Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Betrayer (Foreigner #12)Betrayer by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This series is consistently satisfying in a way that very few SF can be. It's very political, very immersive, and so deeply rooted in an alien world. Humans and Atevi navigate the turmoil in the provinces as Tabini regrows his political strength. Tabini's grandmother Ilsidi has sent Bren into enemy territory to broker a deal among the most chaotic associations.

This is a huge amount of trust. And amidst various accidents, Bren has been forced to appear like he's betraying all his associations with Tabini and Ilisidi. It's exciting and it's very, very political, but Cherryh pulls it off wonderfully. I just love how Bren always comes through as an extraordinary diplomat.

If that wasn't enough to hold our interest, of course, we get a huge dose of action as war breaks out and alliances shift and Bren is caught in horrorshow of field movement and gunfire. These novels aren't normally this full of action, either, but this is the end of this mini-trilogy, so it's perfectly natural. :)

I can't help but think of this as anything but a long, long story arc over years, from Bren's early days to his middle age, encompassing so many huge changes over an alien world, with humans stuck on a small island in a world full of very dangerous aliens. What would it be like as a tv series? A long-running tv series? It's very close in my mind to, say, Shogun, and the similarities keep coming... only, I have to admit... I love this one more. :)

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Red Sister (Book of the Ancestor, #1)Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this one.

The things it does well is very, very good... but when it came to my own preferences, I got bogged down in a good and nice long rut of boredom. If I was someone else, someone who really enjoyed a lot and a lot of YA school stuff, then I'd probably go ga-ga over this.

As it is, I enjoyed the writing and the developments, albeit slow developments, of the story.

Sure, it's awesome that it's a school of assassin nuns and the Ancestors and the hints of high-tech and moving moons and all that stuff is pretty cool, but it wasn't Harry Potter and there wasn't a lot of other things going on. The huge arc was all about the chosen one and some of the nuns were rather memorable... I'm thinking of you, poisoner... and yet, there was something about it at around the mid-way point that made me lose interest. The big actions and reveals were downplayed by the resumption of more studies, or perhaps I'm just a bit inured to it.

On the other hand, when the magic comes out and the climax arrives, I'm back in the story's skin and it got good again, so I still call it a win. Maybe not the best fantasy I've ever read, but the writing is solid and everything is pretty well-developed for most tastes.

It's just the fact that I've read a ton of really great fantasies in the last year and this is a bit middle-of-the-road. Still decent, though!

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remembered raving and raving about this book back in the day, reading it long before I read his Sandman and going... wow. :) And very wow.

Up to that point, we hadn't had much of the god-punk genre. I like to believe that Gaiman was the one that really popularized the whole notion and ever since, we've had wonderful, wonderful examples filling the market. Usually UF, quite a bit of other fantasy as well, and above all, our imaginations.

We love gods. We love stories of gods. We especially love it when we bring them right to our doorstep and give them humanity and then change us into something timeless and full of wonder and even a really huge dose of skepticism.

My second read of this book falls into that second category.

I've been all over the fantasy field searching for the same feeling I got from American Gods and I've found many great examples. Some, not as wild or deeply read, some deeply read but more humorous, others verging off into the straight creative realm that only shadows the gods we know from our own mythologies.

In the end, though, none quite have the rambling feel of discovery upon discovery, the search for self and identity, as this one.

The whole con-artist angle is was still as great as I remember, of course, and what a mind-job that was, but even after the main action was ended, Shadow still went on, tying up loose ends and going the route of discovery through the other main mystery.

What is it to be a god? It's more and much, much less than being a mortal. That's what I mean by skepticism. No matter how much power you think you have, it's nothing before a good con man. Or the idea of peace. There are always two sides to a coin. Isn't that cool?

Reflections and reflections and reflections. Of course, this novel is full of great characters and story, even better reveals and discoveries, but to me, the best part of this latest read has got to be its universality. :)

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Stratus Online: Awakening (Stratus Online: a LitRPG series Book 1)Stratus Online: Awakening by Drew Cordell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit this one is a total guilty pleasure. Granted, I've only read a handful of crossover computer game RPG crossover SF's, but the few that I have, have been uniformly awesome.

Which others? Oh, a few common titles like Ready Player One and Heroes Die, to name a few. I think I may have raved about them in the past.

So, it turns out that LitRPG is a thing, now. I want to think that it might be derivative or silly because it is, after all, crossing RPG video games over into novels, capturing the thrill of loot and leveling and fascinating characters while still being just a novel, but in point of fact, it's fun as hell and dispenses with all that otherwise silly stuff of explaining where the power comes from or other BS. Let's just get right into the action and play the game, already! Like story? It has a good story! Like defeating enemies with your new skills and your new weapons and armor? You're in luck! You can even keep a close eye on your HP bar or your Mana.

Don't forget to pee!

It's hard to remember these things since so much keeps happening and you need to optimize all your time to catch all the prerequisites and outfit yourself for the big boss! And don't forget that you've got to rouse all your npc's and work closely with your online friends or this is NOT going to end well. They're relying on you, after all! Just hold it. Forget real life injuries, too. Suck it up, buttercup. Get back in the game. :)

Of course, with other great franchises like .hack that tell similar stories AS a video game or Sword Art Online which is a fantastic anime about a video game, there's always these little snags where games intrude RATHER heavily on real-life, and this book is no different. That's part of its charm.

Am I addicted, already? Yup. Guilty pleasure? Yup. I've played a lot of video games and this stuff is a pure crowd pleaser. :) Fast, great characters, great reveals and a purely fantasy-life that I'd choose even when it gets really bad because the potential for absolute godhood is so tempting. :)

So happy.

Now, I just have to take a leap and see if it's just all that I've read in the LitRPG field or whether I've just been extremely, extremely lucky. I think it's probably that I've only been picking the most highly regarded stories, though, and haven't had the misfortune of reading crap, yet. :) I can only thank the pioneers who have been reviewing this field for me.

Of course, It may not be the field that I love so much, as the writers I've chosen to read from. Drew Cordell has been consistently fantastic in all his other works and that was the main reason why I jumped on this one so easily.

It might just be the luck of having found a really talented writer who can turn his pen to anything. :)

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Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence, #6)The Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

New Craft book!!!

I got lucky with an ARC thanks to Netgalley and I immediately got sucked right into the story since I had just gotten caught up with the previous publication-order book, Four Roads Cross.

Unfortunately for me, as well as everyone else who reads these books, I still have to do timeline juggling in my head because the later Full Fathom Five takes place AFTER Four Roads Cross and it's now even worse because the new book doesn't even have a handy number-sequence in the title. Check them out if you don't believe me. :) HOWEVER. Tara's here and badass and Kai who was MC in the previous chronological novel is ALSO right square in the action, so it's pretty easy to assume that we've come into an interesting juxtaposition: book 6 is actually the latest, chronologically! :) Weird, huh?

All right! Let's put that aside, as amusing as it is to contemplate, and get down to my reaction.

The end is as big as all the rest of the books, and glorious and exciting and magical and mind-blowing, but a very long stretch of the novel reads more like a down-to-earth mystery/hardship novel, with a murder, a theft, and lots of god-debt to have to juggle. Kai's estranged sister is in deep trouble.

I admit it took me a bit to get fully into it, but I placed my faith in Gladstone and got led out of the maze with some very heady reveals that had me gibbering with excitement.

