Wednesday, August 31, 2016

King JohnKing John by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I decided to work through the least memorable or least beloved plays while I'm working through the more beloved histories, and frankly, I don't think this one was bad at all.

Sure, there's no Magna Carta, even though it would have been signed one year before the King's death, but as it has been said many times before, no one in Shakespeare's time really gave a hoot about the document.

So why did this flop of a play even get written? For it was a flop at its inception and no one really wants to see it on stage, now. Are there any redeeming virtues?

Hell yeah. Philip the Bastard. Many soliloquies, the last line in the play, and my god what a mouth he has. :) He has the righteous Plantagenet fire, the hot breast, the military and manly and steadfast nobility that everyone loves and honors... and yet, despite that, he's a Bastard.

Let me back up. Most bastards in any of the Shakespearian plays are real bastards. This is the only one that is truly noble, through and through. Wow! What a departure! Plus, he was pretty show-stealing every time he popped his head up on the page, with great quips, true heart, and utter loyalty to the king.

Plus we get to see a pretty spry old woman Eleanor of Aquitaine. But that's just for us history buffs. She really doesn't do much except support son the King's decisions and help raise the fortune of Philip the Bastard. :) Which is delightful enough.

The rest of the play, though, does appear to have the right kind of propagandist flavor, turning King John into a Protestant by default because he chooses to snub the Cardinal who then proceeds to excommunicate him, but in my eye, that's just the overt window dressing.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with the story in the play, either. There's wars, reconciliations, humorous dealings at Anjou, bitter sorrow over Arthur, and more war, ending with the declaration that there will never be another successful invasion of England.

Pretty rousing. I was entertained. So why the hate?

*shrug* maybe people are just idiots. :) Great characters, good story. I guess this is just one of those cases that because Shakespeare wrote it, it must be brilliant instead of just fine, and therefore we must, obviously, rate it low. :)

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Timon of AthensTimon of Athens by William Shakespeare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of all his plays, this is probably the most maligned, it being perhaps a collaboration with Middleton, but any way you look at it, it is a striking piece.

The simple plot gives way to wild passions and simple fortunes and some of the broadest brush strokes I've ever seen. It's also as stark as death.

From great fortune and flatterers surrounding him, Timon is the absolute Good Man who gives away all his fortune to hear the praise of assholes. When he loses it all and asks for help from all his so called friends, they spit in his eye. He goes mad, hating all mankind and goes to live as the basest beggar, wildly exhorting all comers to do evil upon everyone else, to break and spite and die.

Finding fortune under his feet, even as he's digging tubers to eat, serves him nothing at all. He hates, and gives away his wealth to old friends who happened upon him, to whores, thieves, and lickspittles, all to just get rid of them.

The bile from Timon's mouth is pretty awesome. The man has gone from pure goodness to pure rageful spite overnight, and one thing that most readers or viewers of this play might discover is that there is no third act. Its message is as plain and stark as day, even if some of the secondary characters make interesting counterpoints, such as in not wanting so as to not to welcome either happiness or grief, or the last note in the music, where compromise and peace has got to be a better note to go out on than Timon's.

For when he dies, he dies hating all humanity, and there is no quarter, no justice, and only abject nihilism.

Of course people aren't going to like this play. :)

BUT.

If you're of a certain twisted temperament and like a twisted tale that defies expectations, such as an esoteric bad horror fan or a devotee of Samuel Beckett, then you might just discover that this little jewel might fit in your dark-hearted crown, or at least in a shit-stain'd seat of honor.

'Tis dark. Very dark. Expect no light or quarter. :)


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Lancaster and York: The Wars of the RosesLancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All right. First of all, no amount of quick re-telling can ever do actual history any justice, but suffice to say, The War of the Roses was a ROYAL MESS.

Literally. You can trace its roots back to Richard II when Henry IV deposed him, setting up the later battles between York and Lancaster, but this is somewhat disingenuous. People loved Hal, later to become King Henry V, and they were all amazed at how much of France he had won for England, capping off a truly heroic entry and the close end of the Hundred Years War.

And then he died. Of the flux. Horribly. Leaving another kid to be the king, just like Richard II. Only this time, Henry VI was set up on his mother's side to madness, a common malady of kings, and that, combined with horribly overbearing uncles and "helpers" to the throne, a power struggle begins, pulling this way and that and nobody really blames the poor king when the conflicts break out. Again, and again, and again. Then somewhere down the line, after Margaret of Anjou, his wife, is pregnant, Henry VI has a mental breakdown and she takes over, impressively, but not flawlessly. Conflicts abound. Edward IV is crowned king with the help of Warwick even though Henry VI is still kicking, and even though it begins well, Warwick and Edward start baring fangs at each other and yet MORE war happens. Which is a shame. I kinda liked both Warwick and Edward. Both were pretty much the heroes that stopped all the previous stupid conflicts that was dragging England through the mud.

And then, after some really great women power between a few queens including Margaret, the impossible eventually happens. Peace.

Well, until Richard III kills all the Heirs and crowns himself king until Henry VII smites him down, but that's all ancient history, right? Right?

Well even though I spelled this out in horribly simplistic terms, do NOT assume that this book is anything simple. Tons of names, battles, and character studies of kings and notables are extant. This is pretty damn exhaustive. And, I might say, exhausting.

I recommend other works if you are new to the 1455-1485 period in England. It's bloody and sad and horrific and sad. But if you are familiar with the broad strokes, then there are much worse reference points for you. I got a lot out of it, but since I'm not an expert in the field, what I do understand is dwarfed by all the little things that passed me by.

One thing I can say is that my knowledge has increased quite a bit, and isn't that what we really look for in a good History? It's not extremely focused, but it gives us some background before Henry VI loses France and sparks the real beginning of the War. The rest is pretty comprehensive to my layman's eye, though, and I'm satisfied even if even I found it a bit dry.

And now, I'm set to run through all the Shakespearian Histories for this time! :) Yay! (Well, for a second time, anyway. :) There's nothing like a bit of deep immersion to bring out the inner geek. :)

Who knows, I think I'll run through the rest of the Histories, too, for good measure and variety. :) lol

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Richard IIRichard II by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm on a history kick, so what better way to supplement the immersion into The War Of The Roses than to dive into Shakespeare?

Richard II begins the weakness of kings, where if one could be deposed, yet more can follow. Divine right be damned... should we just rely on might?

It's kind of funny, reading this for the second time after so many years and other historical accounts, just how propagandist this play really is. I suppose that shouldn't be a surprise, since it had only been a little over a century prior from the time it was written, and Elizabeth is the product of so much Lancaster and York strife that stems right from these humble and piteous beginnings.

Frankly, I'm really surprised at the balance of this play, where Richard, boy king, makes monstrously poor decisions and banishes Henry Bolingbroke and later steals all his lands to fund a war in Ireland which goes disastrously. Henry Bolingbroke returns from his banishment on such tidings, his lands and monies gone, his father dead, and he sues to get redress from the wrongs done to him. He has good reason.

But. In deposing the king, it opens the weakness of all kings and puts the question to every mind in England... can we ever stop? If it is this easy to depose one, just how easily can we do it again, and again, and again? And indeed, this play is perfectly historical in that respect, even if the man Richard was actually pretty good with finances and stopped fighting for war in France because England couldn't support it. *sigh*

The thing about Shakespeare is this: DRAMA QUEEN. :)

The outcome of Richard's abdication is a long-drawn out drama-fest. Oh woe is me, oh woe is me. It makes for great spectacle, that's for sure, and we even get one of the longest soliloquies in Shakespeare right from Richard's mouth. Henry is only better in his sorrow that all such things came to pass in that he had less page-time. :) I hated the man in life, but love in him death, indeed.

