Friday, September 30, 2016

Shadow of the Scorpion (Polity Universe #2)Shadow of the Scorpion by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is easily a better novel than the previous one, but I can't quite tell if that's just because the heavy lifting of the tech and aliens has already been long-established from within Prador Moon.

This one moves well beyond a straight high-tech military porn and delves into the creation of Ian Cormac, of whom later novels are focused, and the reveals he slowly learns about his erased childhood, splitting the novel between his adulthood and his formation pretty equally, while also being embroiled in a techno-political thriller years after the main wars have already been waged.

Human separatists are still an issue, of course, as are the Prador.

More interestingly, for me, is the introduction of the new places and the titles of later books and a hint of their importance for later. It's these things that hook me and make me a fan. A good novel is still a good novel, with a full beginning, middle, and end, but without these juicy tidbits of a far-off adventure, I might have stopped here.

I'm not stopping, suffice to say. :)

I'm really getting into this now. It's no longer a fun and fast-paced pew pew popcorn, but a serious character tale, too. :) Yay!

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Prador Moon  (Polity Universe, #1)Prador Moon by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Very readable and extremely quick-paced action adventure with buggy aliens vs AI-enhanced humanity in some distant future.

Sound familiar? Well, yeah, it is. But still! Lots of modern concepts thrown in, from virtual realities, fake-matter pocket universes, and bio-enhanced pheromone-enslaved monstrous race of aliens.

Add elements, mix well, and let the fur fly!

Seriously, I've read much worse and the quality *is* pretty top notch. There's even a few easter eggs for you peeps who want a little poetry or introversion with your pew pew action.

All in all, it's pure popcorn, from the peace delegation to the rending of limbs at same, to the dire fates of whole worlds and their humans and AIs.

Oh yeah, and humans never really get their shit together, do they? Sometimes, but it's sooooo easy to subvert them, isn't it? I wonder if those aliens are the same.... :)

Funnily enough, even with all these overt differences between the races, one thing is abundantly clear.... we're all damn weird aliens. :)


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Invader (Foreigner, #2)Invader by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This SF series is continuing to prove itself one of the most enduring and fascinatingly social of all the hard SF's I've ever read. Book two seems to pick up very well with similar or perhaps improved pacing from the previous one, but instead of focusing so much on the linguistics issues, Bren finds himself with ever increasing responsibility and power within the Atevi world, much to the everlasting chagrin of his "people" on the island of humans.

Did he go native, selling out the other humans? Has he betrayed humanity to give all the aliens all our tech, to crowd out the advances and the possible advantage of allying with the returning spacecraft that had abandoned the humans on this world for 200 years? How dare he!

Of course, he knows he's just trying to keep the peace, making sure that all sides, both human and Atevi, work together and make sure no one gets left out. It helps that he's the only one to translate and make deals with both sides, for many good reasons not just cultural, but hard-wired in the alien psyche.

Except, the humans have factions and factions and they've sent a new translator to take over for Bren, and the two of them have never gotten along.

Politics and politics ensue, with Bren in the right and rising high in Atevi estimation, while all the while things keep getting gummed up anyway. :)

These are early days, with the Spaceship wanting the downwellers to regain spaceflight, fast, so they can man and refurbish the abandoned space station around the planet. Three sides could blow up into a real huge mess. And in the center is Bren. :)

I love this stuff. Translator-porn. :) Politic-Biology conflict. Technological parity.

Here's the interesting bit: The Atevi are born mathematicians. :) Everything boils down to associations and "good" number parity, down to all their surroundings, the number of rooms or the architecture, or the way they form their words, so you have to be fantastic at math just to speak with them, or it's "unfavorable" and they might just assassinate you for it. Details. :)

Of course, this means that the Atevi also have it in them to blow all humanity out of the water if they ever get their hands on some really juicy tech or even the knowledge that FTL is real.

Oops. Too late. :)

It's becoming extremely, extremely difficult to hold off on reading this entire series without stopping. :)

Delicious doesn't even begin to describe it. :)

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Glamour in Glass (Glamourist Histories, #2)Glamour in Glass by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was in the mood for something light and frilly with just a hint of danger. Oh! Napoleon is Loose!!! And of course, since this is a literally magical romance set in the Regency, it certainly fit all the bills and requirements of my mood. :)

Romance! Magic! Lace! Glamour! Children?

This is an extremely easy read. It has all the feel and the magic of, say, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, at least in the setting and some of the apparent uses of magic to beat back Napoleon, but all in all, it's narrowed down to mostly the focus of a few fairly normal families, including a bit of spy-work, hidden nobility, and the plight of the sexes in Regency-era norms.

All in all, modern.

This is not to say that certain parts aren't emotional or difficult, because it is, but the strength of Jane, despite the losses she endures, makes the novel rewarding, too.

Popcorn fiction at its best. :)

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Death’s End (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #3)Death’s End by Cixin Liu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those rare mind-blowing novels of such fantastic scope and direction that words just can't do it justice. It's the third book that started with the Hugo-Winning The Three-Body Problem, continued with The Dark Forest. They're all fantastic, but I have to honestly say that I loved this one more than the rest.

We've got the scope of some of Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence going on here. I'm talking universe-spanning scope, going straight through time like a hot knife through butter and right on out into the expanding reaches of the imagination. The first book dives into the tiniest particles and higher dimensional spaces, the second deals with the apparent macro universe and the ongoing conflict between the Tri-Solarans and Humanity, and the third concludes with some truly and amazingly harrowing experiences, from the end of the stalemate, the near-genocide of humanity, and the grand realization that it's all gone even more wrong.

And things only get worse from there.

I'm properly flabbergasted by this book. There are enough fantastic ideas crammed in here for ten books, maybe even twenty. And even if it wasn't so idea-rich, from the extrapolated sciences, extremely well-thought-out consequences, and even further extrapolations from there, we even get some of the more interesting characters ever written in SF.

My appreciation of The Dark Forest only increases when set beside this one, and although I didn't consider that novel quite worthy of the Hugo as the first novel was, it was an amazing set-up for this last novel's execution.

The Dark Forest is an expression of the idea that the universe is an extremely hostile place. Any two alien species that meets is likely going to preemptively wipe out the other or face the reality of being wiped out. Such conflicts at such huge scales and high-technology and physics can be utterly amazing and one-sided, from start explosions to local space conversions between dimensions, such as turning a local three-dimensional plane of existence into a two-dimensional one.

Utterly shocking. Utterly amazing.

We even get to visit, early on, the tombstones of entire alien civilizations that escaped the Dark Forest by hopping into the fourth dimensional frame from the third dimension, only to discover that the great time-stream is shrinking, a bunch of big fish already having consumed all the small fish, and now the pond of existence is shrinking to almost nothing.

Each new discovery or option or hope is explored and dashed. The conflict, the Sword of Damocles, never leaves the tale. The Dark Forest is always evident, and it's depressing and awe-inspiring and a great story and I was honestly in awe of all the new directions it took.

I've read a LOT of SF. I've never seen anyone pull this off quite as well as this.

He builds on every new idea and makes a universe as frightening as it is amazing, and nothing ever stays the same.

And best of all, he leaves humanity as it is. Hopelessly outmatched. Always hopelessly outmatched. No matter what we do, how we advance and improve or build upon inherited technologies from our one-time friends, dark gods, and demons, the Tri-Solarans, there's always a new snag.

*shiver*

Honestly, there's no way to review this except to tell everyone out there that there's just too many great things to say about it, that it is a monumental undertaking, that it is an endlessly fascinating and impressive corpus of work, and that everyone should avail themselves of this trilogy.

