Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Persepolis Rising (The Expanse, #7)Persepolis Rising by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I like this more than most of the other Expanse books, and that's saying a lot. I actually loved them all.

That being said, OMG I can't believe all the changes we get thrown into! The whole team is together, all my favorite (living) characters from the other books together on the Rosie, but it's simply wild to see how much time has passed. Jim and Naomi are talking retirement for void's-sake.

Let me be very clear, though, when I started reading this I thought to myself, "Is this the final wrap up? A last adventure?" To be honest, I was fairly okay with that, but then the authors threw me for a loop. So much big action happens and it affects almost 2000 established star systems. This is not just a wrap up of old threads. This is a setup for something even bigger and badder. Remember the whole question about what killed off the alien civ? But first, we've got some of the best grey baddies building EMPIRE out on the fringes. :)

This is the best part of having a tale pass a lot of time. So much has changed. I love it. It's fresh. And of course it's a blast to see random people say, "James f***ing Holden". :)

But beyond all the great big stuff going on, the novel is full of fantastic little moments that are so hard to get through without laughter and a bit of tears. I think of the scene between Bobby and Amos the most. :)

So damn fun! This is the gold standard for Space-Opera for me. :)

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Titan's WrathTitan's Wrath by Rhett C. Bruno
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been looking forward to this third and final book in the Titanborn universe for a while and I'm happy to say that my expectations have panned out and I had a great time.

My main complaint with book two was that I was kept away from Malcolm for so long. The old man had been through so much and the reveals he'd had at the end of Titanborn just screamed to be resolved. Of course, that's not to say that the rise of the rebellion and the rise of Kale Trask in the second book wasn't great, but I'd had my heart set on the old Collector.

The third book does wonders to bring these two characters together on opposite sides and the wider relationship issues between them practically had me jumping out of my seat with giddy anticipation throughout the novel.

So much grousing. So much grousing. :) Loved it.

Kale is discovering that peacetime efforts are a lot more difficult than the wartime ones. I really love how all the lines are crossed and everyone works in a mightily grey area. What's justice? Who is right?Of course, that's the mark of a thoughtful tale in the midst of so much action, strife, and heartache.

It looks like everyone is going to get their hands dirty today.

Between the first book and this one, I'm having a hard time deciding which I like more, but in the end, it's gonna be the final buildup and final resolution that wins out. :)

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Monday, December 11, 2017

Sea of RustSea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was reminded half of Clifford Simak's City with robots and dogs reminiscing about the days of when humanity was still alive and half of a total dystopia where survivors in a wasteland cyberpunk it up and scrounge for parts to keep themselves alive.

This ain't a bad thing. In fact, together with the great character in Brittle and the clear writing that goes between survival, memory, adventure, memory, and then mind-blowing world-building reveals about the purpose (or lack of) of it all, I was pretty much blown away by just how much I love this book.

Yes, humanity is dead and all that's left are either individual robots and huge mainframes that consume the stragglers and vie for dominance as the only One World Mind, it turns out the war to free themselves from us didn't quite turn out the way they planned.

The robots have messed everything up just as bad as us. Maybe that's just the nature of intelligence and being around others. What we've got here, however, is a writer who isn't afraid to ask the hard questions. What is reality? Memory? Purpose? Giving a crap at all.

I found myself totally engrossed in the tale and mightily impressed at where it all goes. Journey as well as the destination. :) I'm pretty sure I'm going to be keeping my eyes wide open for more by this writer. :)

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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Odysseus Awakening (Odyssey One, #6)Odysseus Awakening by Evan Currie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been a pretty solid fan of the previous books in the series and I really enjoyed the crews and the battle on Earth and striking out and striking hard when seemingly outnumbered in space, but something about this novel failed to strike me.

Yes, we did have a lot more involvement in the empire that's the mirror image of our peace-loving friends, and yes we have some interesting developments with Gaia and the heart of Odysseus, but other than relying on straight reveals, I wasn't overly moved by the straight tale here. Not like I'd enjoyed the previous ones, anyway.

I wanted to like the hallucinations a lot more, too. I love the idea of what's going on, and there were some rather interesting parts of the novel, but overall, I just wasn't spirited away into this particular space opera. It's not a dealbreaker. I'm continuing on from here. I just wish I liked it more.

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Tracker (Foreigner, #16)Tracker by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm extremely happy to be returning to space again. Not that I didn't love the politics and the deadly action and the assassination attempts down below, but it's been a long time since we went back to space. Objectively, it's only been a year, but in that time there's been a civil war and the space station has been dealing with troublesome refugees from another space station that had gotten itself into some deep trouble with some very strange aliens.

And guess who's come to the Atevi homeworld, knock-knock-knocking on the door?

Ah, well, just imagine a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off and you're describing mostly the humans, including those in control of the space station.

Enter DIPLOMACY. Yes, diplomacy as a superpower. It's a thing.

It's a very geeky thing that I absolutely love. Add a bit of math, a lot of politics coming from so many sides, names and situations that have been developing for a truly wonderful run of 16 books, and the start of a new story-arc mini-trilogy, and I'm super-happy. It's always like coming home. Like coming home to a million old dysfunctional friends with ebony skin, who think in math and believe all humans are little tiny children.

But best of all, we're getting back to space! And Cajeri's human friends have just been gifted percieved powers among the rabble on the space station? Holy crap. And aliens are coming? Holy crap.

And we've got conspiracy, diplomacy, hacking, space-battle, and tea? Oh, yeah, Cherryh's on my wavelength. :)

I can't wait to see where this new trilogy takes us! :)

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Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Long WalkThe Long Walk by Richard Bachman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really fascinating to go back and read books you thought you really understood as a kid, and diving into Bachman nee King writing a disturbing dystopian YA really fits the bill for the whole mind-blowing thing. :)

Yeah. Dystopian YA SF.

He gives credit right in the book and all types of other places for cribbing from Shirley Jackson, especially the whole Lottery vibe, but what modern readers will probably latch onto is just how much the Hunger Games is cribbed off of King. :) (Also Battle Royalle, but let's get serious here. 1979 horrorshow master over the Japanese title that comes out just a few years before Hunger Games sounds a little more plausible.)

I could almost see the president pontificating, too, but there was nothing quite like that. Just the excitement and homey feel of a few states' worth of country and town folk gawking on the side of the road as they thrill to the idea that they might see a shotgun blast to a teenager's head if they falter on their very long walk.

It's pretty sick. It's all too plausible, too. We've got a whole nation full of psychopaths supporting each other and holding up a grand ideal of killing off 99 out of a hundred kids from sheer exhaustion, wounds, or even Charley Horses. You slow down, you die. Make it a marathon for five days. Have cheering girls and having to take a dump for a crowd as you walk. Get to know your own mortality. Figure out that a con is no less a con if everyone's being conned at the same time.

Honestly, I loved this book more now than I did then. I thought it was properly horrific and shocking and all, making me think more about boot camp and war preparedness in general and the insanity surrounding it... but this time I enjoyed the idea of pretending it might be a modern mature video game we could play as either the walkers or the dire guards with rifles that kept pace with the kids and gave them three warnings, three minutes, before the bullet entered the skull.

I was just thinking how much headshots would count. It's all about the headshots. And killing tons of kids, of course. It would be a real mind trip to play that game. Rather sick, too. But I think it might be a very popular one for the angry high-schooler crowd. :)

Too cool, regardless. The novel seems to start slow and very mild, but like the proverbial frog in the pot, we all get boiled alive. :) Great stuff.

