and the Jade Emperor and even more all mixed into a multiple mythos pot and we've got rivalries between the houses becoming more and more prominent.

All well and good. Sort of.

The problem I ran into, almost immediately, was neither the premise nor the setting or even the tension. There was plenty of action and things moved out of the house and into Paris. Yeah! Cool, right?

No, the problem was the characters. None of them managed to really stand out except by nature of the baggage that comes along with them. Morning Star? Okay, no baggage there. Even that wouldn't have been a big problem had all the fallen angels had a bit more grit, depth, and creative differentiation between them. What happened to Morning Star, himself, felt like a huge letdown. Immortals, Semi-Immortals, and Mortals using magic is all well and good, but when you start blurring the lines without extremely good and interesting reasons, it kinda loses tension for me and then I just started wondering if there was any reason for it all.

Why fight for the honour or survival of the houses? I lost interest.

Unfortunately, I liked how it began and I was invested in the characters. I realized rather quickly that this was mainly a character-driven novel, so the strengths should have been focused there or at least in some rather more interesting events that helped put the characters in the types of conflicts that aren't just blood and guts but also develops their character. It's not that much to ask for, is it?

Even the climax, however overtly interesting and full of intrigue, predicated upon being invested in either the House or in the MCs. Maybe it's just me, but I just wasn't all that invested. I really wanted to like the novel from the initial promise.

There's a lot of ways it could have gone, but instead we've got a bunch of normal folk (who happen to be magical fighters, fallen angels, or in communion with the dead, when they're not hiding behind the walls of their fortresses). Like I said, the premise was promising. Maybe a firmer grounding in Paris, full of better immersion, could have saved the characters. Perhaps a few stronger plot-lines and deeper exploration of one or two of the hearts of the minor characters. I don't know. I just wanted a lot more than just talking and explaining interspersed between admittedly cool magic and otherwise forgettable action scenes.

It just didn't stand out that much by the end, but it wasn't as if it was an incompetent novel. It wasn't completely unentertaining. The main twist was okay, but the novel obviously feels like a setup for a very long series that's still holding its cards close to its chest.

I'm not certain I'm interested enough to continue, unfortunately.

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Carrion ComfortCarrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I'm changing my final score on this novel from a solid 3 to a generous 4 stars, because the book was JUST THAT UNPREDICTABLE.

That's an odd thing to say as a re-read, no?

There's lots of places where the novel easily deserves a 5 star, just on reflection, alone, and since this came out nearly 30 years ago I'm not going to fuss too much over spoilers.

Do You Like Chess?

Then this novel is for you.

Do you like mind-vampires that look, feel, and act like Donald Drumpf, Conservative Religious Nutsos, Concentration Camp Masters, or quiet, unassuming matrons who take on entire inner-city gangs?

Then this novel is for you.

Do you also like long and rambling adventures populated by normal folk caught up in the nightmare of marionettes, either trying to escape the nightmare or get revenge for the things that had been done to them? As in Full-Blown Epic-Length rambling and character-development-through-action for almost 900 pages, with a nearly uncountable number of reversals, sad deaths, and improbable successes?

Then this novel is for you.

Honestly, I never had any issues with anything in particular. This was a pretty epic horror novel filled with tons of mind-jumping, mind and body controlling, and history. The focus on the details is what made it pretty damn awesome, but that's what horror is all about.

If I were to put my issue into words, I'd still have a hard time, because its faults were also its strengths. It was unpredictable.

I can't say I liked most of the characters, and it was really hard to actually enjoy being in the minds of the baddies, but Melanie was a real treat. Saul, more than anyone, was complex and multifaceted and sits in my mind, as back when I first read this when it was new, as the quintessential portrait of a nazi-hunter/vampire-hunter. Hell, I've been judging all other novels with the trope by this gold standard ever since.

I'm glad I re-read this, but my god it was long. There was so much, by my older and jaded eyes, that I think could have been cut right the hell out, but it was a horror novel first and foremost, and having a long build-up before the missiles come and destroy the island (or whatever) is still what we seek in the style.

If you want a very long and interesting ride, a near perfect diversion with lots of sex, horror, and a cast of baddies with zero moral fortitude and the undercurrent that they *might* get what's coming to them, then I really recommend this novel. :)

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Monday, March 7, 2016

BintiBinti by Nnedi Okorafor
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed the novella's grounding in cultural differences and the twist of a strong math "Harmonizer" tech, and while I also appreciate the fundamental message of acceptance, I had a really hard time with the message's the execution here.

Don't get me wrong, the writing was good and I loved the firm opening leading to a great horror tale set in a well-imagined SF universe, complete with a reverse fish-out-of-water twist. 

It's what happened afterward that I take umbrage.

I like tales of acceptance. It is a core trope of SF, for heaven's sake.

What I don't like is a completely insane turnaround in a plot firmly rooted in terrorism and attempted mass-murder of [ a whole university after the aliens killed almost everyone on Binti's spacecraft. And it was all done because the chief lost his stinger.]

Where is the consequence of these horrible actions? [Oh, we're slapping the wrists of the scientists who lopped off the chief's stinger and exiling them to some other place in this galaxy of worlds. And all that death that you aliens caused? Yeah, fine, whatever, here's the stinger and by the way, you want to go to school here?]

WTF.

Sorry, this might have been pulled off better had it been a much longer format with a lot more than a hate-and-prejudice exhortation of death in place of a meet-cute. Perhaps an adventure a-la Enemy Mine where they have to learn, slowly, to tolerate each other. And THEN end with [Hi, Binti, child ambassador.]

And don't get me started on Why Mud Cures All Ails. [The aliens are high-tech. They even managed to alter Binti at the molecular level. Are you seriously telling me that they couldn't figure out that a bit of mud would save all their people's ailments and turn Binti into some honoured demigod? Read my lips: Deus Ex Machina.]

Other than these fairly huge issues, though, I thought the novella was charming and well-written and it might have been something quite glorious with a bit more meat and plot. I'm glad I read it. :)
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