It's just that good. I'm in awe.

Some things are just heads and shoulders above the rest. Well, perhaps, this one is a whole storey above all the rest, too. :)



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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest CivilizationThe Rise of Athens: The Story of the World's Greatest Civilization by Anthony Everitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

This is probably one of the most readable accounts of the Athens that I've ever read, punctuated with a little bit of the things we all know, like how the Iliad informs their lives, the huge importance of Sparta, and of course some of the interesting accounts of our favorite Know-Nothing, Socrates.

Even though I have a huge soft spot in my heart for philosophy in general and loved the brief accounts in here, make no mistake: This book is all about the big players of the political history, first and foremost. Wars are an obvious part of it, as is the evolution or even the spontaneous rise of democracy out of almost nothing, but it's the characters of history that makes this book stand out.

It's definitely good enough for a newbie fan of Grecian history and it's readable enough for everyone else, too.

My only complaint may be a personal one. Perhaps we didn't really need the fall of Ilium in as much detail. Yes, it's a cultural thing, but a quicker overview at the beginning before diving head first into the good stuff might have been even better.

Same thing goes for all the extras of Socrates, and that's even though I love reading about him.

Honestly? I'd have been perfectly content on hearing about more of the others that made up the rise of the penultimate Greek City-State. We love to focus on the iconic people, I know, I know, but he was never a real mover or shaker in the political scene, just in the evolution of thought and philosophy.

But I did get a real kick out of all the Satires, though. They gave me a much better story and a more rounded feel of the life.

All in all, I'm perfectly happy with this history. It lets me dive in with a great overview and a telling of a pretty epic and perilous story from the first beginnings, the realization that they were a power against Xerxes, all the way through Alexander. Fun stuff!


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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern HorrorNightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror by Ellen Datlow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Since this hasn't been released yet, I'm going to skip all the spoilerish stuff and the Story by Story gush or other reaction, and instead pick out some of my absolute favorites and otherwise tease some of the best ideas and themes for the rest, because I'm gonna be honest... the whole book of horror tales was rather fantastic.

I mean, it should be. This was a cherry-picking of the last ten year's best horror stories from some of the biggest non-stratospheric names in the business. Meaning it's mostly underrated authors or authors that are up-and coming or are well on their way to becoming household names.

That being said, I was thoroughly creeped out, disturbed, amused, and even awed. Most of these did a very good job at keeping me on the edge of my seat, and some even managed to make me really squirm and and want to say, "Enough, enough" and a few made me want to go out and pick up everything that author has ever written and be thankful that this book let me in on the big secret of their existence. :)

As for that last group, here they are:

Kaaron Warren's Dead Sea Fruit

Truly creeped me out and it had some of the best triggers in the business. Ash Mouth Man? Wow. Totally knocked me over. :)

Gemma Files's Spectral Evidence

This one was stylistically a fantastic treat with lots of easter eggs, written as notes in an investigation with pictures and tons of footnotes that tell an even more interesting tale than I might have guessed from the standard section. It isn't a traditional tale, but it's a freaking excellent one. :)

Ray Cluley's At Night, When the Demons Come By

A rather bright spotlight of a look at gender issues and an epic look at a world after demons infest the skies and shred humanity, zombie-style, but a bit more dire. The voice in this one is haunting and fantastic.

Livia Llewellyn's Omphalos

Totally haunting. I doubt I'll look at maps the same way again. And I'll also be totally creeped out about this one all night, now. Thanks a lot.


Now, just so you know, I loved almost all of these stories, and leaving some of these out actually kind of pains me. :) I'm still anxious after reading this entire book. And that's all because of the fantastic skills and the creepy dolls and the western zombies and the UF overdrive of hell infestations and good old fashioned roadtrip murder sprees. :)

Really, this one one hell of a fun ride. Anyone just looking for a good sampler or just a crazy good time could do FAR worse than this. :)


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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Hydrogen SonataThe Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

End Days.

Oh yes, the end is coming for the whole Gzilt civilization. They're tired of making music and screwing. They're tired of being so damn *good* at everything. So, let's follow the holy text and hop aboard the higher-dimensional expressway and SUBLIMEo ourselves!

They're not the first culture to do it, and I'm sure they won't be the last, but the Culture has something to say about it. Yes they do.

I need to warn you, folks. There's sensitive information ahead. Even slightly spoiler-like and disturbing. Proceed with due caution.

"Uh, bub? Yeah, we got something you probably ought to see before you off yourself."

"Busybody know-it-all machines, what do you know? You're too afraid to see what comes next!"

"Ah, yeah, about that, we keep sending explorers who never want to come back."

"Then it must be great!"

"You do know you're committing a full racial suicide on yourself, right?"

"We have Holy Texts that say otherwise!"

"Ah, yeah, bub? Um, yeah, go right ahead."


It's pretty intense, right? A whole galactic civilization just going poof like that? Well, little did I know how much of a love story this was going to be! The romance, of course, is between a four-armed chick destined to go down the evolutionary pneumatic tube of the Sublime and a rather eccentric dildo of a ship that named himself Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Mere Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath.

Kinda a mouthful, true, so the warship usually just calls himself Mistake Not. Kinda catchy, no? Better than the ships named, You Call This Clean? or A Fine Disregard For Awkward Facts.

God I love these Culture Ships.

Well anyway, the countdown is down and there's an absolute ton of interesting things going on that I'm not going to spoil because they're awesome, including philosophizing and rather mean Memory Cubes and a discussion with a REALLY OLD and CROTCHETY ship. Is this a novel about making life's living fun? Finding reasons to go on? Is this about talking a whole civilization off the cliff? Yeah, I suppose it really is, but it's also a celebration of all the peculiarities of living.

That's pretty awesome when you think about it.

Iain M. Banks died the very next year. Diagnosed with inoperable cancer in April of '13 and dead in June of the same year.

It gives me a lot to think about beyond just the fun and oddly prescient nature of this novel.


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Surface DetailSurface Detail by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A war in hell, for the fate of hell?

What? Is this a Culture novel, one of huge Space Operatic dimensions, Ship Mega-Minds, nearly ascendant alien cultures and encroaching afterlifes?

Wait. Afterlife? Sure! Virtual hells made for elephantine aliens with enormous virtual wars to take up their attention so it doesn't have to spill over into the real.

It's civilized, don't you know?

Of course, you can't say that for the people being TORTURED FOR ETERNITY within them. *sigh*

This one happens to be my absolute favorite of all the Culture Novels. I haven't read the 10th yet, but it's going to have to work double-time to beat this one.

I love all the characters, from the Eccentric Drones to the debt-enslaved victim of hell and her lover of oh so tragic fate. (Learning how to become a demon to escape the victim's-fate is pretty tragic, after all.)

And through this, the Culture sits and watches and makes noises that they'll never get involved in other species's conflicts unless ordered by Culture, proper, and yet they always seem to find ways to stick their noses in and make epic struggles and full-blown wars out of molehills.

Got to love it. :)

War For Hell! And as always, the ironic humor of the ships, their names, and the situations is all sheer delight. :) I mean, after all, the setting is, in fact, in an Elephant's Graveyard. :)

Lol. Great stuff!


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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Cult CandidateThe Cult Candidate by Richard Monaco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Age Thriller.

What an odd concept, no? Or perhaps it's a thing that used to be rather common but now has kinda gone the way of the 90's. Of course, that's kinda the point. This one was first published in '79 and is now being re-released.

So how was it? Well, I came into it thinking I'd be falling under the spell of a cult, New Age or otherwise, with possibly a bit of trouble extricating myself and/or family getting all up in arms with my predicament, but how would I have guessed that this would be a murder mystery and eventually a blowout epic tale of politics and mysticism and bright glowing things? I couldn't!