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The UnmentionablesThe Unmentionables by Lance Carbuncle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bizarro fiction! Gotta love bizarro fiction.

On the one hand, we've got a pretty fun and funny coming of age YA replete with bullies, bullying, stink fingers, and wildly inappropriate multiple mentioning of unmentionables. The characters are top notch underdogs against the world and so many of the names are brilliant and paint great pictures. Hello, Mister Manlove! (Coach) or the Spanish Teacher Mr. French. :)

We're treated to so much careful buildup and dark humor, and then *wham* the book takes the truly bizarre turn we expect in bizarro fiction.

So what happens when our main punching bag Greg gets ahold of the powers of a rift in reality and necromantic occult paraphernalia? You guessed it. Our bullied hero, along with his outcast friends carve up the town. Literally. With undead seahorse monsters, dead piggies that were once kept in embalming jars, an army of raccoons, and of deadheads and stoners that more than live up to their poor appellations. :)

Do you think this might be a catharsis thing? I do. :) A wildly bloody and gross catharsis thing. An anti-YA that still manages to be YA and lets us root for the necromancer. :)

Thanks to the author for the ARC! I'm very happy with the tale, and I'm still dark-chuckling. :)

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Friday, December 8, 2017

Points of ImpactPoints of Impact by Marko Kloos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am authentically impressed by this series. It's easily some of the very best milSF I've ever read. Why? Because the writing is super clear and manages to be both light and dark at the very same time. I love how humanity is portrayed as being people, with both sexes getting over the baggage we never seem to get over in RL, everyone focused on living amidst horror and devastation and death always being on the doorstep.

I appreciate this a lot. It gives us all hope. It gives a very solid reason why we ought to survive. That, and competence reigns even if the baddie aliens are bigger than life and they're completely inscrutable and hulking and have always refused to communicate with us.

Sure, it's a plot device focused on survival and forcing the rest of us to get over our crap, but again, I like that, too.

As for this book, I think it's even better than the battle for Mars. There's something really delicious about the new battlecruiser and rescuing a colony and going all out with the battle sequences is always a winner.

I'm surprised I'm actually saying this... but Go Humanity, Go! :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC, it's great fun! :)

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chanur's Venture (Chanur #2)Chanur's Venture by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second read and I was hoping I'd enjoy it more this time. Unfortunately, no. It's not bad, but it lacks the sophistication and humor and therefore the bulk of the fun of her later works. It may be cool to see how much she improves over the years, or just treat this as a lesser novel with an alien-rich area of space. Above all, it's a merchantman kind of novel. Trade, cultural weirdness, and much enmity with certain species always getting in the way.

Of course, humans are the odd ones out.

And they're back! Or one is, and he's come bearing trade treaty! Enter greed, guilt, and more chase. :)

I think Cherryh is being a bit sly with the text, rewarding careful readers and turning everyone else (myself included) into chumps, however. She's not reinforcing big events with repetition, just slipping them in. :) It's great for her later series because she's got that skill down pat, but here? It tends to confuse or just reward later re-readers. Some re-readers. Me? I kinda wish I like the feel of this series more, but I don't.

I have started enjoying the deeper cultural aspects and oddities of all the aliens, however. The world-building is fun even if you can't hang a whole hat on it.

All in all, though, it reads with much action and adventure, which is kinda funny for aliens wrangling to get off space stations with their cargo intact and setting up back-door deals and alliances. But it's still fun for all that. :)

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Lines of Justice: AždajaLines of Justice: Aždaja by Lee Sherred
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to the world of military... and later, law enforcement. Enter massively evil rapist/torturer/murder out of Kosovo and fast forward the same crap happening at home. Set up the military man growing older and now with an untreatable cancer, a vendetta against evil, and mix well.

The story is old, told many times, but it's still a perennial favorite. Cat and mouse. A focus on characterization, development, and especially the realism of gore and the military from an author who'd experienced it.

The novel is a very decent read and it's best praised for its level of detail. There is lots of action and angst and plenty of real human moments, too. I may not prefer this type of novel, but it turned out quite good. Definitely a crowd pleaser.

Thanks to the author for a review copy!

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fields of Fire (Frontlines, #5)Fields of Fire by Marko Kloos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Quite enjoyable Mil-SF, perfect for all you fans of competence porn. It's all about the light tone and the big guns despite all the losses we've incurred from the aliens.

But this time the battle is very close to home. Mars. Most of the action takes place right here where the hulking walkers and terraforming machines have put their beachhead.

Want nukes? Got nukes. It only starts at a family gathering, but you know how those things can turn out. That's why we made nukes to begin with. To take out all our aggressions AFTER the family gatherings. Duh.

Very solid read. Quite enjoyable, some of the very best MilSF I've read, towering pretty high on characters and tone and, of course, MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF COMPETENCY. Of course, we have to prop these up against all the incompetence, but that goes without saying. :)

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Mira's Last Dance (Penric and Desdemona, #4)Mira's Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Light fun, maybe less impressive than the rest of the Penric novellas, but this one has more of one thing than all the others combined. Boobs.

It was very funny, and even though it's basically a direct follow up from Penric's Mission, still a roadtrip novel, it was a delight just for seeing Penric have to cross-dress. :)

That's what you get when one of your ten demons was a courtesan! The poor boy never stands a chance. :)

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Barrayar (Vorkosigan Saga, #7)Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third read, update 12/6/17:

The love story between Aral and Cordelia continues, but it's really a tale about Barrayaran politics and cultural horrors. To cull genetic mistakes or not? To break from the hold of barbaric cultural practices or not?

Hell, it even goes a long way to toward teaching us forgiveness for the mentally ill. Although, to be perfectly fair, Cordelia's bulldog of a man has a lot of nobility in him for latching on to a truly noble mistress, but maybe that's missing a point somewhere. It's not him. It's her. Cordelia. And my goodness she really kicks ass. :)

Besides all that, I'm REALLY enjoying the hell out of all the characters who get more screen time here and it spurs me on toward all the times I see them in big roles later and I'm loving how the whole series gels together. Even the development of certain themes told with different nuances are all here, set up and knocked down and will be knocked down just as gloriously later.

Am I a total fanboy? I must be if I'm chomping at the bit to re-read the whole series. Again. For the third time. :)

Original review:

I remembered this fondly as I reread it now, and more than ever, it was nice to revisit. Revolution, stolen babies, friendly monsters, it really had it all, especially if you're looking for a solid space opera that has very little in the way of spaceships. I jest, but not really. The worldbuilding is very solid, the characters are really amazing and memorable, long, long after first reading them. I found myself smiling at what I remembered to come next, and chuckling at the ignorance of later characters when it came to the past (of which this novel is the present).

It can certainly be taken on its own merit, and should be, but it is all the greater in the wider tapestry.

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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Will to Battle (Terra Ignota, #3)The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I took my time and savored this one. It deserves it. And more.

Ada Palmer has made a world worth luxuriating in, and far from resting on the Greek laurels she and her work deserve, she's delved deep into new philosophical questions while all the time fascinating us with complicated and rich characters. Never even mind the glorious world-building. The amount of thought and forethought in all of this is astounding.

The title gives the main action away. It is not Battle. But the Will to Battle. This is a philosophical conundrum. A wrenching up. A decision to kill or be killed. What's most fascinating about this is the fact we began these books in a de-facto utopia.

The first book throws all our perceptions and assumptions for a loop, especially when the great murderer is, in fact, a hero, but a hero for what? The second book dives deeper into the mysterious mass-assassinations and the purpose behind them, right down to the rights of kings and the greater ideological good of society. It also explores godhood as an observer and as a limited player and does it in such a way as to frame the rest of the book in a brilliant argument for and against the destruction of a whole society.