Honestly, I just want someone to go on and on about the city and how it resembles not so much a city of the dead, modernized, but how mirror-modern it is to us. I still can't get over the idea of the means they were using to launch satellites into space... a little hint: this UF is full of mind-gnawing monstrosities from demon universes pulled into iron-clad contracts so big that it requires full law firms and multinational business to make it profitable. Extrapolate from that and you see where all the economy is and what might be involved in space-flight.

Mind-blowing, I say! And then there's this little new artifact they made that superficially resembles something like an old trope of a Sword Of Power, but those tropes are just plain toddler-level simple stories compared to this little beauty that was designed to BUILD A NEW *** from scratch. Just... wow. Wanna know? Read away!

This series is freaking amazing. The level of worldbuilding continues to astound and the characters are truly badass, but not in those old-style simple ways. These women and even some of the men are complicated, flawed, full of contradictions, and yet they eat gods for breakfast. :) ... well, Tara does, anyway. :)

There are really few books quite like these. I can definitely name a good handful, of course, but I can confidently raise these very high among the very best fantasies out there, sweeping most away by the sheer strength of its ideas and its facility. :)


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Friday, August 18, 2017

Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence, #5)Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read this on a tear. I just couldn't believe how good it was. EVERYTHING was perfect.

I mean, I've read these books in publication order but they're all out of timeline order, and while that makes it seem kinda funky, it doesn't really matter because certain events HAVE to be well known before their significance can shine in the next.

It doesn't exactly make for popcorn reading. We have to keep on our toes. But that's what's so brilliant about it. We're treated to an extravaganza of wonderful ideas and scenes that make us scratch our heads in wonder and enjoyment. Wanna fly on the back of a gargoyle on a road trip and discuss translation problems of really good poetry? How about asking a truly enormous dragon why he's allowing himself to be used as a common transport vehicle rather than raging against the injustice of it? Or how about huge business concerns, contracts, and fiduciary obligations revolving around gods and their multinational holdings and how certain liabilities like LOVING ANOTHER GOD can call into question said god's commitments?

Sound awesome? It is.

And all the while we have huge action, fighting gargoyles, silvered suits, JUSTICE, demons, necromantic law firms, underwater vampire kings, and a being a priestess for a goddess based on trust and partnership rather than faith.

And you know what the best part is? TARA IS BACK! Book one's Tara is the MC here! :) :) So Great! Her student loans are a real killer. Being a modern girl giving up on the fast necromantic track is really scary. She still owes 98 souls! Now if only she can stabilize that resurrected goddess.... :)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Golden HouseThe Golden House by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

I've always had Rushdie in my rear-view mirror it seems. He keeps cropping up everywhere and I always meant to read Satanic Verses for the big hubbub it made back in the day. You know, the whole assassination thing. And yet, I never actually got a round to reading him.

And then, out of the blue, I see a chance. Netgalley. I jumped on it and was pleasantly surprised to get it. And then I read my very first Rushdie.

Expectations are a tricky thing. I rather thought I was going to get a heavy literary novel full of references and mythology bubbling beneath the circus, if not surface, of the text. What I got was exactly that, but more-so, because I was engrossed in something so very readable and enjoyable that I never once had to really WORK at it. You know?

All the references myth were telegraphed as loudly as a classic Russian novel, the basic themes as loud as Bollywood musical, the pathos and the tragedy as distinctly American as a Mafia film.

Indeed, my own references were carefully considered and a careful reader will know what to expect if they pick this novel up. :)

It was pretty awesome, all told. The search and the apparent finding and confusion of identity is a very major theme, whether told as the story of Nero Golden, the patriarch, or through any of his sons who are as bright as those in Brothers Karamazov, or through the identity of our unreliable narrator, the house-guest and future filmmaker of the House of Golden.

But let me be honest here... I'd have read and enjoyed this novel just for the sequences about the rise of the Joker in politics. :) That stuff was GOLDEN.

And indeed, all of this was clever and fascinating and the looming tragedy of the family always kept me glued to the page as if I was rubbernecking a particularly bad auto accident. And it was beautiful. I don't know what that says about me, but I certainly love a good tragedy. It was lurid and fantastical and gaudy as if we were reading about Gatsby which, indeed, there was made multiple references.

Above all, this is a very modern book full of modern post-truth America and the lies that we see with our right eyes and the distorted truths of our left. I can honestly recommend this as a great and fun read. All those accolades that Rushdie seems to be getting are well deserved. He's one hell of a writer.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The AdjacentThe Adjacent by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been reading a lot of Christopher Priest lately and I think there must be some kind of critical mass build-up because I just exploded.

The good kind of explosion. Like, my mind just popped.

This one's a love story. Odd as that may seem, looking like a death and a mystery at the beginning.

At first, I wasn't quite sure what to think. These last few books have all been dealing with the Dream Archipelago, an alternate reality close to ours in so many ways but all the names and locations are different and there are odd tech and weird creatures and fantastically detailed lives revolving around death, unending war, isolated peace, and, oddly enough, dying magicians, artists, writers, and similar.

I expected this to be similar but instead, we deal with the future London with a war to end all wars with truly weird weaponized dimensional tech and a mystery drawn out of Priest's signature depth of imagining for his characters. Melanie's body was never found. :) A charred perfect triangle had scored her right out of the ground.

He's at a loss, and that's just the beginning of the novel, just him trying to pick up the pieces, having this strange war-sagaved London get slowly revealed to him, with new mysteries abounding, where we are the ones doing all the heavy lifting. Poor Tibor is a bit distraught, but he gets there.

This is just the beginning, however, because we get extended scenes from WWI and WWII as well, with characters going through many of the similar kinds of emotional upheavals as Tibor, but with very specific and wonderfully detailed differences that are the Very key to unraveling this whole novel's mystery.

And then, when certain events come around, (no spoilers here) to tie this novel way more than firmly to Priest's The Prestige on both superficial and fundamental ways, only to slam us head-first into the last 3/4 of the novel taking place in the Dream Archipelago... well... by this point I'm snapping at people to leave me alone. I have to finish this because my mind is whirling and whirling and it is so utterly delighted and flabbergasted.

This book actually gives us the best hints as to the nature of the Dream Archipelago and the oddest bits of The Prestige and The Affirmation and it even ties itself to The Inverted World in a truly awesome way. I feel like I'm getting all those totally huge reveals only hinted at and hinted at and hinted at for so many novels. I feel like I'm getting something REALLY BIG HERE, folks.

Priest's writing is always paced rather slow but it's always deeply characterized. The world-building is absolutely phenomenal. The fact that he can string us along, leaving us almost always completely in the dark for what seems forever, is a testament to ungodly skill as a writer.

And perhaps it's just the fact that this has been building to one hell of a screaming crescendo for me for quite some time. I'm truly floored.

I won't say this is a particularly easy read and it requires a lot of extra thought on the side to piece everything together, but for all you folks that love beautiful challenges, but not challenges in writing or getting involved in the text, I totally recommend this. :)

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Monday, August 14, 2017

Mort (Death, #1; Discworld, #4)Mort by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Being one of the first and the latest of all the Pratchett reads, I'm really surprised just how much I loved this one. I'm upping the star count to a full five just because I think I liked Mort, the character, even better this time around.

