Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Singularity TrapThe Singularity Trap by Dennis E. Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where the Bobbiverse novels relied on an equal mix of pop-culture nerdiness and solid SF idea exploration in the realm of a self-replicating AI who is still effectively "human", The Singularity Trap jumps on some of the same solid SF ideas and plotting but does it without most of the humor.

I can only assume this might piss off a few fans of the other books, but not me. It just proves that Taylor has the grit to back up his SF idea exploration with nothing more than good characterizations, big tech, and even better Fermi/Game Theory musings.

The novel begins with a mining ship finding something strange which can be surmised from the cover, but more than that, this is a novel of equations. Not math we have to do ourselves, of course, but equations such as survival equations, cost/benefit equations, moral equations, or even engagement equations. What happens when a crewmate is being transformed, full body-horror included, and we have to balance it against nearly unlimited wealth? How about the risk of contagion versus unlimited tech? At what point does a person stop being a person?

When does a troublesome species like humanity become too much trouble to bother with?

I won't spoil the hell out of this novel, but one thing is certain: it does a great job at laying out all the questions and deriving a ton of conflict out of them all. The mirroring is also quite good. At what point does a transformed species still remain its parent species? At what point does an AI stop being the consciousness of the alien and be the same kind of AI that it thinks its fighting? Between nanites and AI's on the BIG playing field, I can't tell the difference except in how they play their Game Theory.

So let's hear it for the Prisoner's Dilemma! :)

This might be a standalone novel or a series. It's primed for a series. And I hope so. I'm enjoying this as much as the Bobbiverse. :)

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Monday, July 30, 2018

Eclipse (A Song Called Youth, #1)Eclipse by John Shirley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FASCISM!

Did I get your attention? Well, yeah, that's the main drive, or drive AGAINST, in this novel, but it's no cookie-cutter SF adventure. It's actually rather rich, mostly named as a cyberpunk title coming out of 1985 and revamped to include more updated cultural references to music and even Ipads as of 2012 and repubbed. Do I mind? Hell no. It seems pretty excellent and timely and who am I to say that the author can't change his mind about a few things?

Most authors can't get away with that and too many fans might get upset, wrongly or rightly. Frankenstein, anyone?

Back to this. All the characters in this are getting established to run through the whole trilogy as one single novel, so even tho there's a great blowout by the end of this one, it's not meant to end with one big battle.

Battle? Yep, this is the build-up of a fascist regime and we follow the fascinating peeps who either die or survive the rise of it. This includes the colony off Earth as well as the Earth, itself, with all the racist elements that the Us vs Them mentality you can think of. Religion, neo-nazis, corporate aggrandizement, overpopulation, disappearing resources... you name it.

The rest of us are feeling the downfall of society. I did say this was timely. And the careful attention to detail and world-building, not to mention the depth of characterization, really makes this something special.

Yes, it's a novel of civil war on a global and extra-global scale, with all the misfits banding together. There's one particular scene I loved featuring a certain old-school rocker, totally pre-punk, which made my day.

Am I impressed? Yes. Absolutely. The sprawling nature of settings, how deeply the situations are novelized makes this more like 3 or 4 books in one by sheer weight of detail. And it's often funny and personally relatable. I love my music and obviously, the author does, too. :)

My only quibble is with the somewhat one-dimensional nature of the fascist movement. Most of it could be taken right out of a pop-culture diary without much exploration into the deeper roots of the movement, including the kinds of deeper frustrations that might give rise to it. We're introduced to it as a fact of life and we're in the middle of it.

Perhaps this is true to life, but nothing is ever QUITE this simple. I'm amazed at the scope the novel provides, but I am slightly underwhelmed by the direct application of the fascism. Alas.


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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Permutation City (Subjective Cosmology #2)Permutation City by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What starts and ends as a basic search for immortality as data, as in uploading perfect copies of yourself to cheat death indefinitely, makes this 1994 novel a rather focused utopian novel. Not that things are all rosy, of course, but that it's the search for utopia, or heaven on earth, that drives the characters here.

Distinctions get very hazy between real and real. When the universe is math and math is the universe, a perfect copy as data will have no real difference with everything we have. Change some basic laws, add new elements, ramp up your perceptions or slow them way down. It doesn't really matter. Create a universe that is self-evolving, have it compete with itself and all the parts within it, run a simulation of Life, and turn Darwinism and Game Theory upon data elements.

It's smart. It's evolution in data. And when you can live thousands of years working out all the kinks in your programming in a few eyeblinks in that boring other reality, why not go all the way and live forever for real, speeding up and slowing down within the actual universe, give yourself robot waldos, meet new neighbors... or aliens... and generally play god?

We're already the running software platform in our own universe, after all. Matter doesn't really exist anyway. We're running on an encoded holographic universe. This novel just flips the concept in a mirror and spells out what we might need to do to survive.