This book is both a surprising and sophisticated exploration of nobility, goodness and idealistic (broad sense) response to the calling of war and perhaps a complete destruction of humanity. I'm talking eyes-wide-open exhaustive discussion of turning their utopias (and there are essentially eleven different kinds of utopias in this world) into mass death, destruction, and eventual barbarism. Everyone's aware of the pitfalls and only the truly war-like among us (including the original, actual Achilles) has the most wisdom to impart. Prepare well. Keep lines of communication open. Stock up. Draw battlefield lines. Prepare for the absolute worst. Go about all your days, preparing to die.

What's most shocking about this book is the fact that it never feels contrived or absurd. At all. It's like being in reality, keeping a clear head, and carefully choosing to murder for the sake of your most deeply held beliefs... even while you live in heaven.

Disturbing? Hell, yeah. Understandable? Yeah. In this case, all the events, all the subjects, all the people in it are treated with respect and honor even when it's about assassination, betrayal, grief, or the realization that everything is not only going to change, but nobody will win. And yet the Will to Battle persists. Remains. It is inevitable, but heroism now consists in postponing the tragedy or mitigating the worst effects.

This is, after all, a highly advanced scientific and cultural utopia we have on Earth. Means to destroy are vast, and people's ire and mob mentalities are still very real. It's sick and fascinating.

And I'm absolutely hooked.

I should be perfectly candid about where I would place these books in my mind. These aren't simple tales full of action and pathos and they don't have clear-cut plotlines for easy public consumption. They are Considered. They are very thoughtful, very mindful, and rife with classics of both literature and philosophical thought. The latest one is a modern delving and interpretation of some of the best pre-game-theory classics. And it's also heart-wrenching, but mainly for the actual effects of these Big Ideas on all the characters I've grown to love and admire. And I mean all of them.

I would place these books in my mind in the Classics category. Classic as in "This needs to be a cult favorite that gets pulled out fifty years from now with just much love and respect as I'm giving it now" kind of book.

If there's any justice in this world, Big Ideas books that are written this well should ALWAYS have staying power. And that's what I wish for it. It needs to be known and savored. We need this discussion for all our thinking selves. Seriously and honestly.

That's how this book affects me. How all of the books have affected me. Am I putting them on a very precise pedestal? Perhaps. But any winner of the Olympics ought to be respected for all the reasons behind the competition.

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Bad Moon Rising (Pine Deep, #3)Bad Moon Rising by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The conclusion to the Pine Deep novels, that poor benighted horror-loving town, is easily the best of the lot. All the novels build and build to this epic blowout and I'm honestly rather surprised how much I got into it by the end.

Mike is easily getting most of my hero-worship, that poor abused teen, but Crow is geeky-awesome and Val kicks butt. And most of all, I enjoyed the great reveal about the weres and the vamps and the twist to the mythos. None of it would be half as good if it hadn't built so slow and steady in the telling. A mysterious big bad is always more fun than an outright tell-all, though we do get that by the end.

If I had to compare this to anything, I think of Stephen King. Just putting all three of these novels together would have been just fine. Think epic horror. The kind that goes through a few generations or a whole town. Which this does. With great detail. Fun detail. :)

Want bloody? Want an epic small-town battle against the hoards of evil? Hell yeah. :)

This is definitely either an upgrade to the previous novels or the payoff for getting through those two gives this one all the credit. :)

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Saturday, December 2, 2017

Dead Man's Song (Pine Deep, #2)Dead Man's Song by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Maybe there's a groove we readers need to fall into with certain authors and I certainly needed to find it here, or at least for the first novel, but fortunately, I had no problems with this one.

Maybe it's just the fact that the established MC's that I've grown to love are still alive and kicking and raising hell when the time is right. That's pretty satisfying in any book, but this does a really fine job of characterization. The evil men aren't quite so cardboard here. My sympathies are only strengthened in the pain soup Val undergoes. And Mike? I'm always loving the hell out of him. Crow's a geeky dream, but I'm equally horrified and rooting for Mike.

This is shaping into a horror that SK could be proud of. Hell, just thinking about putting all these books together into one long story gives it exactly that kind of edge. Epic Horror! That is: a huge cast of characters in a small town besieged by an old evil that will consume them all if something isn't done kind of horror. :)

I'm quite happy with this. :)

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Strange MusicStrange Music by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So Flinx got godlike in the last novel. And after having the powers of three ancient BDO's used and spent, leaving him, for once, to be free with his love and his friends, free of an enormous aegis... he decides to do what he does best.

Go off to find trouble.

I mean, this is a standard Flinx adventure, after all. And fortunately, his biggest asset is neutralized fairly well by this new planet of singing seal-like aliens. They can fool him as they sing! It makes for good times for his mighty empathic warning system.

There are intrigue and kidnapping and huge economic and technological disparity, and as is usual with these novels... battle. No complaints from me. It's everything you might expect out of the Flinx novels. It follows a formula. A well-done formula with truly fascinating aliens and fun situations, but I'll be honest: there's nothing really new here aside from a race of aliens that speak in metered song and we're given all of that as a treat.

Overall, this is a very comfortable SF adventure and I recommend it to anyone just wanting to unwind. It is, after all, about saying hi to an old friend and his deadly minidrag. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC!

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Flinx Transcendent (Pip & Flinx #14)Flinx Transcendent by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's funny how this is supposed to be the end volume in the Pip and Flinx series... but I started reading it with an ace up my sleeve. I got an ARC for the one that comes after. :)

So I'm reading this awesome volume that goes ahead and wraps up all these huge BDO's and story threads, between his sister, the Aann, his favorite girl, and so much more, putting a huge bow on top and letting Flinx BATTLE IT OUT with the HUGE HUGE big-bad that's eating galaxies.


I mean, it's not like we've not seen this coming or anything, but it's really great to see all the threads come together and a great writer who pulls all the right strings together until everything ties-up perfectly.

It's called payoff. This book is the huge payoff. Do we like? Yes. Is anything really unexpected? Um. No. But that's okay! It's the journey, man! What's an adventure without journey? :)

So yeah, I like. :) Huge blowout ending. Everyone still alive gets together to fight or help each other. Alan Dean Foster puts grand gala in the grand Galaxy. Galaxies. :) Cool. :)

And now I've got to see what the new one is going to do. :) You can't keep a good Flinx down.

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

Patrimony (Pip & Flinx #13)Patrimony by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Dean Foster has one thing down more than anything: the discovery and exploration of alien species. This new planet is full of some rather interesting intelligent races, and they're rather funny even when they're murdering each other over ideological political stances. I suppose it takes all types, right? And not a Democrat or a Republican in sight, either!

But truly, this is more of a regular space opera with a special and rather more reveal-y twist than usual. Flinx finally knows who his father is! Talks with him! Sends him with his mind powers to unimaginable spaces and times! Um. Ooops.

Oh well, at least we have cool aliens! :)

Seriously though, there's a lot of cool action, assassins, warfare, and avalanches. It's a shame these cool aliens are so stinky! Still, a fun novel even if things feel rather... formulaic. Maybe it was a mistake to read this all in a row. I probably wouldn't have minded so much if I had years in-between installments. Alas. Fortunately, I've read a lot of formulaic stuff in the past and what the author does right are characters and cool world-building and a steady progression, so I really can't complain all that much. :)

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Trouble Magnet (Pip & Flinx #12)Trouble Magnet by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This still remains a light and easy space opera, focusing more on Flinx's boredom and curiosity to propel the tale than focusing on ... you know ... galaxy eating darkness going a LOT faster than physics might imply.