In point of fact, this is a New Age Thriller, with all the old concepts of astral projection, aura reading, manipulation of time and space and cheating death and above all, energy, energy, energy. :) It winds up being a hell of a wild ride that reminded me of some Depak chopra novels later on down the timestream. Really wild.

And I was also reminded, amusedly, of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum for what it has to say about any book that brings up the Templar Knights. Or the Spear of Longinus.

I'm just not sure if this novel is quite to the point where its outdated, because most of it could work quite well as a modern rendition with a bit of squinting, but for the primary tale, it still works pretty well.

It also feels like a blast from the past. Or if you folks have never really encountered a New Age Guru before, but always wanted to, then come on in! The water's fine! :)

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC!

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Carnival KeepersThe Carnival Keepers by Amber Gulley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Are you hoping and wishing for a Victorian novel full of monsters-as-characters and an unabashedly and shamelessly horror-strewn cityscape full of magic, spirits of light and darkness, mur-maider and evil Fae? Then *perhaps* you ought to take a little turn into this dark alleyway.

Surely, it's not just little urchins who are welcome to this dinner table!

From nearly the beginning of the novel, we're treated to the grunge and the gore strewn alleyways, many-limbed monstrosities and the chance to join the monsters on a monster's quest. Eat heartily, my hearts, and fear no lighthouses!

The opening probably wasn't the smoothest I've ever read, but the rest of the novel was rather fearless and fun. There's plenty here to keep all monster fanatics on their toes. I just hope you're not really rooting for the "good" guys. They're all a bit flawed and I had a bit more fun with the monsters, anyway. :)

Think modern gorefest meets dirty England under gaslights, focus on the fascination of the supernatural, from seances to magical items to a whole carnival of monsters, and of course, a talking cat. I'm sure you'll have fun. :)

Thanks to the author for the ARC! It was a blast.

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Mind Over ShipMind Over Ship by David Marusek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm impressed! This novel reads much more regularly than the previous one, sacrificing opportunities to World-Build in favor of character exploration and cool plot, so in the end it reads like a fascinating adventure of clones and the beginning stages of interstellar space exploration.

Of course, this wouldn't have been possible without all the stage-setting of the population-theme-based novel that preceded it, so I'm very happy to have read both very close together. It might even have been better to bill both these novels together as one long one, possibly, although the whole sequence of Sam would have just seemed like a long sidenote to the mother's and the daughter's stories.

As it is, I should say that the great idea-pace of the novel didn't really quit or stall in this one, either, but just continued along the kinds of paths and cool sidebars that a bit of creative thought could take it.

Memory and clones and the implications were extremely interesting, of course, building functional immortality quite separate from the kinds already found in this future earth, and perfectly in line with House of Suns from the PoV of very early days. :) I don't want to give away too much, but it really puts mother and daughter in a whole new category of interesting. And longevity. With fish. :)

As for space colonization, this novel is just as interesting, the driving forces to get our eggs out of one basket butting heads with politics, economics, and pure spite. Lots of intrigue and manipulations going on here, too, and this novel goes well beyond the kinds of social considerations and themes of the previous, and firmly into strong plot territory.

I really can't say anything bad about it at all. Parts were reminiscent of Cyteen, parts of House of Suns, some was propelling the spirit of Asimov's robot novels, and parts were almost PKD in the paranoia. :)

Very fun stuff. :)

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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Once Broken Faith (October Daye, #10)Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is comfort food of the highest caliber. There's nothing like rivers of blood (most of it Toby's) and the deaths of kings to get make me feel like I'm home again.

I mean, ostensibly, we ought to be having this *mostly* fae MC start celebrating her near-marriage with Tybalt, the King of Cats or just eating lots of pizza with her underage wards, but NOOOOOO of course things aren't that easy.

Now that a cure is available for Elf-Shot, the magic that can put any Fae to sleep for a hundred years or kill any halfblood with a scratch, of course there's a lot of political maneuverings on both sides, perhaps turning the use of it away from careful uses of punishment for major crimes and on to a wholesale indiscriminate use during war because the pure bloods can always get woken up again. (Ignoring the fact that everyone else would be dead. Not that most pure bloods care.)

Good arguments both ways, including getting all the wrongfully Elf-Shot Fae woken up and perhaps just setting laws that limit the use of Elf-Shot or removing it from the arsenals altogether.

See a mirror to our world going on here? Gun laws and the prison system? lol

But of course nothing is rational or easy when the law of the land is based on irrational decisions by High Monarchs, and the political scene is ready to unravel any minute, seeing opportunities to get away with murder, and of course, that's exactly what happens.

Mystery, intrigue... and tragedy. No spoilers. I was pretty much blubbering by the time so many of Toby's.... well... she also lost a ton of blood. It's a difficult time.

And what a great novel. :) Total comfort food. Popcorn fiction. :) Of course now I can't wait for the next.

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Counting Heads (Counting Heads, #1)Counting Heads by David Marusek
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was caught by the premise and what can I say? I love hi-tech future-Earth stories, especially when they don't automatically deform into the dissolution of society, but rather, they discuss important issues in sometimes humorous, sometimes disturbing, sometimes just plainly WTF.

This one is definitely all of the above.

The entire novel is extremely rich in wonderful world-building ideas in the grand, nearly overwhelming sense that it's all over the place, from nanotech everywhere, to domed cities to keep out the nasties (weaponized nanotech), AIs that haven't taken over the world, but instead cohabit with us, humans who have been augmented in both capacity and health that we're pretty much on the same playing field as the AIs, helpful clones everywhere, a grand colonizing expedition set up for a fairly distant star, and an interesting, not generic utopian society.

So where's the story?

Oh, of course things go wrong. In fact, tons of things go wrong for this large cast of characters, from complete disenfranchisement of all the joys this world has to offer, to losing one's head, to learning that the greatest adventure the world has to offer might be a con-job, to living in fear of the omnipresent surveillance.

This book, despite the very strong beginning and focus on poor Sam, isn't, unfortunately, about him. It's easy to get misled by the some of the hype. Instead, this is a book about all the people, and overpopulation, and the kinds of societies that we allow ourselves to create.

Of course, that's not to say that the characters aren't fascinating, even with such a large cast, because they are. But also don't expect a traditional thriller or plots that weave back together again in a grand fashion, because that's not what this novel is really about. Nor is it an easily defined and thematic novel, either.

Instead, it is an extremely rich exploration of imagination and life, full of loss, duty, loneliness, joy, and especially of hope, mostly transcending the base cares and proving that no matter how advanced we become, or how we might eradicate disease or old age, we're still human, for good or ill. And I'm not leaving out the clones.

Hell, even the AIs are only human.

Don't let me mislead you, though, because there's plenty of action and adventure here, too, as well as creepy images of slugs everywhere and babies with adult heads, but there's also some totally wonderful allusions mixed in with some extremely clever prose, too. And in any account, no one should ever discount extremely crisp writing.

If you're looking for futuristic SF in the vein of Stand on Zanzibar or Brave New World, that focuses more on what the world of the future has to say, with lots of extras that paint as interesting a picture as the MCs, then you really can't go wrong with this gem of a novel.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

The Winged HistoriesThe Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is extremely difficult to review, mainly because I'm tempted more to appreciate it from afar rather than enjoy it up close. But there are passages where the reverse is entirely as true.

Whereas the first novel was a straightforward love of literature and myth made up out of whole cloth and full of love of the act of writing, itself, among so many who refuse to read, the sequel is nothing less than a shattered land following the events that led to war in the first, and not only shattered by war, but also as shattered in prose.