Sure, we've seen this concept done many times now, but look at the date here. It's ALSO been done before, but few have gone as far or all out as Greg Egan. The denizens of Permutation City seem to be doing it right.

Yes, there's a good story and good characters, too, but in its heart, this is definitely a utopian novel. :)

I really miss those.

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In the StacksIn the Stacks by Scott Lynch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fun and short schooltime hack-n-slash fantasy with an always delightful twist of... a library dungeon with horrible nasties that aren't always just the books. :)

This is a revamped story from '09 turned into a full cast podcast with the link on the book page. :)

What makes this special is the humor and the delightful characters as they fulfill their final exam at their magic school by RETURNING A LIBRARY BOOK.

Delightful, scary, funny, and with as much fantastic action as you can squeeze into a little less than two hours? Hell, yes. With surprising twists, great dialogue, and beasties that learn new words. *gasp*

The best part is... this is Scott Lynch, ya'll. Lies of Locke Lamora Scott Lynch. :)

Happy eating! :)

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The Devil's Right Hand (Dante Valentine, #3)The Devil's Right Hand by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

These books are hitting a lot of my feel-good buttons. Fantastic action, overpowered characters, and a world so chock-full of tech and magic that it feels like Blade Runner had a love child with Kim Harrison's Hollows.

A human turned half-demon necromancer bounty-hunter with demon lover gets mixed up in a plot of Lucifer's. Sound good? Add trust issues between her and her demon lover and throw in some immolations, boss battles, and impossible demon-hunting action and a lot of miscommunication and play-acting, and we've got ourselves a fun novel. :)

Do I like how her lover is back? Yes. Do I appreciate that Dante is whining less? Yes. Do I like how the trust issues keep popping up? ... sort of. It seems realistic but not all that pleasant. I want more action and intrigue and big developments, not this kind of drag-ass.

But it ain't bad. Not saying it was bad. I just can't deal with more than one novel's worth. :) Trust your man, Dante! Even if he is a fallen demon. :)

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Saturday, July 28, 2018

Breakfast of ChampionsBreakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's really indecent how much I like this book. It's nearly as indecent as how Vonnegut treated his character Kilgore Trout.

Mind you, he doesn't rob, cheat or abuse the character in the traditional sense. In fact, the author shows up, treats the damn guy to success, wealth and fame, tells him he's gonna win some fancy awards in the future, and he does it only because he can.

What a damn jerk.

I mean, look at all these other SF authors other than Kilgore Trout who spend their lives writing stories in perfect irony and obscurity, only to die unsung and unloved, UNLIKE Kilgore Trout.

This kind of unflinching gorgeous tribute (in perfect irony) to SF authors, in general, makes me weep. It stabs me in the heart.

Oh, other than that, this novel is PACKED with damn funny lines, ideas for SF novels, scathing satires of our entire way of life... including all the many racial and sexual horrorshows that we call our culture. Someone has probably counted all the myriad other preoccupations and nonsense. I did not. But it's overflowing. And funny.

And what's almost as good...? Idea after idea after idea of great SF novels meant to hold up a mirror to us and make us ashamed.

EAT YOUR WHEATIES!

Oddly enough, I was fully prepared to hate this book and Vonnegut in general because he's popular and so many people who would sneer at SF would swear by him. Unfortunately for me, he's WEIRD and screwball and a delight to read. Damn it!


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BrasylBrasyl by Ian McDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, you know that author who constantly comes out with deep characterizations and even deeper worldbuilding, flitting about from one huge idea concept to another but always keeping the narrative tight to the MC's? The one who wrote Luna and it's sequel, not to mention an earlier favorite Desolation Road? Or Dervish House?

Yeah. Him. He who dazzles with amazingly detailed characterizations in wildly descriptive settings, be it a luna colony done as the Godfather, or an extended future Mars colony quite UNLIKE KSR's.

Have him turn his sights to Brasil of the present, future, and past. Anchor it with a Jesuit priest, a sordid sensationalist reporter, and a complex minor thief in the future, then WRITE A NOVEL JUST LIKE CLOUD ATLAS.

Seriously. Not the particulars, but the style. As in, sprawling locales and amazingly drilled-down MCs, make you wonder where the hell the novel is going or whether these weird mysteries are MEANT to go anywhere for 3/4ths of the book, and the slam us with the big reveal that ties everything together in a really huge SFnal way.

Just like Cloud Atlas.

Want tons of alternate realities, quantum knives, organizations that kinda police it all from above, or massive quantum hacking, mysticism from remote tribes doing the same thing, or chasing mysterious doppelgangers ruining your life?

Well, this novel is right up your alley.