As a side note, I loved the scenes with Henry's uncle and his wife trying to pardon their son's near-treachery. My god, the pathos... it's taken so far it could easily be comedic relief, and I'm certain that some productions of this play could turn it into just that.

Same goes for old Gaunt's ramblings, which are tragic because he knew that Richard would disenfranchise Henry, but that's the beauty of these plays. They're always entertaining and perhaps a bit over the top, but they're definitely not simple or simply interpreted.

Indeed, you can find plenty in this whole play to support the True King or Justice, or change your mind all over again and switch sides.

Oddly enough, since I had just read King Henry IV part one this month, which directly follows the events in Richard II, I was horrified and bemused by Henry's several references to having bloody hands and washing them after Richard's death, because some twenty years later, as the king, he suffers from boils and agues on his hands and face, almost as if it is divine retribution for deposing the rightful king, and he always keeps gloves on and rubs his hands incessantly. Perfect setup and execution. :) But in this case, I'm doing it backwards. :)

Fun stuff, and so amusing, even if it is propaganda! Shakespeare *was* always walking a tightrope. :)

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories, #1)Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Romance and Regency go hand in hand, but then, so does Art.

All the most talented ladies are skilled in the art of subterfuge and seeming, are they not?

Well, not Jane. She's conflicted about using Glamour and refuses to make herself seem more pretty than she is, while also being rather more talented than the rest of her family. Sure, its a common thing to know and use Glamour in the Regency era. Didn't you know? Magic is real, and no only can you create wonderful murals and play wonderful music without the gross aids of base paints or the piano forte, but it also gives us a tapestry to work out our own personal dramas.

How delightful!

I've always liked stories that bring up the conflict between lies and bringing forth truth from them. Passion and the heart were always best served through fiction and not stark reality. :)

As an opener into the series, it serves delightfully as a simple romance with silly girls getting into trouble and eligible men causing so much pain and ruckus. *sigh* But this is the nature of reality. *sigh* The novel isn't the most brilliant that I've read, and it's simplicity serves the magic more than the other way around, and that's fine.

Still, don't trust the blurb that this is much like the books listed there. Think Urban Fantasy meets Regency Romance and you'll be fine. :)

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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Crashing Heaven (Station #1)Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love my Cyberpunk. I love Post-Cyberpunk even more. This here is a very well-crafted Hard-
SF novel that is a surprisingly easy read.

I can blame most of the ease and the goodness squarely on the interactions between Jack and Fist. Jack's been screwed over by the Pantheon's contracts and Fist, his erstwhile puppet, his slaved AI, is scheduled to legally take over poor Jack. The war between the Totality (The post-mortality humans who had given themselves godlike virtual powers) and the Pantheon (The machine legal entity and alien that has quashed the chaos and the squabbling of the egos) ended with the Totality forced into civilized behavior and low men on the totem pole always seem to get stuck with the shaft.

That's where Jack, the stand-in for what might be loosely called a Hard-Boiled Detective, but isn't, or isn't really such, has been saddled with a huge debt to the now defunct corporation that had given him the extremely good use of a virtual puppet, an excellent hacking machine, but after the contract defaulted, he was left in debt to the last surviving entity, and since he had no funds or collateral, the puppet will soon own Jack's body and mind. Leaving Jack... nowhere.

If someone told me this was going to be a strange and f-k'd up twist on the story of Pinocchio set in a time and place where the shades of the uploaded dead haunt the overlay-mesh, the virtual view of reality, where gods play long games in the ubiquitous and utterly pervasive servers that humanity lives within, then I'd have said... "Wow. That sounds freaking amazing." (No one did.)

Of course, if I had been given the spoilers that follow this little setup, or at least the idea that Jack and Fist find common ground in the short time they have left, that they hunt down the people behind the conspiracies, to get out from under the machinations of gods and aliens, and that they don't always remain in hard place, but manage to hold their own against amazing odds, then I'd have absolutely no reason to worry about whether I'd enjoy the tale.

As a matter of fact, I was AMAZED. It's full of awesomely tight storytelling, great conversations, fast plotting, and of course so much happens that propels this story into the stratosphere that I was left with my jaw dropping through most of the tale.

But let me add a small caveat: Out of all SF, I appreciate and love near-singularity or post-post cyberpunk tales the most out of the entire genre. Anything that sparks my imagination and revs my engines this much is going to be an automatic "Hey You Guys!" But don't let that fool you overmuch.

This one is tight and sharp as hell and a pure delight to glide through. It really ought to be on the short list for anyone's "must awe" list. I've still got Jack and Fist in my head, playing around and learning to live and trust one another. It's a classic. These are truly wonderful characters that won't even be outdone by the huge action scenes and surprises. So what do I say to that? I say Rock ON. :)

I can't believe that this is Al Robertson's debut. Something tells me that he's going to be on my "must read immediately" list from now on. :)

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Time Siege (Time Salvager #2)Time Siege by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel is one of nearly never-ending battles upon the benighted Earth of the future. Corporate greed and the fall of civilization has led time travelers to scavenge the past for the resources they no longer have in the future. It's the ultimate Zero-Sum Game.

That being said, this novel picks up after our MC disgraced Time Traveler James has drawn a line in the sand on the side of the poor remnants of future Earth who are just a few steps above savagery and are surrounded by peoples just as afraid and willing to go to war over the remaining resources. Plus we've got the added and much more difficult conflicts with the Corporations as well as the other Chronmen who serve them.

I think I'll always like Grace the best out of all the characters. She's the super-egotistical inventor of the time-travel and the laws that everyone follows when it comes to time-travel. She really plays fast and loose with them, too. :) Elise is fine as a leader and the fixture of hope when it comes to curing the disease that has nearly wiped out humanity, dragged out of her original time period, like Grace, as part of the Big Guns to solve everyone's problems, but it's Grace's personality I like most. :)

Anyone who likes a lot of war and conflict and action should really pick up these books, and they should really get into this one even more. Bad situations follow even worse ones regularly, and we even get to see James drink himself into a stupor over all the things he's gone through and need to earn his sobriety chip over it. Probably the best part of all the action surrounds all the tech surrounding the Chronmen. Pretty flashy stuff. Pew Pew. :)

Not to spoil anything, there is an interesting turn of plot, even if it's not unpredictable, either when it comes to Elise or to all the poor people under siege, but that's what book three is going to be for. :)

My only complaint is how I wish I liked James more and how I wish these time-travel books had more history in them. As they are, it's just a few jumps in future history with varied successes and failures. They're relatively ineffective. Most of the action remains, even with this great tech, in the dystopian future full of war. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know. I can at least respect the author for sticking to his guns. Literally. :)

Action, please!

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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Echo (Alex Benedict, #5)Echo by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historians In Space!!!!

Well, if anyone has followed this far in the series, you know this is nothing new. It's nearly 30,000 years after humanity has spread from Earth and we're all over the galaxy and there are very very few alien species out there. But humans being humans, we fall apart and lose touch and certain facts, places, and even people tend to drop off the map and the history books and any other kind of archive. This is known. Plus, space and time is very big. It's easy to lose track of anything. And that's where Chase and Alex come in, Space Opera Slueths, historians, adventurers, crack-shots, detectives, and assassin foilers. :) And let's not forget their trusty AI to help them out on the technical stuff, no?

None of that is particularly new, of course, but the plots continue to surprise and get better with each installment.