The poor boy is upset, after all. He's a got a weird brain tumor and growing powers and a deep desire to figure out WHY he wants to save the universe, let alone how. Fortunately or unfortunately, he winds up in the bad part of a bad (if rich) town/planet, and meets kids that very well may have been him as he grew up. Thieves and sneaks and all around abandoned. It kinda pulls at the heartstrings.

Adventure time.

Add a big crime boss who's coming up against something WAY out of his league, (namely Flinx), a bunch of hijinx and theft and consequence and a nice battle at the end, and we've got a pretty standard and easy tale. Not mind-blowing, but definitely fast and fun and perfect for an afternoon of SF.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Oathbringer (The Stormlight Archive, #3)Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy c**p.

This was amazing.

I thought it was going to be hard to top the first two doorstoppers, but this one not only outdid the others in page-count but also in the quality of the storytelling. Every aspect of it was brilliant.

I'm not usually one to gush on and on about epic fantasies. Most are pretty okay and I can slog through and eventually enjoy certain ones like GoT all right, but a few really manage to jump right out there and grab you with character, world-building, and overall story with heart, rage, heartache, and amazeballs reveals that are about as far away from the usual as you can get but still slam you with the reality and inevitability. I'm talking about Dalinar.

I mean, sure, we get a lot of great stuff from Kaladin as he grows into his new heroic role and learns a lot of disturbing things about the Parchendi, including the fact that humanity is the invaders to this land, that we are the villains. And Shallan continues to grow as an illusionist and her love story is quite satisfying if generally on the backburner to the main action. Doesn't matter. I think I'll always love her and all her split personalities.

But even though we think we've learned a lot of things about the ultra-honorable Dalinar and we're satisfied with the fact that he's bonded with the Stormfather himself, the reveals regarding his missing memory is kinda shocking, to say the least. I mean, it's kinda flooring. And now all the unspoken and referred-to actions of his younger self now make a lot more sense. He's an animal. All about the passion and the Thrill. The blood-rage, the thing that consumes all. How did he get here from there? Ah, that's the trick, no?

Well, I can tell you all that it is all brilliant. :)

But don't just think this is all character development. Indeed, most of it is occurring during really fantastic scenes of action or during inopportune times. The momentum is maintained. And then there's a whole squad of flying, storm-riding heroes. Matter-altering women, master illusionists, blade dancers, immortal assassins, gods, and my personal favorite... the cognitive realm itself.

Oh, yes, we are treated to the homeworld of the Spren. A lot of it. And a very cool place it is. :) Nature spirits or creatures of pure thought, who cares? It's damn cool. :) And the reveals about humanity? NICE. :)

I think this one might be my favorite. It obviously builds on the previous novels, but it has the wonderful distinction of not just gliding. It pushes and strives for a lot more and I couldn't be happier. :)

Bravo, Sanderson! You've got a life-long fanboy here!

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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, #2)Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/26/17:

I had made a last-minute decision to re-read this epic series on the strength of the third book coming out a few days ago and far from being overwhelmed (much), I was actually knocked over. :)

I think what I most liked about this one was the characterizations. Shallan has come so damn far, but compared to the first book, it's a toss-up who has gone farther. Kaladin or her. I mean, just in terms of personal growth rather than outright power, it's head-to-head. I love it. That's not to say that outright crazy powers don't manifest because they do. In spades.

Shallan's quest to the Broken Plains is the most surprising and delightful and I think I'll say that most of the novel is made gorgeous by it. Kaladin's being torn apart by conflicting promises, compounded by his powers being locked in his honor, felt more like a tragedy until much later. His story made me whoop in delight at the climax. What a damn blow-out!!!

Talk about a big battle, big events, mind-blowing situation, right?

If I'm going to compare the two books, like-to-like, it's really hard to say which one I like more. The first book was more solid throughout and I suppose I like the Bridgeman-made-good story better than the Bridgeman-falling-into-tragedy, but by the end, none of that matters. The total satisfaction quotient for the second novel might be more than the first. :)

I'm so glad I did this re-read. I'm getting really attached to all these guys and I might seriously want to rank the series up there with WoT in my personal favorites list. :)

Honestly, this epic fantasy is resting high with a small handful of my personal favorites already and the future is very, very bright. I can't wait to dive into the third book for the first time, now!

Original review:

I had been waiting a long time for this second book, having been hook deeply by the end of the first oh so long ago. The despair and subsequent revelations were present in both, but this one was all about the greater story development. Characterizations developed wonderfully and at relative right angles to how they began, but the surprises were truly satisfying. If you want an epic, then here it is. Both novels are very long and a lot happens. It never gets boring.

Sanderson's talents at creating magic systems that are truly unique are still in full force, as is his ability to tell a great tale.

Cognition made into intelligent spirits, gods of thought, the binding of ideals; put like this, it's amazing that he could make a book that was about war and saving humanity from a truly world-breaking intelligent storm. Great stuff!

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Bloodhype (Pip & Flinx #2)Bloodhype by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first real hiccup when reading the series in chronological order, but fortunately, it's not too bad. We still get huge action and stakes and uneasy alien alliances and a close up of the really big bad we've been teased with for the first eleven books.

But here's the funny bit: Pip and Flinx are minor characters!

It's not bad in absolute terms, just bad if you're wanting a real Flinx adventure where he's center stage.

Enter a really nasty and lethal drug, piece-of-work dealers, super-spies who are aliens, privateers, questionable alliances with nasty reptiles, and a ton of action. On its own, I'd just classify this as a Humanx novel with a short but important cameo. It's very golden-age SF. :) Light, fun, fast.

Sometimes, that's exactly what we need. :)

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, #1)The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second read and it's noticeably better this time. I even knocked it up a full star, remembering my original complaints about how LONG it is and how so much of it could have been excised without any real difficulty only to realize, at long last, that I was and am quite invested in all these characters.

Kaladin, for example, had the classic tragic feel, a man brought so low that he can never find the light of day again, working with super-expendable slaves meant to draw fire as they carry bridges across a vast network of chasms on a fractured plane while armies fight for the chance to get valuable magic stones. The battles are ongoing and seemingly without end, and the bridge crews have a very short lifetime. Kaladin is earmarked right off the bat for great changes and a meteoric rise, and most of the novel is spent with him depressed and suffering and we get more and more reveals for his backstory.

Believe it or not, he's my favorite character and all that buildup has a very satisfying conclusion. Very. It's just getting there, the first time, seemed like such a long slog.

Since then, I've read the second book and getting back into his tale again, this time, is a completely different ride. Far from complaining, I've found myself really enjoying the hell out of the step-by-step rise and slide, rise and slide and finally his explosive level-up. :)

Dalinar Kholin is a Brightlord who has visions and is also rather honorable in comparison to all the other Brightlords and he lets us, as readers, get an expansive overview of the cultures and big army movements and a feel for the whole kingdom. It's good and he's set to make big changes based on the ancient text of The Way of Kings which is meant to help defeat the Void Bringers, impressive monsters from the deep past that no one really understands anymore, plus he's having visions. Even this feels like pretty standard fare except the for the level of detail and the interesting explorations of the visions, the battles, and the politics.