Well written, dense as hell, rich the way you think god in nature must be rich, and taxing on your patience every step of the way. Or maybe that's just me. The payoff is much later in the novel. The rest of the time I just have to sit back and try to enjoy the ride. It's always interesting, but it's nearly impossible to predict.

Nommed for Hugo back in '08. Rich, but not exactly my best cup of tea. :)

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Friday, July 27, 2018

Theories of Flight (Samuil Petrovitch, #2)Theories of Flight by Simon Morden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Returning to the Metrozone after the first book and several years in-between was NOT an issue. In fact, this one was pretty much awesome when it came to catching us up and re-building the world and heading us straight into the gee-whiz awesomeness of an anti-grav breakthrough and soon into the darker underbelly of a complete civil war.

Best features: cyberpunk, a great AI, super smart Samuil Petrovitch being rightfully egotistical and badass, and a truly great world to play in.

Oh, and it's quite Russian. With plenty of Russian humor. :)

This novel was pretty much a ramp-up in pacing and tons of streamlined action. The characters are pretty damn memorable, too. But what's the best part of this?

The resolution. It goes from an awesome flight to a massive turnaround with even more massive repercussions across the world. :)

I'm not letting this sit on the sidelines again. I'm going to enjoy the hell out of reading the other two. :)

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A Chemical History of a CandleA Chemical History of a Candle by Michael Faraday
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know when you get that burning idea that says, "Oh, Lordy, I wish I had been there for those science lectures?"

Well, HERE YOU GO.

Honestly, though, this is 1861 with the actual Michael Faraday of the Faraday cages for dispersing EM currents, although he doesn't go into any of that here. These classroom lectures DO come with some really great chemical breakdowns of everything surrounding a candle all the way to some really cool metallurgy experiments, from combustion to purification, all the way to platinum.

I was particularly impressed with the means and methods he shows us how to determine the weight of elements and how to determine so much more. It's all perfectly understandable building blocks but putting them all together in this way is damn creative and fascinating. I mean, It's SCIENCE, Baby!

Never mind the oldschool measurement systems, it's still clear and everything is fairly easily convertible. I keep thinking that this would be a fantastic book to have with us if we should ever fall into another dark age. It's a perfect stepping stone to regaining lost knowledge once we slip back into the bronze age. It even gives us chemical batteries, explosives, and suction cups! All the things we absolutely need in the bathroom! :)

It's not quite as delightful a science text as some of our more modern authors, but street cred and great explanations go a LONG way. I totally recommend this for chemistry nerds.

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The Vanishing Tower (The Elric Saga, #4)The Vanishing Tower by Michael Moorcock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this somewhat less than a few of the previous books in the Elric Saga, but only because it had less of the nearly meta-multiple-worlds eternal hero/villain in it except for the last tale.

The rest of it seemed very natural for a sword and sorcery adventure and rather plain. You know, a mysterious woman, albeit overpowered and in need of more overpowered help, almost throwing herself at evil (debatable) albino Elric after he avows he needs nothing, not even a reason to do whatever he wants.

Eternal brooding nightmare of a man, serving chaos though not always being served BY chaos, always/never regretting, tossed by fate, used by his malicious soul-drinking sword, and in a never-ending search for wisdom.

Good. Very good stuff.

In general.

This one reads like what Stephen King will eventually do better in his Dark Tower. Still, interesting to see the seeds. :)

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Thursday, July 26, 2018

The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the WorldThe Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World by David Eagleman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been missing my nonfiction kicks. I thought this one sounded fantastic, so I picked it up to revel in all the grand things that creativity does (and why we need to foster it, dammit).

Of course, books like this are pretty much preaching to the choir. The people who read them are usually very aware of the uses and needs and the universality of the IDEA of creativity.

No matter who you are, where you come from, you're just as likely to be creative or not creative, as is your natural proclivity. No amount of money or lifestyle can change it, but conversely, all creative works, whether scientific, by expression, or composition, necessarily draws from the ideas and forms that came before it. In other words, no art is created in a vacuum and the creation of true creativity can't be forced.

This book is perfect for those self-selected readers because it doesn't skimp on the myriad examples of how all kinds of creativity informs each kind. Music and math have long been tied tightly together, but so is innovation to science fiction, math to graphics, and hundreds of other interconnections that lead from disparate sources like paleontology to windshields to instruction manuals aboard the Apollo to any number of meme-revolutions to the technological breakthroughs we have today, each one building on the next.

From a personal standpoint, I point to the explosion of novelists out there now. They're all building on each other and revolutionizing the direction of storytelling faster and faster, diving into stagnation and even faster revolutions until we get some truly astounding works.

Each is Bending, Breaking, Bending, and Blending the things that came before.