We dive deep into a mystery tablet left to Alex by an eccentric explorer. We're fighting off assassins set on keeping the discoveries under wraps. We hunt for tragic missing persons and the secrets they hold. And we even get a heavy dose of plain-ole world exploration with the demise of lost human settlements, possible traces of alien civilizations, and the final reveal as to what caused the tragic end of a certain individual and a whole lot more.

The novel kinda started out slow for me, but past a certain point, it was truly hard to put down again. I'm so glad I kept with the series. It's truly a Space-Opera potboiler par-excellence. :)

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The Cygnus VirusThe Cygnus Virus by T.J. Zakreski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the opportunity to read this ARC!

I was rather interested in the tale from the beginning of lost love and Tarot card chapters, but what really caught my interest was the almost Philip K. Dick VALIS-type twist going on soon after, with godlike overtones from distant stars, computer viruses, oddly detailed virtual realities (or Alternate Realities), and crazy religions bringing the clone craze to the Jesus Genome.

And it doesn't end there, either, because theres a great number of interesting plot twists and cool character colloquialisms and even more fun dialects, too, dude.

I'm not just throwing out the whole late PKD vibe on a whim, here. There's a lot of cool stuff going on here that should appeal to all fans, including the paranoia, the religious freaks, the heavy mix of technology and mysticism, time travel, universe building, and Good and Evil.

And did I mention that each chapter links to a corresponding Tarot card?

This is one of those cool experimental SF novels that also has a clear and fun and wild plot that doesn't disappoint by remaining upon the straight-line obvious conclusion.

Not that it really means all that much these days, but there is a lot of graphic sexual scenes, too, so if you want a little wild side with your mindfuq, then dive right in, dude.

I had a really great time with this one, and I will be certain to read more by the author in the future. Seriously, dude!



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Friday, August 26, 2016

Martians, Go HomeMartians, Go Home by Fredric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow I didn't know what to expect except that this was heralded as one of the best humorous alien invasion novels of all time. Upon reading, it worked quite nicely as pure satire. It didn't even have a tongue in cheek vibe to it. Instead, overnight, we've got 60 million little green aliens from Mars standing around in our living rooms heckling everything we do.

Yikes! This is the complete reversal of MST3K!

And nothing is off limits. Humanity is their version of animals in a zoo, and we can't even blast them away since they just teleport by thought. Yikes!

Better yet, things get wonky in a completely different way, too. Writers and fans of writers who write about writing will get a big kick out of this twist. No spoilers. But it was delightfully hackneyed.

Now, in case you're wondering, it really doesn't have much in common with Mars Attacks, but you know, I like both of these, so for me it's a win/win.

This is a great quick read, and it's thoroughly enjoyable. Absolutely fun, fast paced, and utterly solipsistic. Not that it's a bad thing, mind you. In fact, in this novel, it's pretty fantastic.

Yay for SF humor!


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Assholes: A TheoryAssholes: A Theory by Aaron James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm glad I went into this with eyes wide opened as to the widespread prevalence and ubiquitous presence of assholes.

I mean, honestly, we all know one, or two, or sometimes a full office full of them. And even if we don't have many real life line-cutters, traffic-weavers, or conversation killers in our lives, at least we have Trump. And high-level bankers. And Rush. And practically the entire existing vocal portion of the political process in America. We have lots and lots and lots of good examples.

What didn't really have was a comprehensive attempt to define and refine all the aspects about what truly makes up an Asshole. Enter this book. The extremely nerdy logical equivalent of a loud fart. Not humorous in the way most of us like fart jokes, mind you. It's just so nerdy it still had me chuckling the entire time.

Assholes are people with entrenched senses of entitlement.

Pretty easy. They will sometimes give you long winded reasons why they do asshole things, giving lip service to the basic moral equivalency of cooperation and knowing that we're all in the same boat, but they still go ahead and pull an asshole move anyway. Assholes can be that person who always complains to the management when his McD fries aren't fresh enough. They're also the people who perpetuate the idea of the Noblese, making sure you know that you deserve so much more while taking the lion's share of everything. They are the people that we wish we could curtail with laws and restrictions and sanctions, but because the things they're doing are socially reprehensible, and not precisely unlawful, we all just look on in disgust as they get away with it.

Fun stuff.

I most appreciated the sociological ramifications and possible means to put assholes in their place. :)

Totally recommend, dude. Especially for surfers.

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In the Lion's MouthIn the Lion's Mouth by Michael Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this one. On the one hand, this space opera is a pretty deep and interesting play on myths and especially the Iliad as seen as an enormous space civil war, featuring the same characters we've grown to love in the previous novels, Bridget ban, her daughter, and Donovan, a man of unique talents. (Multiple personalities and each personality's independence upon different parts of his body at the same time.)

Sound interesting? Well this is space opera with poetry, twisted conventions, literary endowments, and bit explosions. It's war, after all, even if the MCs don't want to be dragged into it. At all. I can respect this novel on a many levels and even raise my hands and praise hallelujah because its a big flip off to all the jerks that say that Space Opera is sub-par literature. This isn't sub-par by a long shot. In fact, I'm certain that anyone would do very well to sit down with these novels and analyze them just to show off to yourself that you're able to follow all the interesting twists going on here.

From a pure enjoyment standpoint, or if you're just looking for a light space opera with explosions and explorations and strife, you might not get as much out of this novel. There *are* a lot of interesting and subtle conceits, but sometimes they feel a bit mismatched with the scope of the action. Almost as if they could very easily get lost among the noise. I still enjoyed it, but I respect it more than I was enthralled by it.

It was decent. :)

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Up Jim RiverUp Jim River by Michael Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The novel begins and ends with the Hound and a question. Still, as such novels go, whether they're adventures or Space-Operas or many-vista'd hues of gorgeous untamed planets, they're full of stories and stories within stories.

This one has all of the above, and for those who really enjoyed Bridget Ban and Donovan from the previous novel, you're in for a treat.

Not that you'll be seeing all that much of the missing Bridget, but you will see a lot of her daughter who's searching for her. Even the Hound has given up.

My reaction to the novel? It was decent. I liked it more than the first, strangely enough, and there was plenty of interesting language stuff in this one, too. After all, the Holy Search for the Grail is ACTUALLY Coriander. Both are lost in deep time and have joined each other as mythical legends of the greatest of all quest items.

Coriander. Alas. Coriander. :)

Fun stuff. The action is good, too, and so was Donovan. Gotta love split personalities. :)

I hope to enjoy the next with as much fun in it. :)

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The January DancerThe January Dancer by Michael Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know about this one. I mean, it feels pretty awesome on so many levels, and yet the characters kinda fell a bit flat for me.

I totally recommend this novel for the wild and weird adventure of the Immovable Force, aka the Dancer as it bends the wills and minds of entire civilizations, the world-building of the Rift, a lawless portion of space and it's civil war and so oddly Irish characters, and the sense that so much is going on that it's really hard to follow the enormity of it. Drunks, scam artists, freedom fighters, and cops. This novel really has it all.

But there was something about the threads of the story that didn't really satisfy, for me, nor the characters. January, the captain, seemed kinda bland to me. The Hound seemed pretty interesting and the Pup, more so, but what can I really say about the Seducer?

It just felt... icky, somehow. Nothing overt. And maybe it was just me.

On the other hand, I really loved the quirkiness of the language that evolved in the galactic society. It was particularly wonderful: so many weird ideas were pulled out of our context and were turned into enormous and odd memes that get passed around like old sawhorses, and I had a great time with all of them.