You see? I can appreciate the book's structure, it's sheer reliance on poetry and despair and song, (oh, especially song,) to convey a feeling, or a string of many layered and complex feelings and subjects, in the face of kings and monsters, family and one's love-life, of which there is quite a bit of LGBT, and quite beautifully done.

So much is either dense world-building in terms of myth, historical rumination, straight stream-of-consciousness. Only occasionally do we have a bit of traditional storytelling, and more often than not, there's stories within stories.

That's what I love.

What I didn't love so much was the lack of attention-grabbing plot among the wonderful prose, or, as the case may be, the sad fact that I lost interest. Multiple times. That's not to say that certain characters keep showing up to provide threads I can hold on to, or to see how each of them change and develop over time, or how their perceptions of love or singing give them perspective on their identities, but these gems were buried fairly deep in the labyrinth of the prose and often it was a real chore to pay attention.

I sometimes like to work for my read, it's true. But I want to feel like I'm going to get something really wonderful out of the challenge, too, and while this was all pretty wonderful poetry, I'm not sure it spoke to me as a whole.

There were certain parts, such as the love story and the songs that really got me, but the rest of the book was kind of a let down

At least in comparison to the previous one.

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Slan (Slan, #1)Slan by A.E. van Vogt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How do I properly describe a novel that uses (incorrectly) atomic energy, but also addressing the fact that it was published in 1940?

Well, it's been 76 years since it came out, and its and integral part of the Campbellian SF revolution that said that we can have great Science in Science Fiction, but of course our understanding of these things change as we learn more, so I'm perfectly willing to let a lot of that slide. Still. The fact that it's 1940 when it was published, and he was talking about Atomic Energy as a resource and a weapon *is* also rather mind-blowingly cool. :)

That's one of the more noteworthy things about this adventure novel that strings up a ton of cool ideas for us to enjoy, being part dystopian future, part aftermath of a huge pogrom against alien "supermen" that the "supermen" lost, and partly a mirror to ourselves of the fact of insanely stupid prejudice.

The plot proceeds very quickly, which is an amazingly cool feature and expectation for this era's SF adventure books, moving at a nice pace for an Oliver Twist beginning all the way to find a macguffin that would save the benighted alien race of Slans, to learn the slightly surprising reveals about the Slan's origins, while putting us firmly in the hands of a few Slan MCs. Telepathy, strength, speed, and intelligence is all enhanced in these individuals.

That's no big surprise, of course. Nietzsche's insanely popular across the world in every continent at this time. Superman (comic) just came out. A war has just popped up over the ocean that bears a lot of identification with it. So much of our literature, and especially SF, has truly heroic super men. It's part of our zeitgeist.

What's most interesting is how these supermen are the most downtrodden in the novel, despite all their advantages.

But wait, you say, hasn't this been done a million times?

Well, yeah, but few before this time have done something quite as intelligently as Vogt. He's trying to send a global message and doing it across so many subjects with so much world building... and the point is, he's doing it with such economy of prose. It's a really short novel.

The only other novels that I know of that could pull this off only came later.

I'm thinking of The Demolished Man and The Stars My Destination, both by Alfred Bester, and probably these are probably the very best Golden Age SF novels that still hold up today.

I'm not going to judge this book by today's standards of SF, although it is superior in pacing and plot, if not characterization. It was also a phenomenon for about 15 years after it came out, being considered the best of the best. Popularity doesn't always mean quality, but this does have a lot of quality.

Unfortunately, it's also been copied a million times since then, diluting the effect and the enjoyment that we might have in it now.

At least we can point to it as one of the major supermen mythos stories with pride, and hopefully it won't be utterly forgotten in time.


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Sunday, September 18, 2016

Madouc (Lyonesse, #3)Madouc by Jack Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One should always take a particular pleasure in any tale so well crafted as to resolve nearly a hundred plot threads satisfactorily. And one should always take a great thrill in seeing seemingly minor characters take on such an immense importance and suddenly be revealed to be the single most important thread tying an epic fantasy trilogy together, too!

And not only does it take place in the mythical lands in-between England and a few of the other Isles, but it's steeped in borrowed and made-up mythology, rampant with kings and queens, three whole kingdom's worth, the land of the Fae, and the ending fate of so many heroes and well-established antagonists.

Am I seriously impressed by these three works? Hell yeah. All together, they make one of the richest near-Earth fantasy I've ever read. It's a fictional country dab in the center of the Isles, but everything else is steeped in our history and myths, but it's far from cheap. It's easily one of the deepest and best-crafted fantasies I've ever read.

Yes, there are a few that out-do it, and I'm sure we can all name them, but this one stands nearly as tall as them and should never be overlooked among all the generalized and oft-repeated and overdone photocopies of modern fantasy.

Quality is Quality, and This Is Quality. :)

And we get reunited families, a total breakdown of friendly relations, and an all-out war that destroys and rebuilds the three kingdoms. What more could anyone ask?

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Pirate UtopiaPirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

Italy! 1920's. A little town called Fiume that later becomes known as the modern Rijeka had had it's world turned upside down when a bunch of rag-tag ill-provisioned warriors took it over and declared themselves an Anarcho-Syndicalist Union, full of free love, art, poetry, high-ideals, and most of all, Rebellion. They even called themselves Pirates!

Now what if the whole thing hadn't imploded after 15 months, and instead had gone on to arm themselves successfully and innovate as they had dreamed, to become a real haven for free thinkers and equality of the sexes, ignoring the cries of the rich and the powerful as they gleefully took over all the manufacturing plants in a communist-like frenzy, but stopping there only to kick out all the actual communists?

They live by theft and live by their strength, fascists in fact, but not in spirit, for everyone is truly equal here.

Wow. As an SF novel, it's really quite gorgeous. I've been getting tired of all those overdone WWII alternate histories. This one is a beautiful strike in another direction, and it's humorous and it's scary and it pushes all the right buttons for me.

And it's also pulp in all the grand ways, too. :) Mussilini got his dick shot off while working as an editor, Hitler got shot and killed taking a bullet for a friend. There's even Houdini, the Spy, Lovecraft his employee, and also Robert E Howard working alongside them. I was hoping to see Clarke Ashton Smith among them, but alas, no. :)

I haven't been so delighted by such a strange book just tickling my sense of wonder in such a way as this. Bruce Sterling has gotten really interesting.

He's been living in Europe for the last decade, learning so much about these places, and also as an American Cyberpunk author now writing Dieselpunk, I have to say that he's pushing the envelope again. :) In a really awesome way. :)

Bravo!

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Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, #2)A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's a competent sequel, feeling both less shrieky and less like hunger games, and I really can't fault the direction that the characters are forced into.

I mean, they just sparked a revolution... and the empire struck back.

It was a novel of setbacks, if you can count being tortured for most of a novel a setback. And I mean the characters, not us, dear reader. It wasn't a bad read, and I usually don't care much for prolonged questioning, but it was done interestingly, so again I can't complain.

Aside from a few rather cool reveals that picked up the pace, the novel did kinda drag in a few places and I kinda struggled to care for the MC's, but fortunately, I did rather enjoy their betrayers and their antagonists. Even so, I did think the pacing was pretty even, but things are still pretty far from being resolved.

That's very good if you want a long series. Not so much if you prefer tight storytelling.

So if you, dear reader, are in the mood for a wrenching YA epic fantasy that goes on and on, you'll probably really enjoy this. :)

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The Sudden Appearance of HopeThe Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Freedom and Slavery, as written by one of the most dauntless minds in literature, today. :)

Of course, it's also a very clever novel of freedom and slavery, written within a couple of very interesting premises, but by this point, I'm willing to assume that this great author is always going to push the hell out of boundaries.