As a nonfiction work on what creativity is and why it should be encouraged, it delves mostly into the sociological slant but it also doesn't stint on the personal reasons. As in, why each and every one of us needs to keep our minds supple, and why the counter-arguments are bogus since we do all of the three B's anyway. :) The argument is to expand it across all areas so that the ideas can continue to cross-pollinate. :)

Do I agree with this sentiment?

HELL YES. Did I self-select myself to read this book? Hell Yes. Am I biased as all hell? Hell yes.

Is it wrong? No. I think all the ideas expressed make perfect sense. Even objectively. :) So there.

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King of Hell (The Shadow Saga)King of Hell by Christopher Golden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where can the hell this series go after having already had multiple trips to hell and back?

One way, of course.

Peter lost everything that gave him happiness thanks to a certain Gaia-Avatar and all his friends are stuck in hell. All the gates are closed. He's considering a pogrom of burning and salting the earth to get Gaia to let him through the locked gates to pull back all the heroic Shadows caught on the other side. And everyone he cares for, for that matter, but doing so would leave him utterly unwelcome on the whole planet. Deeply unwelcome.

So for most of this novel we need to find a way out, meet up with some demons, kill even more, and have an epic battle between totally overpowered vampires (shadows) and all the denizens of hell. Oh, and Lazarus, too. :) He seems to have been stuck in hell for longer than Peter and learned quite a few magic tricks.

As a conclusion to the Shadow Saga, it's one hell of a blow-out action extravaganza. The horror bits are beautifully disgusting and creative, the cinema of the mind's eye is so much better than practically any other novel including a trip to hell, and the special effects budget is totally infernal.

Being relatively short, it makes up any kind of character-building lack by acting almost like a beefed -up direct-continuation of the previous novel and could easily have been combined without any lack. It might have been slightly large, but who cares when the action movie is this good?

Huge magic battles, hoards of demons, matter-manipulating vampires, you might not realize this is a prototypical good UF and not an epic fantasy/horror, but it is. :)

My only complaint is that it's done now. ; ;

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan WijeratneThe Slow Sad Suicide of Rohan Wijeratne by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. What a surprise. I mean, I read this only because I was told the author is amazing and I kept on meaning to get to him ... eventually, and once I finally did, I'm pretty much blown away.

This is only a novelette or a short story, but damn. We're talking about suicide, searching for God in all the wrong places, and a one-way trip into the heart of a naked singularity. Because... well... why the hell not?

Derp.

Add a ton of great SF ideas twisting around in both the noggins of both Wijeratnes, from funny and tragic pathos to nanites, physics, and even practical jokes from the internet about time travel, and we've got ourselves something sharp. Very sharp. And the writing is just as sharp.

Do I want to keep reading Wijeratne? Hell yeah. If this is anything to go by, I'd be a fool not to pick up every single thing he's written. :) This is hard SF with a great comic/tragic bite.

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The Glass Town GameThe Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thought experiment: What would it be like to transport a handful of Regency-Era children from their playtime expositions into a very real and rich toyland stolen right out of their own noggins like Athena from Zeus's brow?

Add an amazingly rich assortment of famous real and imaginary personages of the time period showing up as children's characters their own age but as dolls, luggage, rags, pins, buttons, or ANYTHING that might be found in the playroom, stir, give vivid life, and then turn it into a rich drama full of intrigue and a war between Wellington and Napoleon, and it's *almost* a smidge like a much BETTER Narnia mixed with the delightful wordplay of Valente's Fairyland books, turned Regency and Hans Christain Anderson.

And it's a pure delight. It is absolutely for young readers, Middle-Grade, apparently, but it also doesn't dumb ANYTHING down, keeping the words right but never stinting on the hard questions or the tragedies or the heartache. Would it be one of those more difficult but infinitely more rewarding books for, say, 9-year-olds? Absolutely.

Is it rich enough for any adult to be transported and delighted by the wordplay and cleverness and the realness of the tale underneath the sheer imagination? Absolutely.

Of course, I'm biased. I'm a huge fan of Valente anyway and no matter whether she's writing for adults with very, very adult themes (read pornographic) or a battle between life and death or going for the humorous angle in Space Opera or Radiance or being utterly delightful with all five of her fantastic Fairyland books, I can't seem to get enough.

She's a master of the writing craft. I have no doubt about it. :) Pure gold.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. a New Translation from the Greek Original with a Life, Notes etc.The Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. a New Translation from the Greek Original with a Life, Notes etc. by Marcus Aurelius
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not so much the emperor's autobiography but a mild and easily readable collection of ruminations on wisdom that quickly devolves into a fairly dense listing of aphorisms.

It's almost like Nietzsche said, "Hey, let's read Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor, and model my own weird crap on his style." And voila! He did.

Honestly, other than the whole death of fire becomes air crap, I have nothing overly critical to say about any of his homey wisdom pieces, whether political (which read like Lao Tzu's Way) or personal.

HOWEVER.