DEATH on DISCWORLD. :) Seriously, there's nothing quite like it. Him. The personification. :) He meddles so much with humanity, tries to get drunk, and hires an apprentice. Not all in that order.

Death is the mewling cat at the party of life. :)

The story is a bit more interesting, I must say, than the ones immediately preceding it, and of all the books, I think it captures the essential spirit of all the ones to come after. High praise, no? I hope so. :)

Very funny stuff. :)

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Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4)Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this was an interesting installment for the Earthsea books not because it continued the grand tradition of huge fantasy implications and events, but because it flips our expectations and gives us a very domestic view of Earthsea.

That's not to say that evil things don't happen, because they do, but the scope is pulled all the way back in, with Tenar from book 2 and Ged meeting up again after almost a lifetime, with her as a middle-aged woman and Ged much changed after the events of book 3, having lost his magic.

Reader expectations can be a huge complication to any tale that wants to be told. If I hadn't gone into this with my eyes wide open, I might have been rather upset. As it is, I judged this book in my mind against a vast collection of fantasy novels rather than the highest expectations of LeGuin's other novels and I didn't find it wanting. In fact, I quite enjoyed the deeper exploration of what it means to be a woman in Earthsea, with the different kinds of magic, the complications, and the down-to-earth feel. If Ged is the wind, then the female side is the earth. No surprise, I'm sure, but it was quite well done.

As for the plot, it didn't drag for me. I've read much, much worse. :) The setup at the end was quite interesting, too.

Final estimation? It's not on the same level as the other three, but it does explore the world of Earthsea in a rather interesting way that includes two of my favorite characters from the previous books. Sparrowhawk isn't mighty and righteous or just trying to fix his mistakes. He's just a man. That's okay. :)

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

Heart's BloodHeart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is definitely my favorite of Juliet Marillier's books, but to be fair, it's only my second.

That being said, it wasn't a love at first sight, much like the main character in this Beauty and the Beast retelling. It grew on me, much as the Beast grew on Belle.

The later half was quite exciting and full of magic and trying to break the curse and there was plenty of ghosts and ghouls and armies and all the awesome Norman invasion historical stuff to keep me involved in the medieval world this draws from. All the characters became something special for me, too, thanks to the weight of their interactions and involvement with each other.

Unfortunately, it took a while for me to get there. I was kinda bored by the pacing of at least the first half and while it was really focused on the realism angle and strove hard to stick to reality in the retelling, I was only very mildly interested. It was halfway between a historical and a slice-of-life with mild hidden past. It took a while to build up to something cool.

Even so, it ended nicely and it was still charming.

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Saturday, August 12, 2017

What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror (John Dies at the End, #3)What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror by David Wong
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I always go ga-ga over these books, and for a really great reason. They're FUN AS HELL.

It bends all genres, has some of the absolutely most delicious wry comments and commentary on our modern f***ed-up life, and is consistently over-the-top when it comes to action, monster mashing, and total reality crushing.

Did I mention that this is to UF as Evil Dead is to Horror? It's not a bad comparison. But then, it's sure as hell not complete, either, because this stuff is in it's own league.

Think slacker/slasher fic that does the funniest Supernatural episodes but adds a bit of crack to it to make it even more addictive, then throw in a major course of Cthulhu, sexual innuendo, and Cracked Magazine, and then you're getting pretty close.

It's the same for all three of these books, and I'm proud to say that this third one is still very strong, indeed. No spoilers, but as it says in the series, John Dies at the End.

For those of you who don't know the books, he really does die, but it doesn't always stick thanks to the Soy Sauce. The time travel and alternate dimension hopping and a barrel of snakes that is potential girlfriends just makes things a bit complicated. You know, normal stuff.

All in a day's *unpaid* work.

Of course, that's not to say everyone has supernatural girlfriends, and Dave's Amy is a real trooper and a badass whom I really love. :)

Honestly, this is some of the most righteous laugh-out-loud OTT technocolor raunchy cool books out there. :) It's a self-conscious B-Movie that transcends into ultimate badassery. :) I am STILL totally recommending this series. :) :)

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Beneath the Dark Ice (Alex Hunter, #1)Beneath the Dark Ice by Greig Beck
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Technothriller gun-porn for people who like ancient monsters.

Does it sound like it's up your alley? Then good, this one's pretty decent at what it does. Plenty of action, some political commentary, but what it really has a lot of is super-competence and/or super-powers for its main character.

Alex is a freak of nature thanks to that bullet in his brain. Woo!

Now let's keep him in charge of his team of crack commandos and watch as the scientists they're protecting die in horrible ways deep in the ice. Woo!

Like I said, if this is your cup of tea, it's pretty decent.

If you like more ideas in your SF or you want more magic in your gun-fantasy or if you want sheer terror in your horror, you might want to look a little further afield. This book covers a lot of rather a lot of familiar territory. Even the main characters fit the mold perfectly. There's not a lot of surprises to behold. At all.

But it's Gun-Porn! Woo! It's all about setting the right expectations. :)

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The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3)The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This wraps up Le Guin's original trilogy of Ged, better known as Sparrowhawk, the greatest wizard of Earthsea, and even though I really enjoyed it, something about it keeps nagging me.

It's about death, the deathlands, and the end of magic. That's not the problem. In fact, that's the best part of it.

I suppose it's just the feel that this story is the end of Ged after I just started to get to know him. That cocky kid and cocky adult just metamorphosed into an old man. I mean, sure, he's still the same cocky and hard-earned wise man and he really shines when he picks up companions, like this young future king, but it seems like he's always having to correct his old mistakes.

Of course, that's kinda the point, too.

As a fantasy, I think it's still pretty wonderful. I guess I'm just grousing because I prefer a younger wizard. :)

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth, #3)The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's really no easy way to put this, so I'll come right out and say it.

This is one of the very best stories I've ever read.

All together now, all three books in this trilogy, together, make up one hell of a great story.

I am amazed. I cried. I was blown away by the sheer immensity of what was going on, of the implications and the revelations and the final action.

Sure, we knew that one of two things must happen by the end of the second book, but I hadn't quite realized just how invested I'd have gotten by that point. I didn't know how it would happen or what kinds of complications might arise or just how much enemies had turned into allies or who was good or bad... because that was never the point of these books.

We are all people. Every single one of us... whether stone eater, rogga, or still. The fact that the point is far from belabored, rather gorgeous in exploration and execution, makes it more than icing on this cake. I'm simply shaken to my core.

This is one of the best stories I've ever read.

It's more than sheer imagination, storytelling skill, world-building, or fantastically complicated characters or world-shattering events. It's ART.

I am 100% squealing fanboy here.

I actually whooped aloud as I was reading and startled my daughter. :)

THIS is why I read. This is the sheer fascination I always try to hold onto. :)


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Monday, August 7, 2017

Against the DayAgainst the Day by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure that I can review this. Honestly.

I'm overwhelmed with the sheer sprawling immensity and lack of cohesion except for just a few special points... the big ones happening to be light and light's refraction, and anarchism.


Yeah. That's kinda my view, too. It's set up with seemingly hundreds of little scenes and build-ups starting all the way back to Chicago's World's Fair and ending after WWI and never staying in any place for very long. Want to globe-trot around the world? Hop from character to character in admittedly brilliant and detailed and deep world-building sampling whole realities of the past? Stick around. We've got anarchism and dynamite-wielding revolutionaries, Archduke Ferdinand, Nicola Tesla, druggies, time-traveling hucksters turning harmonicists into a paranoid commune, we've got the ultimate steampunk, we've got sexual escapades from all sorts and means and ends, we've got a cumulative history of detectives starting from mining towns and ending in LA pre-noir, we've got cowboys, the Mexican Revolution, and best of all, tons and tons of science AND science fiction.