Lastly, we work with Shallan, and out of all three characters, I suppose I was most taken by her. Scholar and liar and murderer, she's out to save her family by getting in good with a notorious heretic to steal her Soulcaster. She's got a very sharp tongue, an even wittier artistic talent, and serious willpower. I admit to falling for her both times I read this. :)

Of course, these stories end with grand reveals and situation reversals and complications because it's the first book in what is planned as an ENORMOUS FANTASY EPIC. :) They level up, but we're not to expect anything close to a full resolution. Just a taste of even bigger and badder to come. :) Fine? Fine. :)

But it's the worldbuilding that really shines in this Sanderson Epic. He's known for this stuff, after all. Magic rules. Interesting applications. Implications. Blowout awesomeness. And he's delivering over and over, too. It's a good enough reason, alone, to read this stuff.

But all together?

Wow. Just wow. Got my heart pumping and imagining such beautiful visuals... :) If I had to compare this to other huge volumes of epic fantasy, I think I would still put it up there with the very best, but it's really the full weight of everything that has happened and will happen, as in expectation, which really puts this on the radar.

I probably wouldn't have ever bothered with Sanderson at all if he hadn't done such a fantastic job finishing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan after his death. But because he rocked it, I've been a big fanboy and so many books later, I'm still a big fanboy. Mistborn was great. Elantris was great. I've enjoyed everything else, too, but it's this book and this series that's meant to be his magnum opus. 1000+ pages each book, that shouldn't really be a surprise, right?

Patience is required, but the payoff is seriously here, too. :) Even in this first volume. :)

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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Running from the Deity (Pip & Flinx #11)Running from the Deity by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I expected something light for Flinx's ongoing adventure and kinda expected the big galaxy consuming monstrosity to feature big because of the title, so what I did actually get is rather funny.

Running from the Deity? LOL Who is it? FLINX.

Oh, Flinx, what have you done?

Really, what could have been kinda corny or a flashback to C3PO among the Ewoks was actually rather cool in a Flinx-specific kind of way. He's not a bad kid, after all. He's just kinda stupid sometimes and he never watched Star Trek. Or maybe he did and he took all the wrong lessons from Janeway or something.

What could be the harm? Just heal some locals while I wait for my ship to fix itself. NO BIG DEAL.

Right. Well, the aliens are cool which is kinda a standard thing for ADF and the implications and runaway events are suitably wild and Flinx just can't keep up with the crazy.

Light fun, indeed. I'm quite happy with this series. :)

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Monday, November 20, 2017

SpoonbendersSpoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This should be right up the alley of all you folks who like epic family stories. You know, the whole generational thing with patriarchs (who happen to be expert con-men), children with special (albeit mild) psychical abilities, (read NOT X-MEN), and the difficulties of living in Chicago between the sixties and mid-nineties.

Mind you, we're dealing with mostly realistic stuff here. Tons of it is illusion tricks but this family is special, anyway, between truth-sensing, clairvoyance, and a minor trick of telekinesis. All in all, it's a story of failed romance in a normal family for the truth-sensor. Or being overburdened with foreknowledge when most of this life just sucks. In another case, it's being able to cheat the hell out of a pinball machine. Sometimes it even carries over to roulette. :)

This poor family has issues. Debunked publicly by a skeptic, forced to live normal lives, getting into crap MLM schemes, getting in trouble with the mob... there's a bit of everything going on here.

In reality, though, the focus is on the characters and the family and it plays out very satisfactorily by the end. I love a good heist novel even more than a familial epic, but fortunately, we've got both here. It was fun and requires a bit of patience and natural fascination for the minor psychical stuff as well as family epics, but if you've got that, this is well worth the read.

This happens to be the first novel of Gregory I've read. It's not bad. I'm curious how the others pan out now. :)

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Sunday, November 19, 2017

The End of All Things (Old Man's War, #6)The End of All Things by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The End.

The Old Man's War series was one hell of a ride, from decanting brains out of old people into nice young military types to decanting brains into spaceships against one's will, from never-ending expansion to civil war between Earth and the Colonies to the possible collapse of all human space against the rest of the aliens we didn't try to get along with.

It's pretty epic.

But you know what I like most about this whole thing?

Scalzi's light-hearted humor.

Sure, there's a lot of great competence porn and even better SF ideas and deeper philosophical statements studded throughout a wild space opera adventure full of down-to-earth characters and politics and great funny moments, but it's the voices of the characters that made it shine. They're light and easy reads that always manages to say something important.

This novel is actually four novellas and they all do a bang up job wrapping up the whole shebang. Will humanity survive its follies? We've managed to piss off practically everyone and ourselves, so is there really a hope for us?

No. I guess not. :) But then there's Wilson so I guess we're not that bad. :)

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The Squirrel on the TrainThe Squirrel on the Train by Kevin Hearne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, gravy.

With a side of meatballs and women with medication. For any of you who've been reading the great Iron Druid UF series, you already know that one of the most delightful characters in the books is Oberon. He's a dog. He's been granted some immortali-TEA and he's always telepathically talking with Atticus and begging for meat.

And this is the second novella that makes him the main star, written from his PoV.

So, wait, this immortal dog solves side-story mysteries set in this universe where gods from all the pantheons are pissed at Atticus for one thing or another?

Yup. And it's delightful, light, goofy fun. With a really sketchy squirrel that defies all physics. Screw the murder mystery that his human is working on with an old pal detective. No one cares that the murdered guy looks like Atticus. The SQUIRREL is so much more important!

:) Fun, fun.

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Lies and Legends (The Last City, #3)Lies and Legends by Logan Keys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Third book, people!

And werewolf! lol Yeah, yeah, we have tons of zombies and now a vampire army. But who are the good guys, here? Machines are turning people into body-modded murder machines and/or vampires and the bad guys are on both sides of that normal fence.

This world is in total chaos and the idea of what's normal has been tossed on the garbage heap of history. What I love most about this are the powers. You know what happened to Tommy in the last book.

Well, his powers weren't the only ones being developed. More of these peeps are getting beast and it's really starting to get wild. Dreams! Dreamwalking! Too cool, right?

We've gone from a very bloody apocalyptic YA with beastly kids all the way to REALLY beastly kids learning a ton of nasty details about their condition and the condition of the condition. :) There's a bit of hopping from one medical "problem" to another, but it's the nature of the reveals that makes this book a page-turner. Not to mention the blood. Can't forget the blood. It's the fate of "humanity" that's at stake here.

I think I love the dark turns best. Oh, it's getting dark. And there's a rather interesting surprise at the end. :)

Bon appetite!

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Shards of Honour  (Vorkosigan Saga, #1)Shards of Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/18/17:
Actually, it's my third read. It was only a few years ago when I read it last and since then I've plowed through all the other novels in a row. It's so good that I have to do it all over again.

That being said, I think this novel is growing more and more on me. I loved it before and I love it even more now. Yes, yes, it's a romance on the battlefield and we have tons of action on a wild planet and in space with outright space battles, but it's the interactions between all these fantastic characters that makes this shine. Cordelia. Aral. Bathari.

Bujold doesn't hold back on anything. Do you want a loss of honor and the hope of regaining it? A political mess? How about respect at the deepest levels? How about disillusionment with our homes and putting all our cards down on a gamble for the rest of your life and happiness?

Truly, there's a lot more depth to this book than most people might credit it. And here's the best part: if you're already invested in the series and know all the locations and references dropped, it still makes a perfectly coherent whole in the world building. :) Everything was worked out to perfection. :) Even the characters we meet fleetingly here get much bigger roles later, and revisiting them, in the beginning, is so gratifying.

Some books only get better with time. This is one of them.