This short book *feels* like it is a PR piece. Like, completely whitewashed old-man ramblings making his life seem as rosy as Venus's bottom. You know, a standard politician's autobiography. All offending bits have been excised. He's as pious as a pothead.

But is it a good read? Perhaps... if you like some light philosophy and to judge for yourself how to live a good life. It's not a bad read at all, rather smooth, even. Except when it just becomes a bunch of one-liners like a motivational speech. But ignore that bit. Or read it on the toilet. Whatever suits you. :)

Old classic challenge. Completed.


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The Graves of SaintsThe Graves of Saints by Christopher Golden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Caveat: I'm rating this on pure, bloody-minded awe at the epic action. Golden writes great comics, too, and one especially grand Hellboy, not to mention X-men, but long before I read him in those, this series was synonymous with OMG THIS IS AMAZING, with unlimited special effects included.

Does it match the original Final Battle between the forces of the Mages in the Vatican VS the unbound Vampires who were enslaved by the Catholic Church in the distant past? Uh, maybe? I mean, we're opening up the sites of saints in the catacombs of the most famous churches to gateways to hell and hoards pouring out of them. Peter, a vampire turned human and becoming an OVERPOWERED mage thanks to his 1000 years trapped and tortured in hell, stands between massive multiple incursions into our world. Not just hell, but all kinds of nasty pantheons and multiple dimensional nasties who now see the Earth as fresh meat. :) The corrupt and evil Vatican powers HAD been the last bulwark against that, but after they brought demons to rampage across the Earth to fight the vampires, their cred was blown. :)

And now? This is a ramped-up mop-up action with coalitions and mages of both infernal land Gaia magic doing all they can to stem the tide of hungry monsters.

This is NOT your average UF. This is a UF on speed and PCP and cocaine with a budget of a billion and a half dollars, adding truly horrific and nasty elements in upon the ultimate heroism and tragedies playing out all over the place.

Can I say wow?

Now the bad bits. The good bits WAY OUTWEIGH the bad. But the bad is the neverending dead girls, the slightly one-dimensional portrayals lost in the huge and delightful action, and the use of the dead girls to pull off more Refrigerator scenes. They work, and I was affected by this one, but damn... in that respect, it's just like a comic, too. And in a bad way.

That being said, I'm still IN LOVE with this series. :)

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Monday, July 23, 2018

Age of War (The Legends of the First Empire #3)Age of War by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Legends of the First Empire, and specifically this book, is a solid epic fantasy fare. The focus is on characters, mostly, with the original two races in headlocks against each other. Pretty standard fare, really. Long-lived elfish versus the ignorant humes, add new technology of war after knocking the scales off the eyes and mix well.

This particular novel combines friendly immortals with the struggling humes and a full ramp-up of the war including stronger magics, stonger weapons, and runic arrows.

In other words, its the big payoff for the previous two novels and the fully established ancient history of the realm. Including the big reveals that bridge both series, of course. And a bridge to more action to come, of course.

So how did I like it?

Honestly, it was a solid read with about the same amount of pathos from the others, with bigger consequences, more death, and a fairly strong wrap-up in the same style. I thought it was fine. Not spectacular unless you've never seen epic fantasy before. Not brilliant or groundbreaking or hugely original. (Or much originality at all.) But it is solid and it holds together and it has a pretty good core. I can't complain about what it does at all, only what I wish it would do. And that is my problem, not the book's problem. It's a satisfying and above-average book.

So what's my problem? I just feel like something big is missing. The last battle here was pretty cool, maybe even awesome, but the rest seemed to plod along without much flavor. I wish it was a bit spicier. :)

I'm sure others will gush, however. This is what it means to have fanboys and fangirls. :)

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

Waking Nightmares (Shadow Saga #5)Waking Nightmares by Christopher Golden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Much has been said about the epic scope and scale of these previous Shadow books, all of which start out very much close UF with very fun characters and all of which end with epic scale battles with armies of magic users and/or vampires and Vatican sorcerers keeping the barriers between magic and hellish dimensions closed.

Yeah, well, this one doesn't take us to sliced away towns sent to hells like the last book, and while it's not a full mobilization of Earth versus Hell, the difference here is striking ... and it's fun as hell. :)

Fornication and violence in a small town, with ghosts, wraiths, and chaotic baddies sneaking in from alternate dimensions. Maybe a goddess of chaos. And an epic fight. Peter comes in blasting sorcery and even the Earth goddess gets in a few licks, but as with all the other books... friends die. There are a LOT of Red Shirts in these.