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August brought out being different lives by reliving the whole damn life within one person, and Touch polarized the concept of identity by hopping from body to body while always being the core someone within, and The Sudden Appearance of Hope turns it all around once again.

What are the real consequences of living a life where no one can remember you? Turn thief, hacker, and be endlessly jealous of others who can at least have some way to define themselves by how others perceive them? This premise is much bigger than it first appears. This isn't a super-power or a mild tale of the invisible woman. Hope is a complicated and rather brilliant woman who is absolutely free to do whatever she wants except for the one thing that's denied her. Home, Love, and Hope.

The second wonderful premise is the idea of Perfection. Think about a social app on steroids that makes facebook look away in shame, that pushes each user to to become their better selves with recommendations and rewards that gets so big that the whole damn world is enraptured by it... even if it is Culture As Pure Marketing, soulless and enslaved.

Hope is the diametric opposite of Perfection, and most of the novel is a dance between both of these ideas. It's a thriller and an introspective and horrifying SF all at once. And it's deep. Very deep. I can't recommend this tale enough. It's very much a social tale and one that revolves around identity, but it also has a good deal of Tor browsers and high-tech theft, too, so I personally thought it was fun as freaking hell. :) Tour de force. :)



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Friday, September 16, 2016

The KalevalaThe Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness, this is a real treasure!

I was expecting this classic Finnish mythos, this fantasy epic, to be kinda dense and worldly and weighty, but I didn't expect it to be totally readable, droll, classy, and exciting. I also didn't expect to see it as the source material for so many classics I adore, including most of the stories behind Tolkien's The Silmarillion and a good portion of his LoTR.

It reads like a fantastically mythical adventure from start to Finnish and it's no wonder, even in the English translation and the narrator I got for this audiobook, a ton of love was put into it. I see now exactly how well-beloved it is and why it is so. :) :) :)

I'm blown away. By epic poetry. Hmmmm Maybe this means I need to do a poetry kick, next. :)

And no, I didn't do a line by line analysis of this text, but I did pick up some really awesome beauties in it, such as procession of the equinoxes, Rosy-Cross alchemical transformations, World-Tree as Sampo, and the most huge current of the mythical Singer and Smith.

Orpheus? Hell yeah. And the Master Forger? Another hell yeah. The later adventure actually just brought tears to my eyes. :) Totally had me dancing in my seat with joy. :)

My only complaint was the Guides For New Brides and Guides For New Husbands. lol, that stuff was a riot of wtf. Maybe it would have gone down better if I was a brawny anachronism. :) But no, I'm a modern man and none of that shit flew. :)

Everything else, though? I was really impressed that women still refused to lay down and take it, but still a lot of that still happened in the text. And no matter my personal opinions on a lot of what happened, I cannot help but see this epic as totally brilliant. I could see myself memorizing it and doing a cant and impressing all the drunks. :)


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Beyond IceBeyond Ice by Helene Levey Zemel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A thank you goes to the author for this ARC.

I feel I must be somewhat politic about this. Most fiction revolves around conflict, and that's true for any genre, as well.

What we have here is a remarkable lack of conflict. Happy families, everyday middle-class post-card updates, and very mild near-empty nest MC. She happens to learn she has some serious cancer. But fortunately, her family is very supportive. Always supportive. The doctors are nice and try to be optimistic, but the prognosis is definitely quite horrible. But everyone's so supportive and always makes the right noises.

On the other side of the equation is a man who would put people to sleep. On ice. And he has a very nice family. So supportive. A son who would kind of follow in his footsteps. A nice marriage for his son. Everyone's so supportive and makes all the right noises.

As a SF, this actually just reads like a diary of a fairy tale family doing exactly what a cancer victim would want, feeling like a fairyland of supportiveness and understanding.

But where's the SF? Oh yeah, the other side of the story. There's a bit of an unbelievable intrigue that gets her frozen almost by the end of the novel. And the whole "Beyond" bit in the "Ice" is kinda just an epilogue.

I really want to be supportive of this novel, but unfortunately, it has very little conflict or reason for me to be interested. If it had taken a turn at page 80 or even at page 100 and had her go to sleep and then have her wake up in some undefined future for the rest of the bulk of the book, I'd have been ecstatic. That's where the real SF comes in. Exploring possibilities. Exploring the conflicts of a person out of time, a stranger in a strange land... Something.

Not just a daydream about cyrogenics and having a Cancer happy ending despite all the realities surrounding it. This is a simple fairytale. An extremely simple fairytale. One that can be told in one line.

I'm very happy for her and all. She seems nice and all her family seems nice and the jerk who kidnapped her to put her on ice had a really nice family and all. Yeah. It was nice.

Who would read this?

Cancer victims or family members who can't deal with any heavy emotions beyond a happy ending tale for their own loved ones.

It's almost perfectly tailored for them.

For anyone else, though? Well, I was banging my head against a wall wanting to know when it would end. For practically the entire novel.

I recommend it for those people I just mentioned. No one else.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Copper Promise (The Copper Cat, #1)The Copper Promise by Jen Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like dragons?

I said, Do You Like Dragons?

Honestly, this was the point, along with all the old gods that started waking up, that got my interest revving for this book. It wasn't so much the standard Sword and Sorcery stuff that filled the first two sections of the novel. It was written well, but it was very much the same kind of thing I've been reading for a long time, and it's been done. A lot. All the standard fantasy tropes, from awakening magic, thieves with hearts of gold, discovery of nobility in oneself, and even a bit, or a lot of mischief.

Later on, though? Big battles and old gods and one hell of an epic battle against a dragon that Just Won't Die.

I've been a big fan of Skyrm. Just think that with a much better story and a bit more epic and focused without the afterworld stuff and you'll have a good feel of this novel. :) I really got into it after all the magic and the big stuff started rolling, and this was what I was missing in the first parts of the novel.

I wasn't really looking for all the comfortable and standard tropes. But I did really enjoy the dragon and the gods. :) That was extremely fun. :)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was an honestly fascinating ride of a novel. I wasn't entirely certain what to expect because of some reviews, but I'm certainly happy I got to read it. I was also a bit more satisfied with the ending than I thought I would be.

So what's the big deal with Hill's big novel?

Is it really an origin story for a handful of firestarters among a whole world's spontaneous combustion? A survival tale against the hate and fear riddled remnants of "clean" humanity? One of those ever-decreasing remnants of post-apocalyptic SF that's actually designed for adults?

Yeah, it's all of those, and more. I really enjoyed having an 26 year old MC nurse who's pregnant and learning how to live with or become a human flamethrower.

It's just not that common.

Comic books aside, of course, but this novel is not a comic book origin story at all. It's a survival fiction and it's also a pretty tight commentary on sheeple and social media and popular pundits. It's also pretty heartwarming and horrifying and an oddly powerful and persuasive argument for finding peace in our hearts. :)

I liked that bit the most. It kinda rocked.

Everything is going to hell, but the only way through it is by peace. Um... With benefits. :)

I had a really good time with this one. Thank goodness I gave it a shot. :) Maybe it's better because I lowered my expectations, but whatever, it's good. :) Loved the pyrotechnics. :)

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

MatterMatter by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those horribly complicated books that is simultaneously strong and weak in the same exact areas at the same time. *groan*

I mean, it starts off strongly with fantasy-type trials and tribulations in the empire, a king dying and his son being supplanted by the king's best friend, taking over the kingdom. Pretty standard... but then the whole other part of this novel is chock-full of purely wonderful heavy SF ideas that isn't entirely obvious at first but then becomes an infodump masterpiece of oddness and wonder and a world that really belongs as a movie just because the visual elements are completely amazing.