Plus, there is the Immovable Force, the Dancer, too, that acts like the Spear of Destiny. Whoever holds it shall rule. Pre-human artifact or no, it's fascinating. Maybe I just wanted to see something more interesting happen with it, too.

Decent read and enough to make me continue with the trilogy. :) There's definitely a lot more good going on than blah. :)

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday LifeA Million Years in a Day: A Curious History of Everyday Life by Greg Jenner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For what this is, (a witty accounting of technological progress through recorded history,) it's quite excellent.

Of course, you must be naturally curious and willing to put up with a lot of excrement jokes, too, but hey! That's what history is all about! A never-ending avalanche of shit.

Well, maybe I'm mostly talking about the Medievals, but the Renaissance and even the Romans were pretty gross.

Oh my. Don't get me wrong, it's not all about social advancement without soap or where to put your feces. We've also got telephones and clocks, too! Yay! :) You see, it's not *entirely* accurate to boil down our technological advances to clean linen and bums. Just mostly.

Seriously, this should be a must read for anyone interested in history and science, but if you're already pretty conversant, it's still a fun read just for the wit.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Demonists (Demonist, #1)The Demonists by Thomas E. Sniegoski
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm rating this purely upon personal enjoyment and the surprise that one feels when a certain book transforms before your eyes from a serviceable attempt at turning a tabloid TV show crew into an exorcist drama into a serious cabal of a supernatural team of demon hunters into a freaking awesome surprise turnaround for Theo that's all about the nasty surprises waiting just below the flesh. :)

Horror? Yes. Urban Fantasy? Yes.

It diverges from the usual UF in that we're never completely locked-in to one PoV. We get pretty complete scenes of backstories for all of the big players, including the most active villain. It reminds me of the more traditional horror storytellings of the 70's and 80's, but with the added twist of the much better pacing and progression of our modern styles.

As well as some nice leveling up. :) I mean, seriously, Theo is OP. :)

And now I'm hooked. I'm going to be awaiting all the additions to this series in pure popcorn abandon.

Fun is a quality no one should underrate. :)

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FreenetFreenet by Steve Stanton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a rather interesting novel in several ways, and it had potential to kick some serious butt, but the last portion of the novel, while interesting in its own right, didn't fit with the grand bulk of the first.

Follow me on this one. What starts out as a pretty cool romance between a girl way out of her element and a low-tech boy on his technologically backward and culturally strange desert world then becomes a pretty cool conspiracy in space and an exciting resolution. It was pretty darn okay and I got into the characters just fine and felt for them.

It's everything that happens afterward, with the media and the corporations that knocked me for a loop.

We've already established that the girl is deeply linked to the entire galactic network, she's lied about what she is, (an Omnidroid, a construct of human flesh and tech,) and that she was sexually abused and so it sets the stage for strained relations. It's a romance, though, so we have high hopes that Zen, who is apparently pretty much perfect, will both save her and her heart.

What only shows up late in the book, however, the the introduction of Doorways through time and space and peoples who upload their consciousnesses, etc., which I don't have any issues with, per se, because these are ideas that are pretty common in SF.

My issue is with how this wishy-washy Reporter-Personality swings so easily, back and forth, between such wild-ass stories about what the Omnidroids are, first stirring negative opinions, then championing their cause, and then, after one stupid conversation with a corporation head (one who had invented the doors through space and time), just goes off and changes his mind again and it ENDS THE NOVEL.

WTF? The whole novel became something else in the last half, and then far from easing us into the big reveal which might have been pretty cool if it had been a major part of the rest of the novel, it just slaps a big band-aid on the tale and says its done.

I was sitting at a 4.5 or maybe even a 5 depending on how strong the ending would be.

Maybe that portion would have been just fine in a different story, or even in a different novel, but here it felt like poorly executed Iain M. Banks perception twist and it just didn't fit the rest of the tale.

I'm not that used to reading books with endings this bad. The particulars are fine, the ideas are fine, the characters are fine, but how the end reveal fits in with everything else? Not good. If we were aiming for a subtle godlike entity in the beginning, it should have ended subtle. Otherwise, match scales.

And the last part had no romance at all. The investment I'd put into the MC's was wasted, too. Sure, they're in the spotlight, but they're pretty much out of the picture.

I don't know which is worse. *sigh*

The worst part of this is pretty easy: It could have been pretty damn good. Where was the editor?



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Monday, August 22, 2016

Inversions (Culture, #6)Inversions by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rather than focus on a grand scale space-opera, I think Banks wanted to dump us into a backwater gravity-well and let us have a sense of what it would be like to tour as a doctor, perhaps Culture trained, among the crude creatures of a Medieval period.

Mind you, I didn't quite pick up any definitive proof of actual Culture interference, mind you, because our PoV is actually from the apprentice to the good doctor who hailed from foreign parts, but I think the guess is a very good one, anyway. :)

So what of the story?

Actually, this one shares in the great reversals of our understanding, just like the other Culture novels. We go along with interesting tales only to have a reveal that shatters our understanding of what we read. That stuff is fantastic, by the way. :)

In this case, meet a doctor who befriends the King and practically ALL of the court and the nobles mistrust and plot against her. If feels like one hell of a romance, honestly. I got into all the characters and loved the banter, rooted for the good guys and hoped all the others would get their just deserts.

It's a simple tale on the surface, yet there's always past horrors to work through and there happens to be a certain Captain of the Guard from where the good doctor came from who is out to bring her back or to justice, traveling all the way across the country. What exactly is going on?

Well that is a great deal of this book's charm, from the opening scene with a torturer to the end where everything gets inverted.

Do you fancy a bit of standing on your head?

I'm very impressed by the tale even if there isn't that much SF or Fantasy to hang your hat on. It reads mostly like a Medieval tale. With some rather interesting outcomes, I might add. :)

It's well worth the read. :)

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The Obelisk Gate (The Broken Earth, #2)The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mind cannot stop dancing with joy after reading this. You might say that I'm dancing with Father Earth, enjoying the reveals as one would enjoy the unearthing of so many gems of storytelling awesomeness.

The world-building is still sharp as ever, and so many questions have answers in this second book. We're given an amazing shape for amazing things to come. I'm not merely or only shaken to my core by the amazing scenes of earth alteration, depth of histories, or revealed enormity of what is really going on, here; actually, I'm left in awe by the scope and the careful planning and execution of the Author's Mad Skillz.

Essun and Nassun are wonderful characters, of course, and there are times when Nassun almost steals the spotlight for me, but here's the real surprise: I can't believe how awesome Hoa's story is turning out to be, or that of all the Stone Eaters. This is what SF designed for. Awe. Shocking audacity. Scope and Vision. Rocking Ideas.

So we're descending further than geological processes, headed straight into the quantum loam. :) I'm laughing my head off with Alabaster's thrown bone when he describes the spaces between atoms, the networking forces, as "Magic". :)

Of course, any sufficiently advanced technology that allows men and women to become effectively immortal and not constrained by matter is Magic, right, Stone Eaters? lol

Essun continues to transform even more than her previous love, Alabaster, and it's a deep process that's nearly continental in it's impact, but that's where most of my love is going. Nassun's transformation into one hell of an anti-hero nearly matches how much appreciation I have for Schaffa's changes. I sympathize for everyone, and no one is disappointing. :)

The final action in this book is dark, that's for certain, but even now I can't stop grinning and being so damn awed by what happened.

This is why I read. This is why I'm a fanboy. This BLOWS ME AWAY. :)

Hell, this stuff is the stuff of LIFE. :) Totally Awesome!