Here's the final summation: in some ways, this is a more standard novel that keeps things close to the chest and the action is localized, if intense. No huge spaces to cover as in the other novels. In that respect, it's more like a standard UF with seriously overpowered players on both sides, including gods, demons, and magic learned over a thousand years in hell. :) IF you like the huge (omg how many cities just got taken out) feel of the previous novels, you won't quite feel that here. But that same lop-sidedness was also a weakness. This one has fewer weaknesses but also less OMG TWSFC, too. :)

So the big question is... WHY ARE THESE NOVELS SO UNKNOWN? Christopher Golden was flying high with his popular first few novels and it's not like he went away at all. And these ARE of the same quality as the first few! So why has that fan base gone away? It's a real shame because few writers have the brass knuckles (or other dangly bits) to fly with ambitious projects like this. I personally LOVE this kind of courage in a writer. :)



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WeWe by Yevgeny Zamyatin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now, why would I think that an old SF novel from 1924 might not be as polished and extravagant in exploring ideas and crafting a truly delicious dystopia as, say, 1984, or Anthem, or Brave New World as they did many years later? Or be as timely now as it was in the time where it was heralded as a "malicious slander on socialism"?

Did I avoid this mainly because I couldn't pronounce the author's name?

Maybe.

But that's horrible! Especially when this little gem is polished to a very high degree.

It lambasts current and past ideas of utopia, turning sex and the "greatest good" into a truly timeless dystopia. Not only that, it's witty, speaks of the death of all imagination, makes me care for its hero in a profound way even when he's following the grand dictates of this "final" society, and of course we feel the effects of the new revolution even when there could never BE another revolution.

You know what it reminds me of? The old move Metropolis. Now that's a true classic, too, and just as good today as it was back in 1927.

Notice a trend? That perhaps this little novel inspired all these names I dropped? Well, it's true, or at least, the authors admitted as such.

Make no mistake. The other authors took things into somewhat wilder directions, but We is closest to what we are now, for all that. And it's no less polished. In some ways, it's better. It all depends on whether you want your SF dystopias a bit more hardcore and dark or with more worldbuilding. Rand was nuts with the worldbuilding and Huxley feels like he cribbed this entire novel, but 1984 goes the distance. Anyway I look at it, though, this novel belongs with all the greats. At least in dystopias. :)

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Polity Agent (Agent Cormac, #4)Polity Agent by Neal Asher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This kind of popcorn fiction requires a certain kind of mindset. A transhumanist mindset. One that keeps slipping between the lines of AI and Human and horrifying alien trap-technology.

Of course, since I'm half machine anyway, I'm perfectly at home with these shifting lines of self-definition. Screw sex-politics as a subset for SF idea exploration. Let's get right down to transforming the human race into something barely recognizable as human now, or if we can recognize it, it's constantly flying away from the norms. :)

This is the WILD future SF series. It's up there with Aleister Reynolds and Jack McDevitt and so many other Hard SF greatness. Never mind the heavy nanotech and alien technologies turning whole civilizations into slag through greed or the wonderful above-and-beyond enemies who are SERIOUS badasses.

These novels are genuine character-driven monstrosities. Unlike certain series, these heroes and baddies don't really die. They have backups and come back changed or crazy or on the side of the angels. Same thing is true for the good guys. :) It's like a flashy video game from the far future with all the tech in the world. AI ships and drones and even intelligent landmines... landminds. :)

In this novel really stood out for me with all the reveals about our incumbent wandering immortal, including snippets through all the Polity history. :) Pretty awesome, in fact. But the rest really steps up the game for the Jain trap.

While I can't call this the penultimate book of SF to end all SF, the tech, the aliens, the baddies and the reveals does something tingly to my insides. Like an extra jolt of electricity. Or nuclear fission. Total popcorn? Yeah, but of the So Much Better Than Pulp variety of popcorn. :)

What? I'm 6 or 7 books into the series? Yeah. And they all build on each other gloriously. Fortunately, the quality is consistent and fun. :)

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Friday, July 20, 2018

Lords and Ladies (Discworld, #14; Witches #4)Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The great Re-Read of Discworld continues... with the witches. :) This is a pretty direct followup from Mag's romantic adventure with the king-to-be and culminating in the grand wedding between the two.

As weddings go, every grand personage of the Discworld (or so it seems) has been invited to the wedding, but of course, things don't go all that well with all those crop circles and the E***S who must not be named.

Pretty funny, all told, but it's Og and her suiter who steals the show. And Old Weatherwax. Again. Mags... well... I've never cared much for her. I just want my darling Tiff. Where oh where is she? Why can't I care all that much that Mag is NO LONGER A WITCH?

I complain, sure, but it's not a complaint because I think the novel is bad. Far from it. I just think it's slightly uneven in my enjoyment of certain characters. Nothing more. But is it a fine story?

You bet. :) I'll even a throw in a horseshoe for you.

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The Nightmare Stacks (Laundry Files, #7)The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 7/20/18:

I really can't squeal more than I squealed the first time around, but I will add that it's STILL AS GOOD AS THE FIRST TIME. I love Alex! I love Cassie! And of course, the whole setup and denouement was fantastic!