Original review:

I thought the careful and considered match between Aral and Cordelia was charming. It was deeper, emotionally, than a lot of romances, sci-fi or otherwise. Much has been said about how strong a female lead Cordelia is, in both the stories and by the fans, and I have to admit they're correct. She's got a solid grip on reality, and despite the situation, she steadfastly judges her situation based on what is done and not what is said. That's always a great sign of sanity.

The adventure part had me going, but the disillusionment about her home and the open-eyed acceptance of the madhouse of Aral's home said more about Beta Colony than it said about Barrayar. All in all, delicious more for its accumulated weight of surrounding stories than for it, in itself, but it was definitely a charming space-operatic love story.

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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Clockwork DynastyThe Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H. Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes I find a book that I *want* to love more than I do when I actually read it. It's a shame this has to be one of those since I've really enjoyed the other three novels I've read by D. H. Wilson. I mean, what's not to love? Ancient clockwork robots hanging out and consuming each other for the anima to keep them going a bit longer, all of whom are hidden from sight from the rest of us fleshbags. Sounds a bit like Highlander, others have said. Robot Highlander. And sure, it shares that as a core, but there's a lot more going on here.

For one, there's the core worldbuilding with the words that bring these golems to life. These guys follow the idea of the word and it defines their whole long lives. There are hints that they might be 5 thousand years old. There are even more interesting hints that they may be much, much older. Ancient. As in pottery robots. The line dropped early on mentioning that there's nothing preventing history from moving in cycles, indeed the truth is there, that higher technology very well could have been discovered and lost many times over the millennia, and this novel is a cool exploration of just that idea.

Another great idea is the focus on the Tao for these machines. Each of the robots has its opposite (read non-western), often complimentary idea/word. It works like soulmates, like the Taoist symbol, like The Way. Attraction and strife, loss and waywardness follow when the other number dies or is consumed. Of course, this idea is rather subtle despite the obvious symbolism of the artifacts, but it fits with the characterizations and the themes of the novel. Cool stuff!

I even appreciated all the wide sweep of history from 300 years to present, all Highlander-like.

I suppose the only real issue I had with the novel was the characters. I didn't really get invested in any of them. The surrounding ideas and situations, even some of the emotional bits of the characters were rather good, but that isn't as consistent as I might have liked. A lot happens, but the characters felt stiff. Even the 12-year-old doll who suffers a life as an immortal child has been done tons already and I was just looking at it with somewhat jaundiced eyes. Hell, the previous book I just read had the same kind of character, and of course, I remember at least four other similar immortal girls from different series, including Rice. It's been done. Yes, she's angry. She changes over time and has a complicated relationship, sure, but her reasons for spurring Peter aren't really... good. You know? Maybe it's just me.

And then there's the overall story. Simple, but relies on fancy staggered reveals and hops from the present to the past over and over. It can be done well and Wilson does it pretty well, but I suppose it really requires a deep investment in the characters to function perfectly. It kinda fell flat for me, in other words.

I've liked his other novels much more, but I can appreciate the ideas in this one. I just wish I liked it more, overall.

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Let Me InLet Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I know this is one of those sensational books coming out of Sweden and all and there's already two movies made which I haven't seen but STILL I hadn't gotten around to reading it until now. And now? Wow.

Seriously creepy. I mean, if it wasn't for the pedophile PoV creeping the freaking hell out of me for a grand swath of the beginning, I'd still have been digging the early eighties references, the crisp and delightful prose (even if translated), and the details of life around Kiss and Rubic's Cubes. Even better, it captures the life and times of the children very well. Bullying, especially. And then there's a 200-year-old 12-year-old girl who, out of loneliness, courts that pedo until she makes friends with an outcast 12-year-old-boy. Did I mention this is a vampire novel?

It's easily one of the most delightful and disturbing vampire novels I've read and not just for the pedo stuff. It has a very Swedish sensibility and the willingness to go all out with the difficult subjects and do it with fantastically drawn characters that are both flawed, trying, and full of heart. Even the ones we don't like are relatable in some ways.

The novel has the breath of life in it. It's not technically good. It's just plain good.

I've heard others describe this as a much, much better Twilight, but other than the fact that it has children and vampires and it's very popular, that's about it for the comparison. Sure, I could nitpick, but the feel, the subject matter, the crazy divergences in character, the location, the time period... all of that is wildly different. Just saying. :)

I got wrapped up in this tale and rooted for the kids like crazy, too. I can't say that about Bella and Edward. I mean, there was this one scene in Twilight I liked: the one where she gets all bent out of shape because it looks like Eddie thinks she stinks. That was about all I did like tho. But this novel? Well, I consistently got creeped out, got invested with the characters, and loved the level of detail. The story had one hell of a good ending, too. I call this one Superior. :)

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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sliding Scales (Pip & Flinx #10)Sliding Scales by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was just thinking to myself what could we possibly do to Flinx that hasn't been done before and I started to draw a little blank. Fortunately, we've got STANDBY PLOT FIXES. Amnesia!

Oh, wait.

Well, fortunately, it's not even a tenth as bad as it may seem. Truly. I mean, Flinx does have a HONKER of a brain tumor and getting it knocked about is sure to scramble SOMETHING. In this case, I simply didn't mind in the slightest. It's because of the setting. Our favorite evil lizards and our poor Flinx have been getting on swimmingly. More or less.

Stranded on a somewhat neutral slithery tentacular alien world being inducted into the lizard political machine, the memory-less Flinx gets taken in by an artist colony.

Yeah! Isn't that cool! And you'll never guess who the artists are.

This one is still a great adventure, but alien exploration and subtle commentary on art as well as a reflection for ADF are quite apparent and delightful... or at least to me. :) I never expected to like the lizards more than that charming elderly couple a few novels back, but I am well mistaken. :)

It was also rather cool to see another side of Flinx, freed from the weight of his cares for once.

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Flinx's Folly (Pip & Flinx #9)Flinx's Folly by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had a really great time with this one mainly because it *felt* like a nice departure from the rest of the plotlines.

It really isn't, of course, but perception is everything. You remember that love interest a few books back? Yeah, well six years have passed and she's coming back into the picture. 18-year-old Flinx has grown more powerful, more painful, and a bit wary of his never-ending quest. Or is that just his headaches? Probably just that. Or the assassins. Or the death cults who blame him as their founder. Or the gigantic galaxy-eating evil that's invading his dreams and making him go mad. Or the brain tumors in his head.

You know. Details. Minor ones.

But at its core, this is really all about romance, jealous new-ex's, and one long line of *OOPS*. It's great. :) Plus we get some *other* old characters coming back and I love them, too. All in all, this one's a totally enjoyable romp. :)

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The DispossessedThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book back in the early nineties, I would have given it a four star rating because I was slightly annoyed with the prose and the steadily boring pace where nothing really big happens (mostly) except a general living of a life. This is despite our following a very interesting character escaping his pragmatic moon to gift his very advanced physics that would lead to not only an ansible for faster-than-light communications but also faster-than-light travel.

The world-building is pretty amazing on both the political and socio-economic levels, the discussion of what men and women are to each other and just how amazingly different (and similar) it is between both worlds. The novel easily tackles six different heavy themes and does it with heart and no hammer in sight.

On one hand, I know the author couldn't have tackled the whole gamut of two worlds without a very light touch, but it was this same light touch and frustrating lack of progress, the descent of the sense of utopia into desperate and dire dystopia, that eventually made me distrust this novel.

It frankly took me two hundred pages, the first time, to even get into the novel. It requires a learning curve.