But above all, we've got light. Lots and lots of light. Double refractions cause both hallucinations and mirrored universes and where are you, Alice? The rabbit just disappeared.

So did the plot.

This novel has no plot even when it has lots and lots of scenes that appear to have plot and cohesion... but it still has nothing tying it together but a vaguely uneasy feeling that we've just been given an Anarchist Plot from the other side of the Mirror.

Who knows? Maybe I'm alone in this feeling. Maybe others will find something very deep and amazing in this after they've studied all the references, done an enormous survey of the pulp fiction of the day, analyzing all the clichés and overblown character-references, etc., but I don't have the energy or the desire for that.

Indeed, I'm caught on the fence between wanting to throw my hands up and go, WHY? and just sit back and relax and enjoy the nearly pointless ride of it all.

It was entertaining in all its myriad pieces, to be sure. I cannot say the same about trying to tie it all together in order to make sense of it all afterward. Or during, for that matter. It's random and anarchistic AS a novel. Not just with the characters and the constant re-referencing to anarchism.


I'm glad I read it, to be sure, and I'm also super thrilled to be done with it as well.

I feel like I just read a DFW novel that was wider rather than deeper than his normal fare. :)

Do I get bonus points? *sigh*

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Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2)The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a very fine fantasy. I say fine because it evokes many great labyrinthian images, old, old traditions of sacrifice to the Dark Old Ones, and eventually, freedom from the same.

There's a lot of beauty here, and while I didn't love it on quite the same scale as Ged's original journey in the first book, it's mainly because I liked the core theme better.

Other readers will absolutely take out of this book different layers. I can say that confidently because there are some really beautiful and clear layers interwoven here.

The past and the evil in the past can be broken and escaped. That which was broken can be renewed.

And what's more, so much of it has to do with our own perceptions! Of course, isn't it always? :)

Our MC is the high priestess of an ancient cult and Ged does show up halfway. It's really quite amusing to see just how easily she toys with the poor "greatest wizard", but I admit to liking this book a lot more after that point.

It's really something else to see how clear and easy this is to read compared to a lot of modern fantasy and it's even more interesting because it stands up to the test of time. Le Guin definitely has great skill. :)

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Wildfire (Hidden Legacy, #3)Wildfire by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's official. I like this series better than Kate Daniels by the same authors. Maybe it's the fact that the two MC's are damn solid and there's never any doubt about where they stand and maybe it's because I love all the side characters, too, but one thing is for certain: The action and the non-action bits are equally cool and always grip my attention.

Who knew that being a Prime or becoming one could be so wrought with danger?

Well, I guess I already knew that from the previous books, but seeing Nevada cross these troubled waters with an evil grandmother on her ass and suitors begging for her hand is a real treat.

If I don't get a lot more of these books I'm gonna scream. :) You know, like a naughty fanboy who isn't getting his way? I think that's a good plan. After all, I think I've just crossed the line into evil fanboy territory.

Who knew that Romance could be so fun! Action, magic, and lots of hot other action. It should hit a lot of people's right spots if you know what I mean.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Operation Hail StormOperation Hail Storm by Brett Arquette
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a pretty standard techno-thriller of the ultralight assassination-drone variety and it's a competent novel as far as it goes, but there are a few things that rather annoyed me about.

First of all, it wasn't the topic. I really didn't have much issue with it although I've read some very, very good versions of it, such as through Daniel Suarez. Rather, it's the editing.

A lot of the story features are repeated even if they're repeated through different PoVs. It's almost as if we had been asked to give a play-by-playback of special scenes... but in reality, we weren't asking for it at all. It happened several times and I just didn't think it was all that necessary.

The other issue was the character choices. The female lead had, unfortunately, had the Mati-Hari trope attached to her. And while she hated it, I tended to hate it, too. I liked that we tried to get her away from the trope, but it was... hard.

And then there was Hale. High-tech billionaire turns assassin? Okay. *shrug*

At least the story flew by and while it was very tech-heavy, I didn't mind that so much because I'm rather tech-heavy, so if you readers like this kind of military blow-'em-up kinda thing, I'm sure you're gonna love this book anyway. :)

Thanks to the author for a chance to review it!

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

If on a Winter's Night a TravelerIf on a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wonder why this is my third Italo Calvino book and want to kick myself. I should have read this first even though his Cosmicomics is more my speed in general. Gaah!

That being said, there's something awesomely lulling and beguiling and downright charming about this book. It reads wonderfully and with such a light touch that you can't help but feel as if you're riding in a giant's careful hand, a soft but omnipresent voice telling you where you're going and what you'll be experiencing and that you really shouldn't be surprised that you're going to be dropped into one opening novel after another after another, beckoning back to previous novels and forward again, all of which are fascinating and provoking, sexual or paranoid, driving you forward until the count of ten.

That's right. Ten novels in one. That's just how Italo Calvino rolls.

But don't think this is hard to get through! Oh, no! This alway has a helpful fouth-wall-breaking hand to guide you on your way, with a constant theme of self-reference that often goes off the deep end of metaphysics but doesn't really. After all, the novel is only referring to the nature of itself.

What is its nature? It is ten novels in one, always starting, never ending... a story within a story within a story.

I love this stuff. Like, big time. Total meta-fiction, but so damn charming and carefully crafted and often dreamlike and firmly plotted, or anti-plotted, to excite and titillate and then draw back and return once more to the idea that


You know, just like the droids.

And yet, it always is the novel you were looking for, fake within fake within fake and always turning back in upon the central theme that makes this so special: Books. Stories. Truth hidden deep, a story like an onion that can be peeled over and over and yet remains always the same.

I can honestly say I'm thrilled to have read this. It's probably the most accessible post-modern novel I've ever read and it's a comfortable and comforting ride all the way through despite the sense of uneasiness that the author intends to project upon us. Or maybe that's just me. I like labyrinths, after all. :)

Damn fine read.

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Back of Beyond (Complicated Love, #1)Back of Beyond by Neeny Boucher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I had a really good time with this YA Romance even though I really shouldn't. I mean, it has no SF or Fantasy elements at all and I've gone on record saying how I love to hate all YA... I'm so inconsistent!

And yet, I had a great time. I was in these kids shoes as they dealt with the horrors of high school and how they straddled the fences between total outcasts and being an Outcast Crew, a member of a great band, or a member of the in-crowd.

What really stands out the most, however, was the slow progression from a total hate-hate relationship into grudging acceptance and then, finally, into love. These kinds of stories always seem to strike a great chord for me. It's often completely unbelievable and entirely realistic all at the same time. Even so, it's the journey that counts.

I can easily read these all day long even though it's not normally my cup of tea. :) There's just something about it. :)

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Monday, July 31, 2017

The Hanging Tree (Peter Grant, #6)The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

These books have steadily been getting better and better and better, or perhaps it's just me getting so far invested in the stories that I can't even tell the difference anymore.

Either way, this says very great things about the books. :)

I am invested as hell.