I mean, just the whole horrific action scenes, the stark immediacy of being a victim of genocide, doing everything possible to save your people, including an ignorant invasion of Earth... I GET IT. The possibilities after that end, though... that's what sticks with me. Spoilers, of course, but it's the whole refugee status that kicks my butt. Never mind the outright funny elements, although they are great. At the core, this novel is extremely serious. And for the action, it's a ramp-up on the epic scale brought home to London.


Original Review:

I'm always looking forward to the Laundry Files novels, now, and with good reason.

These tales always breathe fresh life into old story concepts.

Mix a bunch of nightmare bureaucracy into a mass of Cthulhu Spy Fiction and add a memBrain of multiverses, massive geek humor, Pinky and Brains, and a truly clever take on vampirism/magus, but in this one, let's mix in a younger protagonist, the redoubtable 24 year old vampire math geek, Alex, and pretty spearhead of a nearly decimated alien invasion force who happen to be running for their lives from the Elder Gods, all of whom are willing to go to war with innocents for their ultimate survival (with England an the rest of humanity, please read,) and be a woman who just happens to be up in line for the rulership of the entire alien Host of Air and Darkness, full of eldritch magic and might.

Is Alex out of his league?

CASE NIGHTMARE RED, people. CASE NIGHTMARE RED.

I love this. It is sooooo damn fun. Okay, so I miss Bob and Mo a bit, and they're somewhere in the background, but Alex and Cass are soooooo damn cute together! Younger crowd. A little blood, a little war, a little mess-up with the Basilisk network that turns all security cameras into Medusa's Stare, *shiver*, and we've got an all-out conflict that's actually a real nightmare.

Is this fine to read as a standalone? Yes, it is. Is it scary for the crowd that has been reading all the novels and great novellas up to date? Yes, yes it is. Very much so. Every page is full of deliciously savvy tech, math, magic, myth, and wry, dry humor.

Fanboy is still squeeing. :) :)

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Spinning SilverSpinning Silver by Naomi Novik
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A lot of these retellings of old myths and fairy tales are hit or miss with me, but I come to you today to tell you that this was not a miss. :) Indeed, nothing was amiss.

The combination of several different old fairy tales and the new-norm for Russian-style fantasy hit all the right buttons for me. There was nothing simple about this tale even though we learn, slowly, that the world is not all about hard poverty and abuse and little towns and harsh Czars. That jews aren't necessarily cracked up to fit their stereotypes.

But one thing is true. The Winter King can be cruel and harsh, the stakes are often hidden but quite vast, and simple, if powerful, magics are never enough when a Great Working is desperately needed.

At least two big stories are interwoven here, between a seamstress who marries the Czar and the moneylender's daughter who gets carried away by the Winter King. No spoilers, but there's a ton of discoveries to be had in each realm and the clash between them is something quite wonderful and amazing, even for someone who has read a ton of fantasy.

I can honestly say that Novik outdid herself here. This is a quality myth, newly-owned and told fresh. Do I like it better than Uprooted?

Yes.

I may have liked the other one better for its subject matter, but this one had a much tighter plot and a more satisfying end. More than this will be getting into deep spoiler territory.

Suffice to say, I loved it. :)



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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Chindi (The Academy, #3)Chindi by Jack McDevitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, McDevitt writes SOLID space opera without the military bent. I still think the whole archeology and privateer stuff works SO much better than the whole space-battle stuff, but it only works when most of the alien civs have risen and fallen over vast time periods and we just happen to sit smack dab in the middle of a time of silence.

With a few minor exceptions, of course. Ancient fallen descendants or lightspeed lagged spaceships notwithstanding. :)

Or other alien archeologists?

Fun. :) Different. And classy.

And workmanlike. I'll never say that these are the most imaginative books in existence, but what these provide is the best above-average fare for the price. Always quality, always vast and interesting, and often more amusing than not on the character level.

Oh, and you can have a drinking game with each novel for the redshirt-esq quality of death. Of course, every character is more fleshed out than the away teams in THAT series, and it feels more like a horror/mystery/adventure than an SF, sometimes, but that's a good quality to have. It has a good flavor. :)

That being said, enjoy the ARTIFACT, folks. :) What a huge TREASURE to be found! :) :)

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Monday, July 16, 2018

The Calculating Stars (Lady Astronaut, #1)The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'll go out on a limb here and be mightily surprised if this novel doesn't get nommed for Hugo out of this year's candidates. It has all the right qualities, from good writing, exciting story, delicious premise, and timely application of hot topics and social issues.

Huh? Well, it's like an alternate reality where a meteorite wipes out DC in the 1950's and forces everyone to get into gear with the space program for the best of all reasons... SURVIVAL OF THE HUMAN SPECIES.