The world. Oh my lord, the world. Layers and layers and layers with ancient species and high tech and even ascended species. These humans are only on some outer layer. The infodumping doesn't do it justice.

Just... wow. Plus there's also different factions of the Culture, Special Circumstances against the rest, and no one seems to agree how to deal with people. :) And then there's the rogue Culture fragments that may or may not be in with the actual culture (either side), and the sister of the poor deposed kingling decided to quit Special Circumstances to help him out.

Everything else just devolves into a huge technothriller with huge stakes and ships and some really amazing descriptions and adventure.

So why am I only giving this a 4 star?

Because while the ideas are amazing and this author is known for his wonderful characters and his ability with traditional fiction, too, the character's names are too difficult and the ideas are too info-dumpy rather than a flowing masterpiece.

And to be entirely fair, I don't know how he could have done it better except by turning this novel into something much longer and gentle.

So it feels flawed and utterly brilliant at the same time. Which is a shame. I really want to LOVE this novel, not just appreciate it to death. Which I do. Hell, I want to kind of worship it, but I can't quite LOVE it. How frustrating.

I'll keep going! For straight ideas, Banks is one of those grand masters of SF. :) His characters, for their flaws, are still some of the most richly imagined. The plots are usually mind blowing.

And if he could ever keep it all flowing and working together right without tripping over each other, I might start worshipping the man as a god. :)

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Highway of EternityHighway of Eternity by Clifford D. Simak
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really don't know what to think about this one. I've become a fan of his works, but this last one, written two years before his death, neither feels like he's losing his spirit or a swan song.

Instead, it feels like a rather awesome adventure through time in the far past and the far future, relying on an average joe who's doomed to see the incorporeal spirits of what may well be fourth dimensional beings who are ourselves after being seduced by aliens in the far future after losing our drive in a perfectly conquered material universe.

It sounds pretty awesome, right? And it is, to a point, but the philosophical questions about who we are and why we gave up and then the single family who said no to the aliens comes back to ask another question... are we worthy to change our fate, or should we pass it on to our brothers?

Being in the deep past, and after interesting adventures with killer robots and translators with the wolves, the question then slides to our brothers... Will the wolves inherit the legacy we eschewed?

It's interesting and it's gratifying to dog lovers and it harkens beautifully to City, a novel about humans who've died, leaving robots and telepathic canines to ask what it was all for.

In this respect, it is a companion to that classic novel, but perhaps not fully satisfying on its own except if you don't mind open questions at the end. And maybe that's kind of the point. If the greatest members of humanity can't answer it, then can anyone?

I'm on the fence with this one. I think it is great and also not so great. It certainly left me very thoughtful.

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Hollow WorldHollow World by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What can I say? I liked this reimagining of Well's Time Machine better than the original.

It's full of fully modern sensibilities and SF concepts and even brings about a cool 50's villainiazation among a populace that has miraculously found a post-scarcity paradise, true gender equality because sexual dimorphism has been eradicated (but not orgasms:), and an old school SF idea of making God through better tech.

In fact, there was a lot of good mirroring and exploration of ourselves, what we think about God, sexual identity, and especially love.

And for those of us that have to have a bit of murder and intrigue and nuclear blasts and teleportation into space and other galaxies, we have that, too, and it's cool.

It's not exactly popcorn fiction. It owes beyond that and it is serious, but for all that, it was also great fun.

What is it about predominantly fantasy authors producing even better SF, anyway? It seems to be happening more and more often, or maybe it's all my sampling error. ;)


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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Islands in the NetIslands in the Net by Bruce Sterling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I grew up knowing that this was supposed to be a great cyberpunk novel right in the heart of the genre as it was a few years after Neuromancer, and I did eventually get around to reading his novel with William Gibson, The Difference Engine, which was pretty much a steampunk novel.

Other than that, I kept berating myself that I'd never gone back and read what should have been a staple of the genre.

So what did I think?

He was well ahead of the curve when it came to predicting the future, pretty much nailing the EU, data havens and digital currency well back in the mid eighties. Back closer to that time, I'd probably be glorifying this novel as a predictive masterpiece.

Unfortunately, the story isn't strong enough to carry us through what is apparently our new norm.

It's great to read this novel from an archeological standpoint, seeing just how much he predicted that had come true, but beyond that it was just okay. Topless women and exploding buildings was pretty much the high-action points, imho. There really could have been some better character exploration and more interesting plots. That's pretty much the worst I can say about it. The tech seemed modern TODAY even though we're 30 years ahead from when it was written.

That's impressive as all hell. I could even trace a lot of the great elements that Neal Stephenson wrote about in Cryptonomicon a good fifteen years past this book. I wanted to applaud. But unfortunately, great ideas and a great heritage doesn't always prove to be a timeless classic, and that's a real shame.

I could see the outline of something that might have been a timeless classic. It's just a shame that it didn't make it.

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Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere 1)The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC.

Post-Apocalyptic survivalism, featuring perhaps the very last midwife upon the planet.

This wasn't a particularly easy novel to get through, mostly for the emotions and the horror of what would likely happen to the surviving women after 98% of all men die from a virus and only 1/100 of that counts as women.

The author makes a pretty convincing case that what would result would be massive maltreatment of the rare women, mirroring what still happens today, but much worse, with enormous ignorance, rape, and misogyny the likes that we haven't seen since that freaking rally last week or GamerGate. Only instead of words, it's pure hellish actions.

The novel has a large number of journalism-ish stories making up the early days all the way to through the first viable children after so many died with their mothers, even after the grand majority of the human race kicked it.

In these respects, the novel is like a cross between The Children of Men and The Handmaid's Tale and a large crop of The Walking Dead, Book One.

I really appreciated it. I've been missing some serious and deep look at what it would mean to be so necessary to life and be so disrespected. It was also horrible and fascinating at the same time, but I suppose that is to be expected. Wow.





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Eden GreenEden Green by Fiona van Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one is a rather quick and furious read, starting in the middle of some hardcore action, fighting monsters, and then a twist that sends our MC Eden Green down the rabbit hole of altered body and the more subtle horror of altered identity that only gets worse when held up as a mirror against her best friend Ron and the man who names himself Tedrin, both of whom are just as infected as she.

Things are very much centered on Eden's PoV and her relationship with her best friend and the nearly psychopathic patient zero that has infected the two of them... but infected with what? Aliens? Alternate dimension nanotech? Cthulhu-ish monstrosities sending them down an entirely bloody and horror-strewn path in the wilderness with their guns and their individual dawning horrors that they're becoming the monsters?

Nothing is that clear, and we have to rely only on Eden's narration of events. It's really interesting to see how things devolve, and Eden's voice is only one of more delightful aspects of the book. It strikes a very nice balance between bloody action with spiders and needles and rapid healing and on the fly body cloning and the psychological horror of being very aware of everything that's happening to her or that could be happening to her, changing the very makeup of her soul.

This is quite fun and a delight to read. It's also a pretty damn easy and straightforward read, too. I hedged a bit with trying to classify it. The topics are pure horror, psychological horror, and great SF elements, but here's the thing: the relationship stuff and Eden's voice is very close to the category of New Adult, or an older YA category. I can't quite push this one as a standard adult horror. It just has the YA feel to it.

But no worries! There's plenty to enjoy if you need a great Halloween fix. :)

Thanks to the author for an ARC!