Aaronovitch's UF writing is rather unique in that his mystery writing is unparalleled, the magic system is firmly grounded, explored, and interesting, and the MC in Peter is just a lovable nerd. Never mind that he's an apprentice wizard working for the London police force or a small subsidiary called the Folley, this is really just a fantastic police procedural full of unpredictable mysteries and grabbing reveals.

This book, however, takes everything that has been building up in the previous five books and focuses yet again on the Faceless Man and poor Leslie. In my opinion, this was a squee-worthy move on the author's part. At least, I was practically slathering with all the great reveals and directions it took.

Dealing with the rich and the issue of the other mystery was well enough and a nice departure, to be sure, but getting back into the grand arc story was simply delicious.

And now I'm stuck in the unenviable position of pining away for book seven. Who knows how long it will take? Alas!

Do I recommend this UF? HELL YES. It's one of the very best. :)

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Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill 2 (The Fairy Boy Chronicles, #2)The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill 2 by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one takes to the high seas across time through a fairy portal, marking a pretty major departure from the first book set in Edinborough and the Fairy Mound, but still continuing on as a solid adventure/quest to find his lost Lucy.

Pirates! Real dragon battles! Lost kids! Or really, teenager gypsies on remote islands! And of course, our bookish hero with his little fairy best friend is fairly front and center in the tale and he still flies! But really, we've got a few new main characters including the femme fatale teenager pirate, the crusty Spaniard, and wicked monster ship that they fatefully inherit, all the while searching for the fairy portal to traverse worlds.

Pretty sweet, right?

Honestly, it was very good but it lacked the down-home feel of the first, the mirroring that made the fantastic mix with the normal. Instead, we get adventure on the high-seas and that is just fine too.

My favorite part was near the end where we get a pretty awesome battle worthy of the big screen. :) Of course, there was also plenty of swordplay and standoffs and battles on the water, but it was the last scene that really made it for me.

I'm quite pleased to have read these, and I can honestly thank the author for turning me on to them! :)

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Foxglove Summer (Peter Grant, #5)Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This continues to be one of the very best UF series out there for a very good reason... It's always the careful attention to detail. Proper if you're a copper.

Honestly, I think this one might have hit me in the feels even more than the previous ones even though the last book's zinger was a doozy. I think it had everything to do with the fact it was a massive hunt for missing children.

Even the magical copper was called in for this one, and good thing, too.

So many of the great reveals in this mystery must remain hidden so I can only be super vague, but suffice to say: I loved the twists and turns this took. Our favorite Brook really shines in here, too.

I simply have no complaints about these books. They're solid, funny, immersive, have great magic scenes, even better police procedural, and the quirk is super. I'm almost starting to get upset that I've only one more book to go. I want to make these last. I want to stay here forever.

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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Magpie's Song (IronHeart Chronicles #1)Magpie's Song by Allison Pang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great surprise! I came into reading this blind and came out seeing wonders. The world-building is a true delight, having a feel of Sanderson's old Mistborn, a touch of hardcore steampunk, but most of all: pure and distilled fantasy dystopia.

There's a lot of story going on and what's more, Pang's writing at the plain-beauty level is something to behold. I'm not just talking about the repurposed nursery rhymes, either. I'm talking about the perfectly placed and minimal placement of pure poetry right in the text where it would have the very best impact. I was a bit awed.

Make no mistake, this is a pretty epic fantasy not in terms of battles and such, but it was a core YA that centered on thieves. Magpie and Sparrow are best friends and all the downtrodden MoonChildren are at the core of a huge piece of deception and prejudice that will soon become, (I do believe,) the main story arc of the rest of the series.

There's plenty of mystery to go around, too, but it's the details and the imaginings that make this book so beautiful. There's plenty of core story elements that will be familiar to everyone, of course, but how Pang pulls it off speaks more to some serious skill than any other author's half-hearted attempts. :) This is the real stuff.

I am going to be following this series with GREAT anticipation. I can't wait to see more of this craft. :)

Oh, and thanks to NetGalley for this ARC! I love being surprised like this!

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Squawk of the Were-ChickenSquawk of the Were-Chicken by Richard J. Kendrick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted something that tickled all my tail feathers and when I saw this on NetGalley, I just had to jump all over it.

I'm glad I did, too. I somewhat expected a tongue-in-cheek fantasy blowing some chicken or another into epic proportions a-la Pratchett, but here's the funny bit: I got a nice taste of fourth-wall literary post-deconstructionism from one character and a smart-mouthed tinkerer from another as they try and often fail to rid their little podunk kingdom of the greatest threat it has ever known!


What surprised me the most, however, was the rather detailed town, townsfolk, and all every-day life. I felt like no one was ever going to take the danger seriously until it was far too late, and that was despite or perhaps entirely because these folks were already chicken-happy to begin with! I mean, seriously, Chicken-prophesies? Chicken-remedies, professional egg-launchers... well, the last was just an accident, but still... you get the idea.

It didn't remain nearly as light as I'd hoped but as a well-rounded novel with not quite as much humor as I might expect from a title like this, I still had a good time.

I'm pretty sure I'm going to check out this author's other works thanks to this!

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Upon This Rock: Book 1 - First ContactUpon This Rock: Book 1 - First Contact by David Marusek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I came upon this as a total surprise on NetGalley, but a completely welcome one! I've read two of his other highly acclaimed hard SF novels and I didn't care in the slightest what this one might be about.

Why? Because he's just that good and I trust him completely to tell a great tale.

Now that I've finished this book, I'm not revising my statement. At all.

What should you expect here? Alaska. Deep country. We focus mainly on two sides of an issue with very little in the way of alien first contact until much deeper into the tale. That's fine, really, because we're thrown in deep into a family of ultra-conservative and perhaps quite fringe Christians who are so elite that they feel like they're more fundamental than Quakers. With a few notable exceptions as with a satellite cell phone for their online business, they would be, too.

The other side is with the Rangers who naturally have beef with this complex and disturbing family because they're squatting illegally on Public Park land.

Prepare to get fully invested in this family and the area and the Rangers, because this novel is completely fascinating and complex all on this level. And then add an alien who knows how to manipulate humanity. :) Angels! Or demons. :)

Murder, rape, right-wing nuttery, and an almost Waco situation ensue, while all the while, we're learning and emotionally preparing for a huge fallout to come.

This is only the first book in a series and the setup is delicious. The point isn't even that it is a first contact novel. The real strength is in the way it's written... the fullness of its details, and the complexity of its characters, the way they live, react, and survive as they see the world and the devil bear down on them.

I can honestly say that this is an epic setup and I trust the author to knock it right out of the park with subsequent novels! :)

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Killing Is My Business (Ray Electromatic Mysteries, #2)Killing Is My Business by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ripped through the first book wildly enthused and I began this with nearly as many talons at the ready, but even though I'm giving this a solid four stars because it's a nearly perfect "undercover PI infiltrating a mob boss's organization" Noir Mystery.

I only knocked off a star because some of the middle-action was a bit repetitious and there was obviously a lot less cool fifties-robot-revolution stuff except near the end, but I suppose that couldn't have been helped because of the nature of the story.

Even so, I had a good time and the slow reveals burned nicely and kept me thinking about where and who and what was going to happen next... still questioning what might have already been happening because of Ray's little memory problem. :) Seriously. 24 hours is too short a time for all that short-term memory stuff. :) But it still makes for a great page turner!