Book 2? It may not be as mind-altering as the first, but together, they're something much greater than their parts. :) Now how in hell will I be able to wait for book 3 to find out what happens to the moon? This is breathtaking in conception. :)

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Underground AirlinesUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just imagine for a moment an establishment spook and modern slave wrapped into one, pressed into service to hunt down and reel back in other escaped slaves, and you've got yourself a tracker right out of the bad old days of pre-civil war. A black man forced to do the devil's work.

Now imagine him in our modern world, where the American Civil War had ended in an economic truce and slavery is alive and well and made so very efficient.

Hell, just imagine how easy it'd be to track down every slave with GPS and have a world tweeting happy PR banalities to hide the horrible truth of slums in our brightest cities, labor camps like private prisons, communities openly and proudly racist and happy to thumb their noses at the rest of the world at just how they've managed to fool the IRS, twist the legal establishment, and all the while tell themselves just how humane they are to the downtrodden.

Wait... is this an alternate timeline? An excellent What-If novel? A deeply horrific and oppressive dystopia so very much like the world we've got now?

Yes. Fancy that.

But the point is, we're living it through the devil's eyes, the scared black man in this nightmare world who is forced to do unspeakable things to men and women who should be his brothers, and if you think this is a heavy-handed political tale, then think again. I got sucked right in just fine and loved the story, it's twists and turns. Do you think he finds a way to help his brothers and sisters, and get out of his horrid servitude? Does he infiltrate the Underground Railroad (ahem, sorry, Airline) or does he betray or get betrayed?

Just how complex does this tale get?

Pretty complex. And Very Satisfying. :)

It actually makes me believe that for all the crap we're living through in *this* world, I'm still happy to be *here*.

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Saturday, August 20, 2016

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

Re-Read 8/20/16, the day the Hugo Awards Ceremony is to take place for the novel I voted for. :) Coincidentally, I'll be reading the sequel tomorrow. :)

So was it as good as I remember? Actually, better. But that's mostly because I'm in on the trick and the secret of the MC is is laid bare and the whole novel then becomes a character exploration for me as well as a jaw-dropping mountain-load of quakeworthy World Building and awesome implications.

Since I first read this, I read her trilogy and loved it, but what can I say? I still loved this one even more. It speaks to me right down to the absolutely horrible revelations, the personal impacts, the hopes, the fears, the successes... oh, especially the successes... and of course, the question of WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON. :)

To say this book is full of questions is to say that a Jane Austen book is full of lace. It's kind of obvious. The question is: What the hell is the lace up to?

Jemisin is fantastic for mythology and mythology building, but what is best about this book is the sense of long history and cycles and the deep feeling like it is all headed somewhere huge. And it is. Just let me ask you... What DID happen to the moon? ;)

If you haven't read this yet, then you're a fool. :) It's deeply textured in all ways, and its not just the fact that the gods are chained or that we killed Father Earth's only child. It's pretty obvious that this is a deep time future Earth, too, and everything seems to seriously point toward a mind-blowing explanation beyond recurring extinction events. :) Which happen anyway, so yeah, let's get down to the real reasons, shall we?

WHY. :) Oh so yummy. :)

Looking forward to the awards ceremony tonight. Let's see if my top choice made it! :)


Original Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We have our main character and her shadow, (view spoiler) developing to a final convergence that is a truly wonderful reveal, while leaving us with even greater questions and a truly immense possible conflict. As if supervolcanoes and earthquakes and their control or release weren't enough conflict, right? We've the makings of one of the biggest revenge stories I've ever had the pleasure to read.

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

And so my jaw drops.

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

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


Update 4/27/16

And so now we learn that this novel has been nominated for both the 2016 Hugo and the Nebula!
By my review above, I'm pretty certain I've expressed how much I love this book, and that has not changed one bit. If I was in a position to scream from my soapbox to say to the Nebulas that this is the clear winner, I would. As it *is*, I CAN scream from my soapbox to the Hugos and say it. :)

I mentioned in my review for The Aeronaut's Windlass, another book that also got the Hugo nomination for this year, that there really should be two separate categories for Standalone Novels and another for Novels in a Series, because most series novels have the luxury of taking things extremely slow and build character, setting, and plot in such long sweeping epics that when we look back on them, they fairly overwhelm us if they've done their job right.

Standalone novels can do the same thing, of course, but they have to do so economically and usually with a great deal of panache and brilliance and editing that probably makes it an entirely different kind of beast from the series novels. At this point in the SF/F genres, we have amazing examples of both and we're getting crowded in one single category that more often than not has to artificially balance series novels 3 out of 5 in 2016, crowding out a plethora of brilliant standalone novels.

I'm fairly naturally prejudiced to separate these two forms in my head, because I'm totally invested in the characters and settings in the series, while I'm learning everything new for the first time in the standalone.

When I think of the Hugos, I generally think of standalone novels, but I *know* it isn't true. I've recently finished reading all the Hugo winners and a very significant portion of the nominations all the way back to the start of the award. Still, I feel a bit prejudiced. I want excellent standalone novels to be recognized as such, uncontaminated by preconceptions.

BUT. I also have to make a decision based on just how F***ing Awesome a book is, too, and The Fifth Season, even if it is the first in a new series, is F***ing Awesome.

I'm sure a lot of people felt the same way about Ancillary Justice when it came out, and I can't say that was the wrong choice for that year, either. :) Good is Good is Good is Good.

So regardless of whether the category should be split up or not, out of all the choices we're presented, I think The Fifth Season should shake the whole ceremony up. :)

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Yama's LieutenantYama's Lieutenant by Anuja Chandramouli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From certain internal stories and Hindu myths brought to life, I really wanted to like this work a lot more than I did.

It is ambitious and a great deal happens in both plot and character progression, but for the most part, it's generally only two-directions. Most of the concerns are with the underworld where all the undesirables are sent, Agni, and Yama and Yami's problems with a prophesied marraige, and an epic scale prolonged conflict with the necromancer.

The action scenes are highly amusing, and like I said, I wanted to love the deep immersion in the realm of the Hindu gods, the Three Worlds, and everything.

But.

Even though I know a bit about the gods and the culture, I stumbled across the whole issue of the Uncanny Valley. The kinds of interpersonal conflicts are understandable on one level, but the level of vitriol on one side and the level of devotion on the other just rubbed me wrong. Sometimes, I just caught myself squirming in discomfort. Things were happening that I understood fine on so many levels, and then they mismatched or misfired, and then I was kicked out of the tale at the most inopportune times. Which was a shame. The novel is rather ambitious and impressive, otherwise, and it reads like a very unique and deep epic fantasy with lots of blood and guts and really evil characters and thwarted romance and even just the desire to prevent romance (because it is preordained or otherwise arranged, and badly so).

I think my problem is mainly cultural. If I had been steeped in the world that this story had grown out of, or had at least read tons and tons of similar mythological works, I might have been able to get more out of it. As it was, I only recognized about a dozen of the big names, including Yama and Agni, of course, but other than knowing the basics about them, I was kind of lost as to whether this was a complicated discourse on all the legends that the author grew up with or whether this was a purely original work that only happened to borrow from some of the names and the general situations, such as Yama being the king of the underworld and Agni begin the god of fire.

Was Agni supposed to be a retelling of the original with some differences, or was he supposed to be a separate entity that just happened to share the name and all that fire? Well, I had to table that question and just try to enjoy the story, which I did for the most part.

Unfortunately, I feel like the book kinda defeated me. It's hard to admit, but there it is. Maybe if I eventually come back to it after learning a ton more or find a pocket concordance to trace both themes and names and significance, it wouldn't matter that my sense of the Uncanny Valley was in play. :)

Thanks to the author for providing me this ARC for review! Good luck!