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Friday, September 9, 2016

EmmaEmma by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm pretty impressed with this busybody know-it-all. :)

As a character novel, the entire thing is extremely dense and interesting and oh-so-convoluted.

As a plot novel, it's not so much of anything. :)

Fortunately, I was in the mood for something that would lift individual silly characters from the realm of the opinionated and silly and and arrogant to the level of real humanity with eyes flying open.

Honestly, Austen is great at this kind of zinger. It's all about the self-realizations and the growth as a person. Sometimes there's marriages, too. Um. Wait. There's always marriages. :) This silly little girl is entirely about being a matchmaker, but doesn't have enough self-knowledge to make anything but a lucky shot work. :)

So now we have an entire novel about her misadventures and misunderstandings and her amazing talent at making a hash out of everything... but wait! Emma is very, very good at putting the blinders on, too, so she's pretty much a master at ignoring the facts and making all of her mess-ups feel perfectly rational and reasonable.

This is comedic gold for a certain type of reader. :)

Of course, if you're like me, you might get seriously annoyed at all the reaffirmations of gender roles, the horribly snide and prejudicial stratification of Regency England, and the general blindness of the self-satisfied and selfish people everywhere.

Even so, this novel is pretty fantastic. :)

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Chains of CommandChains of Command by Marko Kloos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Horrible odds? Bad choices? A chance to go after the Ex-President and a whole bunch of traitorous assholes that left the home system in the lurch and freedom from the boredom of training new recruits?

Sign me up! Um. I mean, Grayson, why don't you sign up? :) Maybe your wife will come up with a bit of a surprise for you! :)

I liked this one better than the last not only because I felt like it was kinda like getting the band back together, but because the odds were horrible on a smaller and more personal scale. :) As in, those bastards! :)

Plus, the surprises in store for them really made the tale go down well, too, and even if it wasn't an unqualified success, it certainly went beyond almost everyone's expectations. :) Yay!

I can't wait for the next installment next year! :)

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Angles of AttackAngles of Attack by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is it about third books in Space Opera that always brings us back home to Sol for a shootout for the fate of Earth? Just curious. :)

Kloos is piecing together the fractured forces of humanity and is giving us a very, very slight hope against all these overwhelming odds.

Oh, who am I kidding? People are still people and fractured is what we are. Is our distant colony going to starve, can our heroes breath through the blockade around earth to bring resources? Can Grayson ever meet up with his woman and marry her?

This one is still as fun as the previous two novels, but I'll be honest: It's hard to match and maintain the same kind of conflict or sense of conflict as before. I want to say that the stakes are higher because it's the earth under siege, but it didn't quite feel that way to me. Still, the body count is very high and maybe I'm being slightly unfair. The quality is still very high. :)

The ending is quite satisfying, though, so it's not like I'm really complaining. I can't believe that I'm so enthusiastic about Mil-SF. :)

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Lines of DepartureLines of Departure by Marko Kloos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'd been meaning to read this one for a while ever since Marko Kloos withdrew it from the Hugo nominations in '15 because of the Sad Puppy controversy. I respected his decision. It also turned me on to two great authors I probably never would have read, otherwise.

I never really considered myself a fan of Mil-SF. Not really. But then I keep reading great Mil-SF.

Marko Kloos has a style that's extremely readable. It's clear as hell with a charming and droll voice. It certainly helps, considering the topic.

Aliens with overwhelming and irresistible force, loss of almost every human planetary colony, in-fighting among the nations of earth, slow starvation and rebellion on earth, and mass rebellion within the military, itself.

Kinda sounds impossible and hopeless, doesn't it?

Yeah. And to make things worse, his higher-ranking woman just proposed to him and the military has thrown up a ton of red tape barring their union and is keeping them apart. Lousy sons of bitches.

:)

This series has got to be some of the most purely enjoyable popcorn-fiction Mil-SF's I've ever read, and this one in particular was like a deluge of all the shit hitting the fan at once rather than the previous novel which was more like one damn thing after another. The novel is simple in concept and simple in ideas. It's survival and endless war from all sides. Humanity can't get its shit together and the gallows humor is in full swing.

Now, is this a Hugo-worthy novel? I personally don't think so, but my choice would not be strictly based on how much fun I had while reading it. I'd also add the dimension of what it adds to the genre, too. It doesn't really add anything except as a fantastically good example of a very large sub-genre. I'm not saying it isn't great, because it is great, but its ideas have been done for decades and decades.

I'm absolutely going to continue it because I *am* having a damn lot of fun with it, though. :)

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Four Past Midnight Four Past Midnight by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A re-read after more than twenty years. Will it stand up?

Short answer: Absolutely. :)

The Langoliers fits snugly in the New Weird category, pretty much entirely esoteric SF with gremlin-types, alternate dimenions and/or time travel on a plane... There are no snakes here! :) The characters are a blast and we've got a firm horror vibe going on here where we are kept guessing as to who among all these random sleepers will make it to the end. Thoroughly enjoyable novella, but not my favorite. It's probably best that it was relegated to a TV movie. :)

My favorite is a toss up between Secret Window, Secret Garden, and The Library Police.

First, though, Secret Window, Secret Garden, which only slightly resembles the movie with Johnny Depp, or at least more or less. :)

This one was pretty fantastic for the writing insights, the plagiarism scare, the descent into paranoia, and the general ultimate break from reality. What's better than a writer being driven completely crazy by a story and/or a man with a definite grudge over a story? No spoilers, but so many wonderful twists happen, couldn't help but fall in love all over again.

And then there's The Library Police, which is a wonderful twist on early childhood nightmares, a diatribe on fear, Red Licorice, and a cool twist on vampirism. It was definitely probably the most effective and convoluted of all the novellas in this book, I think, and also the most scarily fantastic, diving into some of the most weird and eerie escapades, even outdoing Secret Window, Secret Garden on several levels, but maybe not as much for the MC.

The last novella, The Sun Dog, is classic SK not only for setting dropping and character dropping, but also in the twist he's known for... turning everyday objects into a nightmare of continuing and evolving proportions, driving all those involved into a deeper and deeper despair and fear. :)

Does SK have a think about mad dogs? Even Cujo was referenced here. But the dog in the photograph has got to be even better in this novella. It's absolutely more elusive and menacing, giving up on immediate danger and far-off menace for a much more paranormal and evil menace that gave me, at least, a more pervasive and ongoing fear.

It also happened to be my least favorite of the bunch, but it was still effective. :)

The middle two were plainly amazing, though. :)

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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Look to Windward (Culture, #7)Look to Windward by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Look no further if you're looking for a tale of fantastically huge sources and end results of regret, suicide, the negation of life-affirmation, exploding suns, and excellent tales of love between non-humanoid sentients and nearly god-like Minds.

This is a Culture novel. Ian M. Banks had ten of them before his death and he's known equally well for his hard SF as for his standard fiction, strangely enough.

It shows in this one. I have to admit that I was very impressed by the technological fantastics going on this this novel. Even down to the evacuation of three enormous orbitals in preparation to kill the world-spanning AI Minds, even as a memory 800 years past, was shocking and very disturbing.

The rest of the novel might have benefited from some tightening, as a whole, but in general, I loved being on the planet that would celebrate survival and a symphony just as the light of a few novas finally reached their star system, commemorating the end of an enormously costly conflict between themselves and the Culture as it finally caught up to them at light-speed.

But what of the plot? It's suicide missions, baby, on both sides. Do you really think that such conflicts end so easily, so restfully? Motivations are complicated and hate runs deep. Maybe not on the Culture's side, of course. They're pretty much above or beyond such petty things, even when the death toll is in the billions. They've got a lot more population than just that to consider.