He is, after all, the real man of steel. :)

This stuff really does hit the spot. I love Mystery/SF blends like this. Popcorn SF at its best.

Thanks to NetGalley for the ARC!

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Made to Kill (Ray Electromatic Mysteries, #1)Made to Kill by Adam Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Definitely, a fun read, but I can't quite tell if this is going to be more fun for you straight mystery lovers or for those of you who just like a great rampaging robot private eye/assassin running about the streets of Hollywood.

Me, I like both. It's very Chandler. And as I read it, I was reminded VERY pleasantly of A Lee Martinez's Automatic Detective which has a lot of the same elements.

Still, let's be honest here. The Noir mystery field has a million imitators and what really makes each stand out from the others is just the quality of the writing and the best quirkiness of the main characters.

I think this town is big enough for both books. :)

Especially since its relatively sparse with the SF element unlike the UF element with all that Fantasy Mystery mixes. I believe we need a lot more of this mashup.

Quirky robots are FUN! :)

And this Noir was just as fun as any other mystery I've enjoyed, so double fun! :)

Now on to read the sequel that just came out! :)

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The Wizard Killer: Season 2The Wizard Killer: Season 2 by Adam Dreece
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Season 2 of this serialized magic dystopian adventure actually appealed to me more than the first.

Maybe that's just because I am truly getting into the main character now instead of just relying on action and a few measly reveals about his past.

Indeed, in this season, we get a ton of his past, his returning memory after coming back from the dead three times, the reasons for his revenge, and some really cool baddies.

The world-building is explored in greater detail, too... and I cannot complain! :)

Like the first one, this feels extremely fast-paced and there's still a ton of cool action. What reveals we do have hardly slowed the tale down. Even the memories are full of action and cool events.

Anyone looking for a fast and furious magic adventure that feels like an old western serial only with mana guns, lightning shotguns, and short swords that can bring you back to life really out to check this out. :)

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Monday, July 24, 2017

The Wizard Killer - Season OneThe Wizard Killer - Season One by Adam Dreece
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author mentioned in his preface that he was influenced heavily from the serialized format of his enormous comics collection and decided to have fun here.

It's obvious that he had a lot of fun, too, because each tiny chapter propels all the action forward in what might look like one long book of nothing but action with tiny sequences of dialogue that was just another pretext for more action.

And far from complaining, this was a light action read with magic that keeps flipping itself on and off in really cool ways that make the battles fun and dangerous and chaotic. Post-apocalyptic in nature and setting, with western-type elements of the Hero's Journey, our MC is without memory or home, in mortal danger.

This is a real crowd-pleaser, a popcorn adventure, and a fast-paced romp through death and discovery with only gentle inclusions of world-building.

The point is to have fun, and this is accomplished in spades. :)

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The Gospel of Lie: A Grieving Christian Searches the Bible for a New JesusThe Gospel of Lie: A Grieving Christian Searches the Bible for a New Jesus by Joshua Lie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into when I agreed to read this.

BUT, I'll freely admit to being pleasantly surprised because I've already been a fan of this kind of religious exploration. I might be considered a huge fan of PKD and Umberto Eco and anything that goes deep into Christian Heresies. It's fun!

Think Manichean, the Cathars, all the Gnostic writings... this is what we get. It's a great rabbit hole. :)

What this book does right: It doesn't take itself too seriously, but it certainly isn't light or superficial. Indeed, the superficial tale of Joshua Lie becoming disgruntled after a full long life of being an educated Christian, only to stop believing and then start picking up all the Gnostics, trying to reconcile everything with the basic scripture, is only telling a fraction of the story.

The real story is quite fascinating and it's entirely in the realm of the mind and the heart, of personal revelations, of Alchemy, of redeeming Sophia and Christ, of the Archons and the Demiurge, and even how Judas could very well have been the one spoken of in the prophecies. Judas's oft-maligned person is a tragic one with very different expectations.

Of course, all of these ideas have been explored in many other places, and much, much commentary has been had for and against it all, but the fact remains that it still speaks to us.

PKD's exegesis does this, as does Da Vinci Code, or Holy Blood, Holy Grail, just to mention a few, but This work provides us with a very short and very concise overview of the hottest topics and is written in a very accessible way. It's addictive. And there's easily a lot here for extended food for thought.

After all, Christ wasn't redeeming our sins, he was freeing Sophia, Wisdom, from the mad creator, the Demiurge, to bring us back to the true state of grace and wholeness. Or, to quote PKD, the Black Iron Prison, where the Empire Never Ended, the great illusion of the world where we know something is damn wrong, and that something was the fact that the creation and the creator were both flawed. Like I said, Heresy! :)

It's a fascinating ride! I totally recommend this for a very smart read down this path! It's very accessible.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill (The Fairy Boy Chronicles, #1)The Fairy Boy of Calton Hill by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Missing a bit of magic in your life?

Whether or not you're Scottish doesn't really matter, but if you like a taste of the highlands, with its rich fairyland hiding right below a hill on the edge of your suburbia, then this is surely going to delight.

We spend a lot of time in both the real world and our Fae otherland, with dragons, the little people, and a very nice setup that explains the reason why the doors to the Fae have mostly been closed, the history that used to belong to both our peoples, and a real reason to be scared. In short, we've got ourselves a fascinating world-building romp that keeps on travelling on both sides of the borders and it slides very nicely from a teenage romance story to an adventure to a shared adventure... just before it all goes to hell.

There's some really cool stakes going on here and the imagination's the limit. I especially like the Peter Pan feel. :)

I'll be honest... I generally mistrust YA tales and teenage romance and anything that might say "Fairy Boy" in the title. That's a shame, really, because if it had had just about any other title, I wouldn't have felt so much trepidation. :)

I am here to say that the tale is solid anyway!

(And it helps that I also enjoyed the author's other, adult tale, The Old Man and the Princess.)

Thank you, Sean-Paul, for the pleasure of reading these!

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Saturday, July 22, 2017

The UploadedThe Uploaded by Ferrett Steinmetz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is my very great pleasure to have read this!

In fact, because I've been ravenously hungry for everything that Ferrett has written ever since Flux, I practically fell out of my chair after I got accepted by Netgalley to get an Advance Reader Copy. Woo!

That being said, let's get down to the nitty-gritty without spoiling anything, shall we?

The concept is awesome:

Uploaded minds in a VR RPG Heaven, with the dead now far outnumbering the living in this future Earth. Guess who's in charge? It's all about the bare minimum upkeep of the Earth while the servers and the cameras and the game-reward system of social control dominate the world.

Totally cool, right?

Well, we've got a bit of everything in here, but it's the main characters that make this shine. It reminds me a lot of Doctorow's *Little Brother* with the sneaky and funny counterculture bits and the fact that sometimes even the living can program and spoof the dead. Hackers Unite, right? And then it's light enough and serious enough to put most YA novels to shame... while being entirely engaging to me on any level. There's also some very serious romance and even more serious themes going on here, too, but at this novel's core, it's all about the revolution, baby.

From the first page to the last, my attention never wavered. This is the joy of reading Ferrett's work.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: this guy should be a super-bestseller. There's no good excuse why he isn't. I'm a total fanboy because he's just got the writing chops to pull just about anything off.

This one's a winner and a half! Total SF with YA protags and some pretty epic scope that is full of some really great fun and funny stuff.