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Friday, August 19, 2016

King Henry IV, Part 1 (Wars of the Roses, #2)King Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Still one of my most favorite histories, or at least part one of perhaps three. ;)

Our favorite wastrel, Prince Henry, Hal to his friends, a drunkard, a thief, the bosom buddy of dear fat old Falstaff, hides his bright sun behind vile clouds so as to shine all the brighter when his day finally arrives.

In here, of course, we establish the lout with a sharp mind and careful cunning, dissembling for all to see but careful of the long game. When his his father sore needs his son's aid, Hal comes to the rescue, throwing off all such base clouds, or as little as need be, to ensure both his father and the close court of his worthiness, and he does so with flying colors, killing the most worthy night in England, the poor Percy of the Hot Blood, and so restoring both his honor and his valor in both word and deed.

This, of course, is just the prelude. The foreshadowing. The stage upon such things as the Ides of March are set.

Ever since I first read this, I've always called such low tides in men "The Hal Effect".

"Let no one expect shit of thee, and when the time draws neigh, toot your horn and shock the living hell out of them."

;)

Seriously, Shakespeare? Who knew that when Will Shook his Spear, he'd ever have so much to say? ;)

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The Geri RogueThe Geri Rogue by D.R. Hedge
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is rather hard to review not because I can't get my thoughts in order but because I'm really of two minds when it comes to the story and it's end.

On the one hand, it reads like a good modern romance with tragic tones with our MC Rett as a depressed werewolf who meets and falls in love with a rather interesting woman with an interesting name. Brixton. As in the Clash's Guns of Brixton. Heck, I sympathized with these folks merely because of their taste in music, but it went much farther than that. The devil is in the details, and the romance felt real and sticky and hot after its many simmering pages. I mean, what punker pierced girl wouldn't like a strapping brooding werewolf in her life, especially one that can beat the shit out of her abusive ex-boyfriend, right?

The tragedy was bad, of course, but it was bad in the sense that I fell into it and felt the pain of it. That's called good writing. The aftermath was a real treat, too, and the whole plot, while not very complex, made up for it in good immersion.

So what stops this from being a five for me?

It's about suicide, folks. This isn't just a retelling of some goofy Shakespeare shit, either, yo. It's solid and serious and while it may all surround the conflict between wolf and man and how he couldn't cope, it's not like we readers can't transfer the conflicts of instinct versus duty to ourselves, so it can perhaps be a bit too much for some.

It might be too much for me.

If you want a hot and sexy paranormal romance that touches upon some hard issues, I wouldn't pass this one by. It's a real solid read. :)


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Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Bachelor EstablishmentA Bachelor Establishment by Isabella Barclay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Introducing Isabella Barclay, the infamous Isabella Barclay, affectionately dubbed "Bitchface" by her erstwhile friends and colleagues, turning her deft hand to Regency Romance rather than murder!

Wow. Well, everyone ought to try out different professions, if this is the normal kinds of works that come out of such attempts. :)

Seriously though, her clear style and insistent classic romance matched perfectly with floods of females and mysterious gunshots and rather misty-eyed middle-aged romance that just happened to be rather delightful and sparkling despite such a rough beginning.

Well, this is Regency, after all, so expect plenty of misogyny and walled-off opportunities, but even so, the classic wish-fulfillment is in full swing and the setting is dragged, kicking and screaming, into warmth and decent meals, so I'm certainly not going to complain.

The audio version was quite nice, so I'm quite pleased not have to worry about misspellings, as such, and so my enjoyment was never once hampered.

Um. I just read romance. Again. What the hell is happening to me?

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MockingbirdMockingbird by Walter Tevis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose not to read this based on an allegorical bent, and instead chose to enjoy the oh so clear voice of the Robot Who Would End Humanity. Of course, he'd do so only because it seems to be the only way to circumvent his programming to live to serve humanity, but them's the breaks, right, humans?

Lol, no, this isn't a biting satire of us like the inestimable Roderick, but it does have some wonderful punches built right in to the text.

First of all, don't let the whole christian reading (or non-reading) experience get us down. The later portions of the novel are full of pretty heavy-handed character surrogates of bible-thumpers minus the bibles, but that's just a thin veil to the real issue.

No one reads. At all. Humanity has lost the knack and is pushed along the pasture by the robots that tend them.

It first looks like a utopia, but of course it isn't, despite all the sex and drugs you might want, all your wants, satisfied. Hey... wasn't this all set up so all you proper christians can study the scripture? Ah well, human nature is what it is.

Too bad that our poor MC, an android designed to serve and make all the executive decisions happens to have no greater wish than to die. His long game is very impressive, but things don't always turn out the way it is planned. He falls in love with one of the last women.

In 1980, when this was published, marks a rush of a brand new torrent of SF focused not only on hard-hitting ideas, but great combinations of plot, characterizations, and interesting worlds. The quality is on the rise. And this one is pretty awesome when it comes to the quality. Very readable, very strong voice for the narrator.

My problem with it is pretty simple, unfortunately. I don't agree with the premises. *shrug* I don't think that we'll ever stop reading. :) Oh, and I don't think that any religion can maintain itself without it, and that's including all the help from the substandard robots. Not every robot is built quite like the MC, after all. :)

Otherwise, I loved it. :) This is my second Walter Tevis and it was kinda surprising to learn that, since I had read The Man Who Fell to Earth years and years ago and loved it, primarily because I saw the movie with Bowie and loved it, too. :) It's odd how these things turn out. :)


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Foreigner (Foreigner, #1)Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third read, 8/18/16:

What can I say? Until it gets to Bren, I'm not attached to the story much, but the fact that so much of them comes back to haunt us in subsequent novels makes me *want* to pay attention. But other than that, once Bren is in the spotlight and we're in his head, I'm there, and this becomes one of my favorite novels. :)

Why? The psychology, mainly. The Atevi are really fantastic aliens and the real diamond in this series is the fact that they are not hardwired the same way as us. Their knee-jerk reactions are *not* ours, and Bren, our interpreter/diplomat, starts out in the middle of an assassination attempt on his life for reasons he doesn't understand and political associations and alien emotions that refuse to be cracked. It doesn't help that the Atevi think of everything in a type of numerology, that word orders and groupings of people or objects are either fortunate or unfortunate, that Bren must do the equivalent of tensor calculus with ever sentence, and then he gets thrown into the really life-threatening situations.

The whole novel is about trying to understand his situation, and its harrowing and I'm just as concerned and confused as the MC. And this is still true even when I've read a good portion of the rest of the series and this is my third read for this one. Can I be even more impressed than this?

Will Bren's decisions alter the destinies of the stranded human colony and the aliens? Is he betraying his own kind? Or can he rely on his gut reactions? Can he ever trust the Atevi?

Totally amazing thriller. :)


Original review:

My personal favorites of Cherryh are the Foreigner books, hands down. And that's even while excluding her actual Hugo winners, Downbelow Station and Cyteen.

It's been so long since I started the Foreigner series that I only very vaguely recall having to struggle a little bit at the beginning. The second readthrough, on the other hand, was an absolute joy, picking up and retaining all those previously annoying details that then brought the tale to life. Nothing is wasted. The tension between remaining loyal to the human community and getting sucked into the political tensions of an interesting alien race that could seriously benefit from a greater stream of technology was like a draft of pure clean water in comparison to so many years of ham-fisted Star Trek.