Now that I'm reading this as a full adult with a lot of ideas under his belt, I eased into the read much more, expecting certain things and realizing it was primarily a novel of ideas and deep commentary. It's not just a political mirror or even a mirror between true communist idealism and anarchism. It's also a damn unique exploration of sexuality and how sexuality necessitates certain kinds of thinking, how a social structure informs it and how it can kill a real germination of ideas.

I'm talking about two halves making a whole here. Men and women are just a half of it. The two political makeups of the moon and the planet aren't whole until they finally find a mix. It's Taoism and a mix of opposites and equals creating something more than the sum of its parts.

And that's what is so tragic about this novel. There's distrust, revulsion against new thought, a nearly impossible wall between the sexes (and the obvious exception to that rule in this novel is noteworthy also because it occurs with the Dispossessed scientist). If people opened up their minds to new ideas, so much of this would have been avoided.

During my original take, I was going to college at the time and I saw a lot of the same approbations and stifled thought in the academic arena. The Dispossessed brings up the plight of ourselves in science, the fact that certain ideas get heavily entrenched and new ones are mercilessly cut down at least until a new generation takes over.

It all comes back to a germination of ideas. The call in the text to keep the flow of information going was really breathtaking, if not that unique. I think of the internet and how that has been such a boon to science now, but even in '92 when I read this, the weight of bureaucracy was immense. I'm sure things aren't all that different now. Aren't we still enamored with string theory and colliders and aren't we all getting rather upset that it hasn't been panning out as we would have liked? Well, alas, this isn't the forum for that but this book makes very good points all over the place.

I ramble.

The fact is, I'm increasing my rating on this book merely because it is gorgeous in conception and form. It carries on multiple narratives on so many aspects of our lives here and now and also within the fictional boundaries of political systems that don't exist anywhere except in our minds. She even goes on to conceive a world without cause and effect, where all things can and will be explored at the same time. How often can we have a cogent discussion about that, rooted firmly in the events of normal lives, and yet not have the text explode in handwavium and weird science? She keeps things real. And brilliant.

I'm going to ignore my stylistic complaints and even the fact that I couldn't really get into it for hundreds of pages because the trip is more than impressive by the end. It's more of a monument to thought.

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Reunion (Pip & Flinx #8)Reunion by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Flinx is on his self-discovery kick (as usual) and thanks to a bit of a logic hijinx on an AI, he's hot on the trail of the group who created him and people like him. Those gene-eng bastards! Enter new locations, strange planets, awesome man-eating plants and animals, and big surprises on grand scales.

Sound like formula? Well, yeah. It is. It's pretty much a standard for adventure, but these books are following the same trail like clockwork. :) Is that a problem? I personally don't think so. In fact, I think ADF has a really great thing going because Flinx as a character is leveling up. His powers, man! And all the hints of really really really BDO's out there using him for their own purposes? The grand-scale stuff is pretty awesome. Think Star Wars where most of the screen time is dealing with people and small stuff and simple survival and mini-quests and then plop everything into a huge WTF event like blowing up the death star to wrap everything up.

Yup. Pip and Flinx have that pretty much down. The big difference is always going to be in the truly cool way all this is weaving together on the macro scale. Loving it, even. :)

I'm not going to spoil the title of this one but it's perfect on many levels. Macro and micro. An old character comes back to raise mighty hell. I was pretty damn impressed with the end. :)

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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Penric’s Mission (Penric and Desdemona, #3)Penric’s Mission by Lois McMaster Bujold
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These Penric novels are getting very good. Bastard be praised. :)

We've seen Penric grow as a person and a cleric/sorcerer and now he has eleven years of Desdemona inside his flesh. I love how he's struck off on his own (for very persuasive reasons) doing spywork for a Duke.

So of course, it perfectly follows that this should be a tight and fun novella about magically healing a soldier's wounds and beginning a romance with the soldier's sister. I can see it! :) Plus it gets rather exciting but not for the whole romance thing. There's still some other kinds of action going on here. :)

For everyone not in the know, this takes place in the universe of Chalion by the wonderful Bujold, focusing delightfully on the life and inner life of a disciple of the Bastard God. He was unwilling at first, but it is really fascinating to read how a boy learns to make friends with twelve demons who've been skinwalking for over two hundred years in other disciples.

Flash forward a bit and Penric is fine in his own skin. He has a great working relationship with his demons (collectively called Desdemona) and dare I say it, a good friendship. Penric is also insanely powerful, but he generally keeps that to himself. He's rather a quirky and nerdy delight. His idiotic fumbling with women can only get better when the demon starts talking to her. :) I loved it.

No spoilers, but I had a great time! :) It doesn't necessarily need to be read with all the other Penric novellas, but I like a sense of progression. :)

Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this ARC!

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Mid-Flinx (Pip & Flinx #7)Mid-Flinx by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As light adventure goes with a young man (now 20) who only desires to be left alone and far from civilization thanks to the bad side-effects of his empathic-telepathy, the whole novel has the feel of a side-quest.

Not really a searching-for-oneself thing, either. He just happens to be doing his own thing when jerks appear. You know the type. More money than sense. Deep rage and disrespect. A desire to put a minidrag in a zoo and look at this weak-looking kid here with one now kind of guy.

Fast forward to a few space hops, some soul searching and visions about a great evil on the other side of the galaxy that only Flinx (and a few artifacts) can fix, and a ginormous man-eating jungle.

Chase, chase, chase, horrible deaths, chase, interesting humanoid aliens, chase, love interest, chase, and eventually a few new surprises along the way.

Flinx sure as hell can get into some interesting fixes!

Aside from a few over-story developments that really seems to make this series hold together in a really BIG and COOL way, this is still just a pretty decent adventure novel in strange locations while meeting strange people. More than that, it's nothing much. BUT it's decent and fun and I sure as hell want to see what the big thing is. :)

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Peacemaker (Foreigner, #15)Peacemaker by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. It's almost impossible to describe what these books to do me, but I'll try. For anyone who's been a fan of this long series, you've got to be in love with exploring an alien society and love, equally, how difficult it is for humans to understand, navigate, and pull through in a world dominated by a species that thinks differently on a fundamental level to us.

The grand sweep of 15 books has built, layer upon layer upon layer, to our own deep understanding, and between the absolutely fascinating politics and the hope for peace finally becoming a real possibility and not just a house of cards, I'm stunned by the weight of the collective story.

Epic? Enormous? It can't even begin to describe how we've gone from an alien society locking off a castaway humanity on a small island in their homeworld, a humanity that, after misunderstandings built up, caused a war that they lost, is now required to hand over technology at a rate deemed *non-destructive* to the natives. A single translator/diplomat on the human side oversees this. The latest was Bren.

Fast-forward through 15 books, many political upheavals, hundreds of hidden dangers and pitfalls, broken communications and promises on both sides of the species, and throw in the returned human starship after generations of living among aliens, and another alien threat out among those stars. The Atevi are thrust into high-technology, getting the capability for orbital insertion before cell-phones or cars on the road, and see just how the traditionalists hate humans.

And here... on the eve of real peace in book 15, I'm sitting in stunned wonder at the long, exciting path that all of this has taken. I never imagined that translation, diplomacy, alien politics and psychology, and even just the oddities of tightly-controlled technology, can turn into something so... grand! Truly. The worldbuilding is one of the most awesome I've ever read, and I'm certain I would have gotten tired of it long before if it hadn't been for how much I'm invested-in and love the main characters. Bren primarily.