So, what do Neo-Christians and Lifeguards have in common?

Sounds like a great joke, right? Read it and find out! :)

WOOOOOOO! Great stuff! (insert fanboy squee)

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Friday, July 21, 2017

BlindnessBlindness by José Saramago
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can *almost* slip this book into that enormous category that is zombie-fiction, but alas, no. There are no zombies here.

There are, however, an increasingly large number of people going blind until there is only one left.

Chaos ensues... one heartbreaking step at a time.

Simple concept, of course, but in this case, it is brilliantly executed. The writing is clear and transforms us every step of the way from our modern society into a cold cinder of civilization, with the fall of humanity experienced first-hand and in great detail. It's no gimmick of a novel.

It's heartfelt. The characters scramble by their fingernails as they degrade into offal-smeared wretches, and all the while they still try to hold on to decency even while sickness and the collapse of all civilization ensues. Heartbreaking.

When I first started reading this, I assumed it was going to be something of an offshoot from that great classic, The Day of the Triffids, where just as much devastation happens when most of humanity goes blind as from the man-eating plants that gobble them up, only this brings us much closer to the complete hell without a commentary on niche species and survival of the fittest. Indeed, we bear witness to every single degradation that mankind can inflict on itself, from suicide, murder, rape, and apathy.

I'm an honest optimist. I actually see a lot of hope in this book, but I'm not going to kid anyone here... this is a harsh one.

It's also one of those kinds of novels that outdoes itself. It's not a simple dystopia. It's an exemplary one. Hell, it probably should be on the top of all the lists if you call yourself a fan of the genre. :)

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Postmodern Deconstruction MadhousePostmodern Deconstruction Madhouse by Peter Quinones
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Don't let my three stars steer you off. There's a lot to love in this book.

For one, the author's ability with characters is actually kinda godlike. Never mind that so many of the women are successful and smart and yet always fall for the rich dipshit or the super-intellectual in lieu of actual honest hotness. I get a distinct impression, backed up by the title of the book, that this is intentional and the main point.

Most of the stories are bright and fascinating mainly because they're very quirky in that fundamental human sense. Every character is odd or stands out as something fantastic and well-worth looking deeper and deeper into. I can just imagine bright colors and snappy attitudes getting scrawled all over nearly every page. Things are very bright even when we're dealing with the scum of the earth.

As for the stories, themselves, my main complaint is in the treatment of their ends.

Yeah, I know, this is an artsy and heavily literary experimental book that consciously eschews normal standards, but even so, my own personal enjoyment still says: FIX THOSE ENDINGS. An abrupt action or discovery does NOT signify a satisfying end, even IF it's trying to get us to think and ruminate and try to get to the bottom or eventually give up and say... oh, this is just how life is... unsatisfying and the complete opposite of a rational and analytical existence.

Of course, we could say that. And the author is probably saying that. Heaven knows a lot of it is telegraphed over and over and over in the text, the titles, even the later "stories" that aren't stories. Rather, they are a mishmash of ideas, mini-scenes, or outright collections of movie reviews for Shakespeare or horror films loosely tied together with personal ruminations (or those of a fictitious character).

I didn't like those so much. It was basically an intellectual exercise or a rambling analysis that may have had a few interesting bits but failed to really engage me, unlike the bonafide stories.

In short, I would have gone nuts over this if the stories had continued on into full novels. I was interested. Quite so, in fact. But the overly-self-conscious deconstruction elements and the need to seem clever eventually defeated the effect. I can appreciate and enjoy all the clever references, but this kind of thing is, unfortunately, a rather niche literary field full of incestuous critics dangling French cigarettes from limp fingers.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here's an odd bit of trivia: I had just read Beagle's Last Unicorn this month, so it is still very fresh in my mind. I agreed with everyone that it was a real classic with so much to love within its pages.

And yet, right after reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I'm gonna have to say I think A Wizard of Earthsea is better. Not only better, but a lot more enjoyable, fascinating, and exciting!

Not by a lot, mind you, but enough that I can easily say that this Le Guin's classic is superior. :)

I hope this comes across as high praise... because that's the intent.

I love everything about it. It's all magic and equilibrium. The magic is super impressive and the world of islands is gorgeous. But most importantly, it's Sparrowhawk that I love. This young kid has gone through a lot in his short years and almost all of the hell and shadow is of his own making. Bad decisions leading eventually to wisdom, and all the while, the magic surges and surges.

Want a dragon fight? Raising the dead? Awesome shadows underneath the waters? Great discoveries? It's all here.

Maybe people just want unicorns more. I don't know. It's not me. I want magic that's clear and deep all at the same time, with a fundamental message that isn't corny and that's interwoven so deftly within the tale of discovery that the result is always obvious and profound.

This here tale does that. Perfectly.

I love it.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Confusion, Part II (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2, Book 2)The Confusion, Part II by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slightly better overall now that I've read both Confusions together, I really feel like I got a very cool taste of the rest of the world. I'm really quite impressed that Jack got around that much. I mean, India and Mexico? Whoah dude! In Baroque, too!

I was rather more impressed with the science bits this time, too, and the fantastic personages we get to see. Newton, of course, but after all that time spent with these guys in Quicksilver, it's nice to see that they're all still sipping the silver stuff and going mad like the drug fiends they are. Just because they can do all that heavy math doesn't mean they don't know how to party like it's 1699. :)

Jack, however, and Eliza, both steal most of the show and the page count.

I'm not quite sure if I like that. It may have grown on me. Ethier way, I have to get used to it or these novels are going to go downhill quick. At least the Con-Fusion, or mixing, is going well. Economics as the hidden protagonist for the win! :)

Quite a decent novel or novels since they're all intertwined, but I feel like I ought to be more respectful and impressed than simply enjoying the ride. There's no doubt in my mind that as a historical escapade, it's one of the best I've ever read, but I do think my tastes run a bit elsewhere.

Along the same lines, though, I can say that I loved Cryptonomicon a lot more than this even though they both share a lot of the same themes. :)

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The Confusion, Part I (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 2, Book 1)The Confusion, Part I by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Now, I admit to being a huge fanboy of Stephenson in general, but unfortunately, I wasn't horribly thrilled about this book.

That's not to say that it didn't have some really fascinating bits and sequences... because it did. And I had no problems with the jumping between different times in the Baroque period, the admittedly rather heavy explorations of period economics, of political intrigues, or any of the like. Even the main characters, Eliza and Jack, are rather interesting when they're in the very heart of things, but the rest of the time, there was a lot of what might be called filler.

It's great if you're reading the book for the history, for the feel of the late 1600's and early 1700's Greater Europe (and eventually elsewhere), or just reading it for the unique mix of vagabondry and high-court intrigue with silver and gold heists, revenge, and the language.

Best of all, however, was the alchemy. There's a lot less science in this than in the first volume, unfortunately, but what there is, is really fascinating. Solomon's gold is a special kind of gold that's heavier than regular gold... but throw that into the mix of a gigantic heist and attempted unloading of said heist and the impact that it would have on whole economies, witting or unwitting... and we've got a huge Con... with a Fusion of different alchemies. :) Of course, there's also the combining of different economies in the mix, too, but no matter how clever this book might be when we dig deeper into it, the entire thing does rather fall into the plain old other kinds of confusion.