But as for the other high-tech civilizations that still consider themselves impressive when they count their age in terms of mere thousands of years instead of complete revolutions of the galaxy, by hundreds of thousands of years? Well, they tend to be outclassed and out-thought by these nearly god-like AIs devoted to making sure all the citizens of the Culture are happy.

Of course, that doesn't stop grand gestures from giving everyone a really bad day.

This is a rather freakishly impressive novel on several levels and it marks a serious return to huge scopes in the series, but some things did still kind of drag, unfortunately.

Not that I really cared when the emotions started getting to me. :)


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What Mad UniverseWhat Mad Universe by Fredric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This old classic SF deserves to be called a classic. :) Even now, it feels fairly unique and very interesting, a solid riff off of the golden age SF and a nearly seamless conjunction with alternate reality with all kinds of BEMs. (Bug Eyed Monsters).

SF in our universe, and Fact in the other. Aliens everywhere! War of the Worlds, Mars, Venus, Teleportation, Motherships, subjugation, it's all here.

So what is this professional in the SF field going to do when faced with a reality that is everything he'd been publishing?

Why not.... BE A HERO!?!

This happens to be one hell of a fun book! Full of low-types, shady individuals, telepathic entities, spaceships, and an infinity of universes.

I keep thinking that I should have read this EARLY EARLY in my first forays into SF. I would have immediately placed this one as one of my absolute favorites of all time if not just for nostalgia's stake, but because it's smooth and so cool. :)

As it is now, I'm just extremely happy to have finally gotten around to it and say to all of ya out there wishing you knew a very good early SF title to where you could dip your beak... This one is pretty damn fantastic and I think it holds up very well even now. There really isn't that many Golden Age SF I can truly say that about.

Or at least none that I can say that I unequivocally enjoyed from the first to the last pages without some sort of major or annoying complaint. :)

1949. Very impressive. :)

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Coming Home (Alex Benedict, #7)Coming Home by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series continues to be a solid and consistent read. There are several plotlines going on simultaneously, with one picking up on the spaceship rescues from those outside of time, including relationship angst for Chase, and also the delightful return to Sol.

Of course, a return to the Earth and our solar system is roughly on par to returning to Sumeria a few thousand years from now to try and figure out, from scratch, what those people were like.

It's really a shame that humanity had a breakdown about 5k years go and anything that wasn't written in stone was lost, or else this little job of trying to figure out what a cell phone is or how the cradle of civilization had gotten to the moon in the first place would have been a much easier proposition.

Ah, but our favorite characters *do* have tidbits and hints from the diligent work of previous archeologists, at least, and some names have passed through 9k years relatively intact, the God Einstein not being one of those intact personages. ;)

Still, it's fun uncovering our present and our near future through the very distant eyes of these characters, thereby becoming a wonderful mirror to ourselves trying to figure out Sumerian culture or architecture from the scant clues that are left to us. The idea that our pasts, including what we might call our pre-written history, might actually be nothing of the sort.

Things fall apart. We could have come from a very advanced past, outgrowing so many kinds of needs, but even if they had all made things to last, the fact is: This is a Very Long Time. Nothing lasts. We just cannot know.

I feel pity for Alex and Chase, but pride in the fact that they're trying.

This is a very thoughtful novel. Not so exciting as some of the previous ones, but being thoughtful is good, too. :)

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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other WritingSlipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

This is my fourth Beukes and I was thrilled to get the ARC, not merely because the author is fantastic with mixing genres, being as solid in hard SF and mystery as she is in wonderfully evocative and detailed and interesting prose set within South Africa.

Not that South Africa is as important to the story as the recurring themes of con games and violence against women. The themes of identity and image and body mods are also extremely prevalent, too.

But she also evokes wonderful and interesting flavors for her settings, too, bringing out some of the most interesting and sharp details like all of the best writers I've ever read. She is completely conscious of the issues of South Africa, but she's just as evocative about the alien worlds featuring the problem of slime molds, the kind of world that makes cyborgs, or even a meme'd out inner-world. :)

She's weird, and I love weird. Everyone should be reading this author and start tracking her wonderful talent with characters. That's where she shines the most. :)

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Henry VIIIHenry VIII by William Shakespeare
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I can't say that the writing is bad, per-se, more that the topic is unworthy except for being an obligatory propagandist piece to prop up the worthiness of the Anglican church versus the Catholics.

I'm sure no one is surprised on this count.

There's rather less of the real drama that surrounded the King the man and all his travails or misogyny surrounding his six wives or the interesting women surrounding this historic character, rather it's just the focus on the single quasi-divorce still under the Catholic eye and the fall of the Cardinal and the succession of our dear Elisabeth by her on-stage birth under the Anglican eye.

Does it read as a set piece? A vanity play? A yawn-worthy white-wash of the man the Queen's father? Um, yeah, yeah, it does. *sigh*

And here I'd hoped for a bit more drama more in line with the actual history. Alas. Not my favorite. By a long shot.

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Richard IIIRichard III by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm nearly speechless.

I'm certain that most of my inability to form words is because I read so much history, even a few days ago, about the War of the Roses, and then, having plowed through Shakespeare's line of kings from Richard II through Richard III, having history be retold in oft-pleasing shape (inaccuracies aside), the whole shape of that history has built up into such a crescendo of howling misery in my mind that I can't except get horribly emotional about all the players in these plays.

I can't recommend total immersion enough. Truly. This is the only way to do the histories.

When I first read them, I missed so much because names and houses really didn't *mean* that much except where Shakespeare could draw them out warmly on the stage, and then when I first read Richard III I was just shocked by how damn evil and machiavellian he was, not because I really cared a whit about the people.

But now? After getting to know the history of the time AND even setting every play upon the next, giving me an unbroken line of successions, strifes, sources of woes, and, finally, a final scene of such resolution and utter endless horror, with Margaret laughing insanely atop a mountain of corpses?

Speechless. Absolutely and utterly speechless.

And I loved her from the start, too. I was amazed at how strong she became, how she took over the kingdom from her pansy husband, how warlike and valorous in battle in part 3, and then, the skulking prophetess of curses, curses, and curses in Richard III... just... WOW.

And I thought I was knocked flat on my back with Richard's performance and setup for his o'erweaning ambition and bloody nightmare that had become his "performance" in his titular play! Indeed, he was brilliant and amazing, too, but it is Margaret that brought me to tears.

I always knew that this one was one was one of the most beloved of Shakespeare's histories and so much quoted, too, but I wasn't blown away by it the first time I read it. I enjoyed it, yes, but I cannot stress just how completely amazing it is as a capstone to the War of the Roses.

Hell, those Henry the VI's that are somewhat or actually very weak in comparison, having been written before Shakespeare's powers of writing were really in full bloom, now feel as if they're required reading for me. Weak, yes, but so necessary for the full bloom of horror and tragedy that finally snuffs out the lines of both York and Lancaster.

One thing that readers might really enjoy is all the nearly-formed themes and ideas that become some of the most memorable features of so many of his other works, all put into the single basket of VI, not quite ripe yet, but sitting like a cutpurse at the crossroads. :) Anyone who loves Shakespeare really should do themselves the great justice of going through all the histories in a row. :)

I will never forget this. :)

Think about your favorite epic fantasy, all the effort you put into getting to know all the characters and their cares, and turn it into a long-drawn-out Hamlet-like affair, and weep. That's what this is, filled with poetry, brilliant conflict, and fearless manipulation of us dear readers. :) And that's just his weaker works...

Richard III is *not* a weak work. It is the knife in your back. :)

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