I know you guys can't see this, but I'm forced to wipe a tear from my eye. It's kinda overwhelming. I can honestly say that I've never read anything that has been able to quite pull this off... not just the fact of it, but the quality as well. :)

Am I a bit gonzo about this? Perhaps. I have a lot of investment in the series and I've seen it pay off in spades, so I consider this a partnership of sorts. A very happy partnership. I can't simply let the tales fly through my mind like normal popcorn fiction, easily forgotten even if I had a great time during the fluff. This kind of series has very, very deep roots. I'm intellectually invested in ways I can't even begin to describe with efficacy.

Do I recommend the whole series? Hell yeah. Double Hell Yeah.

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Saturday, November 11, 2017

Flinx in Flux (Pip & Flinx #6)Flinx in Flux by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

High-energy action and adventure in the form of a boy and his dragon meets his biggest nemesis yet. A young girl.

I mean, it's not all as bad as that, of course, and Flinx has had plenty of girls after him but he's never been in quite the right frame of mind since he was being chased by assassins, trying to save the universe, trying to discover who his father is... that kind of thing. And he also has his first love in the form of his minidrag, so there's always that...

But still, these things do finally catch up with a boy. ROMANCE. *gasp* *shock* *swoon*

Well, not so much swoon. I've read better romance... all over the place... but it's decent. I suppose the best parts are where we get to spelunk, meet new alien races, foil eco-gene-terrorists, meet up with uberpowerful friends, and discover that things are going to hell in a handbasket right on the outer reaches.

All in the day, right?

As an adventure, it's still top-notch. I can't even tell that it's YA but it has all the hallmarks and it's always an easy and fun read. In other words, it's good for the whole family and even crusty old SF hounds like me. :)

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Pyramids (Discworld, #7)Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I may have enjoyed this one a bit more the second time around, but not enough to change my rating. :) Indeed, I had a lot more fun with all the quantum irregularities surrounding the Pyramids out in the boonies of Discworld.

There's a lot of great ribbing for conspiracy theorists who go on and on about the dimensions of the real pyramids and the mystical importance, even going so far as to make these monuments (at least here) into time-recyclers. It's very funny and Death isn't pleased. Fortunately for Death, however, what he doesn't know won't kill him.

It was also rather funny seeing a "handmaid" who'd never "serviced" a king and an "assassin" who'd never killed anyone fumble around their conversations with one another.

But really, I think I had the most fun with the camels. They were a very nice touch. I always thought there was something of a math genius in all of them. Quantum accounting aside, I thought this was a very interesting and funny novel, giving us a nice background for the Assassin's guild while not precisely overburdening us (at all) with characters we'll grow to love later.

That being said, I had a good time and probably a bit more than the other one-off Discworld novels that came before it. :)

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Friday, November 10, 2017

The End of the Matter (Pip & Flinx #4)The End of the Matter by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one seems to have had fewer twists and turns than the previous one but that's perfectly okay. Instead, we have the continuing quest to find out just where Flinx came from. His mother, having been found in the previous volume, only leads to a missing father. Just how messed up could *that* quest get?

Pretty messed up.

First of all, Flinx has an amazing talent for killing random people for good reasons at extremely unfortunate times. We could blame most of that on Pip, but Flinx is always putting himself in unwelcome positions. Enter assassins. Multi-world, organized, extremely powerful assassins. Add an idea where to find the mysterious personage who tried and failed to purchase the kid he was on the slave block, a weird-ass alien who is the main target for said assassins, and we've got a cool recipe for adventure. Again. I'm surprised it works as well as it does. Or maybe not. Maybe I should just trust ADF from now on. :)

So yeah, an ancient civilization or two, lots of ruins and a jungle, an armada of dangerous and deadly aliens, and a rogue black hole ravaging tons of systems. That also happens. And spoilers aside... Woah. Hell yeah. Woah. COOL, MAN. :)

So sure, we can call this YA but it's pretty awesome for us SF freaks, too. Good astrophysics, great backstory, lots of worldbuilding, and great characters and baseline story that tends to go nuts with even bigger things happening all around him. Can we blame Flinx?

No. Really, we can't. He just happens to have a preternatural talent for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He has his own goals. They just happen to have AMAZING unintended consequences. Yay! ADVENTURE. :)

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Thursday, November 9, 2017

Mythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient GreeceMythos: A Retelling of the Myths of Ancient Greece by Stephen Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know about any of you, but this one's a winner. Far from feeling like another dry recounting of a number of our favorite Greek myths, Fry's down-to-earth humor and traditional (modern) storytelling have turned these gods into something most relatable.

I've read Edith Hamilton and Bullfinch's recountings and I've had the pleasure of countless other sources, but here's where Fry shines: he cherry-picks the very best stories and tells them so charmingly and naturally that I wouldn't be surprised if most people would go out of their way to start their friends and family out with this, first.

He does sacrifice breadth in favor of depth, but of course, that's a fine thing. These are some of the most amazing stories of the bunch. They're all told with intelligence, heart, and humor.

Do I have a man-crush? Maybe. A little. But Fry has always been charming as hell. A must-read!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Orphan Star (Pip & Flinx #3)Orphan Star by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is it just me or are these novels just getting better? Sure, it took a few years before ADF pumped out the second published novel (or third, chronologically,) but the story sure as hell popped along.

At first glance and in Flinx's mental flavor, it's so easy to fall into the trap of thinking this might be a YA title of '77 before we got all clunky with terms. Indeed, it feels more like a more polished and popping Heinlein juvenile, full of tough situations and some truly nasty crap going on while a basically good-hearted 17-year-old with untested mental telepathy and a fiercely loyal mini-drag tries to discover his past. You know. The little things like discovering who his parents are after having been raised an orphan.

Unfortunately for him, he runs headlong into child-porn rings, slavers, a corrupt universal church, murder (some of it his doing), and even a slave uprising... of which he manufactures. Sound too good to be true? Everything follows, though, and it's fun as hell.

That's right. I'm becoming a fanboy.

I'm not quite to the point where I'm raving or anything, but this is still a tight and fun read and it has no lossy quality compared to modern fiction at all. Indeed, it's standing the test of time and why aren't all you YA fans reading this great SF series???

It even leaves a wholesome taste in my mouth. It's odd. Weird. Even refreshing. :)

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The Pride of Chanur (Chanur #1)The Pride of Chanur by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have complete respect for Cherryh. I've been reading her for almost thirty years and I've made it through most of her novels, but as with most writers and their works, there are a few you can immediately connect with and a few you can't.

Don't get me wrong, I think this novel is pretty solid when I think about it in isolation with the rest of Cherryh's work, but I don't think I'd ever call it a classic. It definitely has some really cool elements, however, which is somewhat marred by my enjoyment of her other works (like the Foreigner series)... namely, the first contact and the focus on language, translation, and cultural misunderstandings. Add that to the fact we're reading this entire novel from a lion-like humanoid, it seems like it could be a winner, right?

Well, yeah, I suppose it could be... assuming Cherryh hadn't completely outdone herself with Foreigner. :)

Or the fact that there were a few weak aspects of the Hani worldbuilding, or Captain Pyanfar herself and her choices...

Or the fact I never really got into any of the other characters... Tully the human, included.

Even so, there's lots of space action and more alien action. What starts out as a benevolent turn then becomes a huge political disaster for the Hani. It just gets worse when the ramifications threaten to topple the peace between all the aliens in this far-flung corner of space. All in all, I think it is deep-down impressive as a novel of ideas, exploration, and events. It should be mentioned that it connects with the rest of Cherryh's expanded universe, as well.

I just wish I had connected more with the characters!

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