The seriously twisted mental gymnastics of having to speak through numerology made me really believe, deep down, that these aliens were not only brighter than us, but they were also natural Shakespearean poets. I also learned more about herd mentality from this book than I did from any other source, and she made it truly exciting.

What will Bren do? Will he betray his own kind? Is it right to do so? Is he being set up to die?

The poor Paidhi was so lost. I loved it.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Anubis GatesThe Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-Read 8/17/16

Well, apparently, the universe doesn't want me to write a review, so let's try this a third time. :)

I wanted to like this re-read a lot more than the first, but unfortunately, the things I thought were uninteresting the first time around, like the Egypt expedition, were still uninteresting, but I stuck around because all the run-ins with the egyptian magicians was still pretty damn wonderful.

As for the first half of the novel, I'd easily give it 5 stars. I mean, where else can you see some unknown poet scholar of Coleridge and an even more unknown poet by the name of Ashbless turn into a time-travelling, swashbuckling hero able to make mortal enemies of near-immortal Egyptian wizards, and do it all the while in 1810 London for 35 more years?

The details and the plot and the funny bits are absolutely great. I like Doyle before and after his transformation into an orange ape, too. :) Perhaps more after his transformation. I love Dog-Face Joe, the body-switching werewolf, all the dirty streets of London, and practically every single enemy in the book. So many of them had other sides to them and evil is not absolute. :)

I still regard this book very highly, especially for the ideas, the wonderful ideas, the surprising magic system, the awesome time travel problems and its clever solutions. Even the writing is clear and interesting well past the middle part, and there was nothing in it to really turn me off about it except, perhaps, that it was too light and too action-y? I don't know. I didn't feel very invested. It turned around again, of course, and the ending was very satisfying, but not enough to knock this book up to a 5 where my *mind* thinks it should be, but my *heart* refuses to budge.


Old Review:

I was surprised to find a novel that was much more complicated and rich than I might have otherwise expected. I knew this was a time travel book, and I knew there would be magic in it. I didn't expect it to be forerunner of the steampunk movement or to be so literary. Mr. Powers put a lot of consideration into the lives portrayed here, and while Doyle was hard to truly love, he grew on me as he grew as a character. I really liked him by the end. There are many twists and turns to the story, and the plot is both intricate and complex.
The novel is in third-persion limited omniscience, which allows for a great deal of variety, while sacrificing the immediacy and the feeling of being in the character's skin. I almost wish it was written in first-person, because the sheer amount of detail and description in 1810 London was astounding and beautiful in the horrible way those grubby English types can be, and feeling what he felt would have been an extraordinary treat.
This is no urban fantasy novel. The magic was strange and had some very curious aspects to it, and pitting a magical viewpoint with a time-traveler in a closed-loop system felt like a stroke a of genius.

I have to say that the novel, while sometimes slow, was well thought-out and complex. I think it succeeded as a traditional fantasy novel, a traditional science-fiction novel, and also as a traditional horror novel in equal parts. I may be jaded by modern fiction that throws together whichever genres you like to make a goulash that's tasty and strange, or even some science fiction or fantasy that simply draws from the tradition of horror. This novel balances all three and even spares a tithe to mystery, romance, action-adventure, social-commentary a-la Dickens, and poetry. The fact that Mr. Powers pulls it all off is a testament to skill as a writer.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Sourdough and Other StoriesSourdough and Other Stories by Angela Slatter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This fantasy book full of short stories has got to be some of the most beautiful that I've ever read, and it's not merely because of the richness of the characters, or of how much thought and careful effort was spent in the crafting of so many different women. Indeed, I don't even love it because so many classic fairy tales were taken by the scruff and were scolded and were transformed as if by magic into things utterly different than their original beginnings, or so altered that we are now living in the boots of the witches, the changelings, the trolls, or even just the women who are normally relegated to the sidelines, but who are now wonderful agents of change and wisdom or even revenge and regret.

I love it because of the language, the brush strokes that got the story out there quick and dirty, how effortless it was to fall into the tales and forget where I was or even the fact that I'm a man, that I'm not truly trying to piece these individual stories together into a much larger tapestry that beckons me closer, asking me to slice open my neck and let it drain the last of my magic so as to step out and breathe in the air of my reality, instead.

Yeah, this fantasy is just that good.

I debated going through each story and pinpointing the legends that Slatter makes her own, quickly, deftly, with no chaff, but Althea Ann has already made a wonderful review doing just that, and she included most of the tie-ins, the sequel-ish stories, and some recurring themes. I could add to it, I suppose, but there's something I should add here: This book deserves to be read, to be experienced for yourself.

I worried, at first, that I was going to be speechless and dumb after reading it. It was just that immersive and wonderful and scary and delightful and haunting.

That being said, I do want to mention a few of my absolute favorites. "Little Radish" was pretty much perfect from conception to first breath. "Ash" was delightfully dark. "A Porcelain Soul" was tragic and beautiful.

And "Sister, Sister" was delightful in every way, turning most tropes on their head and also managing to slip in so many of the MC's of the other stories, so much as to make my eyes shine.

What really makes me upset is the fact that this book is so damn hard to find in print, now, except by kindle.

That's a real shame because the stories are plainly superior to almost all that I've read in the fantasy field. :)

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Monday, August 15, 2016

The Exile KissThe Exile Kiss by George Alec Effinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Truly fascinating. While I can't quite place the entire trilogy in the category of must-read, I can honestly say it has been an interesting and subtle ride when it comes to character arc.

Things start in the way of a true tragedy in this book, with all things looking up, and then, all of a sudden, comes the great fall. It doesn't kill him or Friedlander Bey, his grandfather, the one who has staged Audran's new life, but it does eventually land them in exile in the desert and then among the Beduin, and this is some of the most interesting passages in the any of the three books.

Audran learns valuable lessons and it pushes him even further from his humble beginnings, happening to groom him even farther along the path of becoming the *godfather* to replace Friedlander. Most interestingly he'd progressed from humble independent enthusiast of freedom, to an enforcer and con man, to someone who no longer sweats the small stuff at all, taking success and setback with equal poise.

As I said, extremely interesting as a series of character development novels.

His return and rise shares quite a bit of the first novel's noir beginnings, making him a detective again, but this time the stakes are much higher and it has everything to do with how he is being set up to be the murder victim, too. His balanced poise was the polar opposite from the first book, and while the second presented so many options of how to behave, it was the third where it was always his choice, his desire, his agency that led him to the end.

These books are still very much the Muslim Cyberpunk, although it works equally well on all the other levels, too. I think I can easily recommend it for anyone who'd love to see this kind of character challenge pulled off in such a unique setting and not be limited by noir preconceptions. :)

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A Fire in the SunA Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The techno and social cyberpunk element is in full force in this novel, whether it comes from grifting, thugging, or betrayals. The second novel in the trilogy feels almost like a day/night alteration in the MC after he's left open to so many enormous mods to his brain and spinal column, in how he has not only come to grips with and uses all the tools now in his toolbox despite his fear.

But this isn't only a novel of coming to grips with what is now himself, altered. It's also a novel about coming to grips with his family, his co-workers, of getting justice even though he has become an enforcer for a Muslim kingpin, of coming to grips with his old compatriots who had shunned him after he did what he had to do in the previous novel.

The world set around 200 years in the future is gloriously detailed and fascinating, while still remaining the same old shithole of Noir storytelling... in other words, it's still very much a cyberpunk tale, but the focus is more on power and dominance and just trying to eke out a niche in his world of steadily decreasing choices. Drug abuse helps, some, but he finds out that squashing his enemies is much more satisfying.