I'm going to continue because I do have a bit of fondness for Jack and Eliza, but I'm mainly sticking with it because it is, after all, Stephenson.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

The Seven (The Vagrant, #3)The Seven by Peter Newman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't usually run across fantasy that stands out this much, but when I do, I really feel the need to shout it from the rooftops.

This one wraps up one of the most fascinating and epically glorious trilogies I've ever read. This is by far one of the most ambitious and fun demon-sword tales ever, especially since goats are involved and the swords are rooted in a deeply fantastic world-building setting that's as much hard-SF as it is epic demon hoards and battles.

It even has spacecraft and high tech battles right alongside immortal demons and flesh-crafting seen on a scale I've generally never seen done this big anywhere.

But if you think this isn't praise enough, all by itself, then know that the characters are hella cool and they more that carry the entire tale in such a way that we could easily do away with all the epic battles and it would still be a really fascinating and funny and deep ride.

High praise? Well, it deserves all that and more.

I have pretty high standards when it comes to epic fantasy. There's a lot of average epic stuff out there. This one is anything but average.

And as for the author, I have no qualms about following him to the ends of the earth, no matter what he writes next. He has real chops. :)

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (VALIS Trilogy, #3)The Transmigration of Timothy Archer by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a re-read for me and perhaps not exactly my favorite of his last and greatest sequence of linked novels that began with VALIS, but it is still profound and beautiful.

Truly, it is a very good book, but it stands as both a major departure from PKD's normal fiction. That's to say, it's a novel that explores all the same themes that he's is known for, but he does it in a very firmly grounded and mainstream way that very much does NOT touch upon his more traditional SF style.

Suicide, madness, drug use, heavy intellectualism comes right to the fore... but rather than deal with it from inside the person most afflicted with it or get funky with some really strange happenings, we follow Timothy Archer's daughter in law, Angel, as she tries to come to grips with the grief of losing Tim along with all of Tim's friends.

Sound simple? Well, grief isn't simple and Tim's life and intellect was pretty fantastic and the impact he had upon everyone was pretty profound. His struggles with faith and his eventually giving up the cloth and going to great lengths, intellectual or otherwise, to discover the real truth about Jesus, has long term effects on everyone.

That's not to say there isn't a lot of really strange things happening here, however, but they're all based on reality and scholarship and the deepest quest for meaning that anyone can or ought to strive.

What if Christianity was a mushroom cult, that systematic drug use and hallucinations WAS the body of Christ? That all the early Christians were, after all, drug pushers? I love it. It's even based on some really impressive scholarship. But beyond that, there's also the idea that this mushroom also opens our minds to see the truth of reality and in so doing, allows us to link-in with the system of the universe and carry on past death for real. So, blithe and humorous assumptions aside, this was the real aspect of faith and the promise... and the tragedy is... that we lost this bridge.

Even so, my takeaway from this book, with this topic, is only a single feature in a very rich tapestry of characterizations, explorations, and fundamental human experience. Don't take my word for it. Read it with the other VALIS novels and get really surprised that this was so mainstream. I know I was.

And now I really can't wait to pick up Radio Free Albemuth again! It, perhaps more than all the rest, is the capstone of all these ideas and it is a firm adventure in revolution and science fiction greatness as well! All the ideas and themes come back in full force.

What a fantastic storyteller!

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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Equal Rites (Discworld, #3; Witches #1)Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Great Pratchett Re-Read Continues!

The third book begins the "real" development of the whole Discworld mythos, and rather than focusing on setting, it goes whole-hog (or Witch) into character and a rather deep social issue.

It is, at its core, a novel about breaking down the walls that the sexes tend to put up to keep the other side out. Witches can be wizards and vice-versa. :)

I didn't appreciate this as much the first time although I got the whole social bit perfectly... and mainly that was because I hadn't quite gotten as invested in the characters that would soon become the main driving force of the novels.

But now that I've had the pleasure of reading every novel, I'm fine. Just fine.

But Weatherwax seems to be not quite fully formed here. Isn't that odd? Or perhaps it isn't. This is the first time we see her and I have nothing but fond memories of the woman she reveals herself to be later. BUT, of course, such things always come with time. Thankfully, the wizard/witch battle was still brilliant. :)

Standing out was the Head Librarian, again, and Simon. And of course, our little witch was fun to follow but, unfortunately, she's not Tiffany.

Even so, I'm so glad to be revisiting all this! :)

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Threads of an Empire (Breaker of Nations #1)Threads of an Empire by Simon Rudman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was pretty impressed with this novel.

It should be right up your alley if you're interested in historical Carthage during its height and even more if you like magical elements in your history... including soothsayers and rather interesting demons (or demon-like) baddies.

There's a lot of war and empire building, too, so it should be just about perfect for all you epic-fantasy fans. :)

If I had any qualms about this, it's only that I've read a lot of epic fantasy and it feels very regular to me. Of course, that's rather the point, to enjoy plots where characters grow and get strong. :)

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds with this book.

My first mind revolves all around SF and SF concepts and good plots and great characters and deeper feels and plainly fun writing.

My second mind is content to have a novel that's mostly just about the immigrant condition and have a mostly realistic if slightly too regular action revolving around a strained relationship between two rather different people forced together by circumstances.

The second mind considers this novel to be rather literary and super-grounded in everyday and everyman concepts, attempting to be universal while barely touching upon anything extraordinary. This is true despite the fact that an apocalypse has come and portals to other places start turning normal doors into a random exodus on the Earth. This concept is barely explored. It's just a dirty handwavium and is used as a very convenient plot device. The fact that war devastates everything and all the normal lives are thrown into upheaval is just a setting, not something to have thoughts about.

This is fine if all we want is a character novel that makes light work of everyday chaos and instead tries to show us that normal relationships will still try to work (or fail) regardless of setting. We aren't required to have any kind of stability to live. Our two main characters here are caught in the normal struggles of very different people trying to make a go, drift apart, or otherwise dance the somewhat sad and complicated dance that is all relationships. Theirs is not a happy or exciting relationship, but it is a complicated one. The author is striving for realism and he gets realism.

The other reason this book might attract readers is the fact it's distinctly Muslim.

On the other hand, my first brain is rather disappointed. I wanted SF and this is about as mild as it comes. A brief mention that doors become doors elsewhere is all we get. The rest is just mild survival stuff with mostly running into nice people who give these kids a place to stay once they finally leave their homes. Later on, it's just the immigrant condition of making a living, falling apart, and later, wondering what happened.

As an SF it's almost nothing. At least in other "literary" works I could mention like DFW or Rand or Atwood, a lot more attention is given to making the SF interesting and thought-provoking.
This one was just a silly plot device that is below the standards of 1930's bad pulp. Sure, the literary realism side is nice and readable if that's what you want, but as an SF? Look elsewhere. It can't even be considered a post-apocalyptic.

I suppose I'm not really a fan of the super-super mild brand of literary fiction that borrows a single super-simple SF concept to tout itself as being on the forefront of the genre. It cheapens the really and truly excellent authors who have done amazing things in the field in so many brilliant ways.

If he's trying to fool the literary crowd into buying into the SF market, then fine, but that market needs to realize this kind of novel is baby/baby lite SF that's more like a shadow of a shadow of what it could be. I suppose it might be best to just call it literary and strike off the idea that it might be SF.

Ian M. Banks, this is not.

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