And more than anything, these are absolutely character novels. Marid is fascinating and complex and I can't help but feel sorry for him; he's a tragic figure that's modded to become a perfect tool... the perfect opposite of what he'd always wanted for himself.

And then the reveals are pretty sweet and tragic, too, because now he has even less ability to break free. I can't wait to see how the third and last novel plays out. This is very readable and steeped in a very non-western attitude, which only adds a lot of spice to the cyberpunk. :)


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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lies, Damned Lies, and History (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #7)Lies, Damned Lies, and History by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What? A total guilty pleasure that doesn't have much to do with romance, vampires, or werewolves? One that reads so easy and so effortlessly and so addictively you might want to classify this as a class A substance?

And OMG we're ALL able to abuse this shit?

Yeah, we are. Just for the price of a book or a whole damn series. Including short stories. We can GET OUR FIX.

What's even better? Oh yeah, it's SF, time travel, and SO MUCH HISTORY for all us history buffs. :) Total history-porn.

Oh, and of course we've still got our favorite characters just jumping blindly into the past where they're able to get into so much damn trouble just because history isn't safe. I mean, is *any* time safe? Of course not... but we have to sigh and reconcile ourselves to the fact that Historians are idiots.

Seriously. Idiots.

Fortunately, it's hard to stay angry at them, even when they jump into several English wars, get into serious trouble with Arthur, become a pawn in Dr. Bairstow's games, even having Max think her last jump before maternity leave would be an easy Stonehenge reveal, but no. Of course, no. Any fan of this series is going to be sitting on the edge of his or her seat and wondering what dire and/or absolutely horrible event is going to happen next, and while I might be a pussycat in real life and wish to tell you what horrors await you in order to steel yourself to the tragedy... well, I won't. I'm mean on occasion. Or often. Who knows?

But this is where the tears start falling... or do they? This author is really, really mean. :)

And AWESOME. This is some great storytelling with really dry humor and great history and great characters and really mean and fast plots. :) Why aren't more people reading this? It's totally entertaining as hell. :)

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

When Gravity FailsWhen Gravity Fails by George Alec Effinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dirty, gritty, morally ambiguous cyberpunk with a bit of a biopunk feel, too, but more than anything, this was a solid detective fiction.

Was it satisfying to see the one man who'd never let himself get modded fall down the dark hole for the sake of either saving his girl or getting revenge or, just possibly, stopping a horrible killer? Hell yeah.

This came out back in '87 and it was nominated for the hugo for good reason. It's very detailed, full of great cultural stuff, and the concept of personality modding and its execution here, with both the good and the really dark side included, was really great.

I mean, where else can you get a thoroughly Muslim town and a half Muslim/half French main character in the future to casually accept the fact that men and women can change genders whenever they want fairly cheaply? How about taking a ride along a personality path as a great hero or a great villain? Heck, someone here had modded themselves to be James Bond and even bought the snazzy suits to go along with his head-mod. It's a lifestyle choice.

Our MC had a pathological fear of all that crazy shit, and if his life wasn't going all crazy with his crazy disappeared chick, he'd never have found himself diving into the really deep end and losing everything he ever thought he valued. Once you go down the road of the detective, it's very hard to ever come back. Sometimes it's your choice, and sometimes the choices are just made for you.

Truly, this is a great noir cyberpunk.


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Bones of the EarthBones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This actually turned out to be a wonderfully scientific time-travel SF that fairly shined in theories and all the species of dinosaurs, and we got a treat of actually living there for a time... with complications, of course.

I mean, we have the more pedestrian complications of bureaucracy and directors and academics scheduling a time to go time hopping, but we also have the little issue of religious nuts, too... and OF COURSE we never found a footprint of a human next to a dinosaur's then the time-travel never happened, right? LOL

And then there's Swanwick's interesting treatment of time-like loops and the interesting revelations of where the time travel tech came from, too, not to mention seeing the novel turn into a survivalist's dream, too, and that's just a cool feature of the novel.

I mentioned that I loved the scientific theories, the grounded and detailed and clear explanations for some wild, wild ideas about infrasonic communications among the dinosaurs, the way they could listen to the earth to find safe locations, and how all of that got screwed up after the world was beat like a gong that went on for a hundred years. :) Hell, he even says that it's impossible to prove, but what an idea! I may have to hunt down the original theorist and read more, if it isn't Swanwick. :) All of this was probably my favorite part... but there were two other areas that really caught my attention.

There was the whole problem of extinction. Not the theories, but of our extinction. This was a seriously interesting tangent.

And then there was the whole reaction to it, too, as well as after we learned what the time-travel really was, or what happened to those people who step outside of time. :) And if that wasn't enough, there was also a beautiful introspective answer to the whole question.

Why are we here? Is it enough to just know and have experienced?

I love these kinds of novels that frame the little questions in the big ones and mirror it all back. :) I've always loved Swanwick's works, too, and while it's probably my least favorite, it's still damn worthy SF. :) This isn't some throw-away time-travel novel. It never even glosses over the awesome science bits. It is full of interesting people in awesome situations.

Now, oddly enough, I've been reading a lot of time-travel stuff this month, and this one is a mite more serious in tone and execution than the others, combined, but that doesn't mean it wasn't awesome in its own right.

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Friday, August 12, 2016

The Ask and the Answer (Chaos Walking, #2)The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?

The Mayor has the upper hand and a stronger mind than anyone. I feel sorry for Tod and Viola for the most part, and the telepathy angle is growing a bit more interesting, but it's really the descent into evil that captures most of my imagination.

As it should, I'm sure. This dystopian SF was designed for the YA crowd and while it is very decent for what it is, the plot is not quite as strong as the characterizations and the world building is kinda lacking.

If you're looking for answers, look elsewhere. The Answer is just the rebels made up of mostly women. The question, at least in my mind, is what causes men to turn into cattle, whether it's the mayor turning otherwise intelligent people into subservients or what really happened to all the others that are literally being kept in pens.

Lots of emotions flying about everywhere and I feel like I should be feeling a lot of pathos for the MC's, but unfortunately, I'm either in the wrong place to enjoy this or it just kinda feels a bit average. Perhaps I'm just getting tired of reading the same kinds of stories in certain markets. Maybe it's just a little too simple for my tastes. This is kind of a disappointment from the previous book in the series. *sigh*

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (The Chronicles of St Mary's, #6)What Could Possibly Go Wrong? by Jodi Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oooooh kids... you gotta place nice or someone's gonna lose an eye or an arm. Play by Hoyle's Rules, at least! Oh gosh. I guess something went wrong.

This book had a whole bunch of great time-travel locations, some of which I'd give an arm to visit, too. To see the Neanderthals and Modern Humans coexisting and working together? See the harsh conditions and the Mammoths? Maybe sneak one back to the future? No, no, we wouldn't do that. Certainly not. That's against regs and watch your feet... it looks like someone left us a little present in the hallway... Markham???? Is this your work???

Of course, there were a whole bunch of other great locations, and who would have believed that someone might have signed off for a bunch of stupid kids to be dropped in the middle of the battle where Richard the Third bit it. Not me!

I'm really loving this series. I think it might possibly go on forever, if only we could keep some of these poor recruits and old-timers alive. Yeah. There's more death. Two, this time. This is getting hard on my poor heart.

At least there's a really, really good surprise at the very end of the book. I mean, at first glance, it could be sooo great, right? And then there was that bit of foreshadowing after a certain nailed-it exercise of Max's and no.... that couldn't be, could it???

Well, Max will go down as a legend and a... no, no spoilers. This series is just too good to miss. :) Perfect voice, perfect speed, and perfect locations. :)

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