It's quick, fun, and cringeworthy in how women are treated... not to mention the racial element! Think Hidden Figures, add anxiety and mental health issues in a big way, mix with sexism, post-apocalypse, brazen and headlong optimism, and do it all with sheer human ability. Computers are people who compute.

Everything else is '50's mentality and an underdog story that leads to getting women in space against all the odds. :)

This is easily my favorite Kowal tale. I'm gonna tell everyone for next years noms that this is one to push. :) It may not be my ABSOLUTE favorite book of the year, but it is certainly the smartest, quickest, and easiest feel-good SF out of the bunch. It pokes a stick at all the big issues and drives the dagger in.

This OUGHT to be a huge bestseller. If it isn't, then there's some big idiocy going on out there. ;)

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The Cormorant (Miriam Black, #3)The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dark and gritty as ever, I have to admit that I also had a slight bit of an issue with the first half or so of the read. It jumped all over the place between the present and the past and while it all eventually became obvious why it might have been necessary, it was still slightly off-putting. There were slightly less raunchy/funny descriptive elements than before, too, but that's a grab bag of happy oddities and discoveries that not everyone might enjoy. In other words, I loved them but not everyone would.

What really worked was the cat-and-mouse game between these death-birds. :) Psychopomps? Yes. Absolutely. Psychopomps utterly using and using up their hosts? Absolutely. Poor Miriam. She had it bad before and all of that old dark past becomes clear in this novel. It's quite a big reveal her as a character and despite any issues I might have had with the reading, it all gels together by the end.

It's definitely still one of the grimmest and darkest UF/mysteries with supernatural elements I've ever read. It's hard to like the main character, but she does grow on you like a piece of necrotic flesh. :)

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Unseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8) - An Audible Original DramaUnseen Academicals (Discworld, #37; Rincewind #8) - An Audible Original Drama by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While this story was never exactly anywhere close to one of my favorites in the Discworld books, I'd be remiss in saying it isn't excellent.

I mean, it has everything. Star-crossed romance between orc and kitchen maid, underdog sports story, and a heartwarming tale of raising Ankh-Morpork out of the mud and into civilized behavior once and for all.

A game of Foot the Ball can make all of that happen.

Brilliant? Perhaps! It has all the elements that people love and this particular Audible production has a full cast of actors and actresses to bring a ton of life to it in an extra-special edition. I have a grand fondness for full-cast productions. :)

So why didn't I give this a full five?

Because I felt the excisions in the text. Sad, but true. It's short and abridged. That, and I never really get into sports tales. Alas. But that's just me! But despite all that, it *IS* an excellent production that is nonetheless entertaining as hell TO ME. :) Despite me. ;)

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 7/13//18:

Valente is always worth re-reading IMHO. And other than making a few grand sweeping comments about birds and husbands, I have nothing to add to this marvelous piece of literature. The land of the dead versus the land of life in Russia. Mythology versus societal upheaval. Love, love, love, and none of it innocent.

Just like Russia. ;)



Original Review:

Breathtaking, quintessential Valente, making what might be a fairy tale into a gorgeously Russian love story between one unlucky girl stuck perpetually in the space of an hour who never got to marry the birds and the God of Life.

Of course, it never ends well, because she's conscripted into his eternal battle with Viy, Death, and regrets it, while simultaneously mastering Life in the middle of Leningrad during WWII, which ought to be considered one of the worst moments in human history.

Do we love life? Is he capricious and cruel and uncompromising and sweet? Is he locked in the basement and forced to listen to his wife make love to a mortal man? After that, can he still be true?

I cannot do this justice. Our heroine cannot fully commit to Life, and finally betrays him.

For all the truly magical qualities of this novel, the beautiful writing, the amazing mini-tales, I'm left in a state of profound sadness while being amazed at the sheer beauty of the tale.

It's raw, right down to the core, and horrific, sexy, full of the seeds of hope and longing and everything that makes the world so complicated and scary and wonderful all at once.

I sit in awe.

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Ascent of Gravity: The Quest to Understand the Force that Explains EverythingThe Ascent of Gravity: The Quest to Understand the Force that Explains Everything by Marcus Chown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a highly entertaining history of gravity, full of quite interesting anecdotes and the gradual unfolding of our understanding from Newton through Einstein through our quest to reconcile quantum mechanics with the one aspect we're most familiar with but which we understand the least.

From the first page to the last I was enraptured. It's a tour of the inverse square law, the connection between electromagnetism, light, and matter, right down to the physics that keep most theoreticians up late at night even now.

Humorous, insightful, and fairly comprehensive, it focuses on the subject well, describing the manner in which gravity functions and how it behaves. I'd recommend it absolutely as a beginner's book with a special delight for those of us enamored by the LAW. :)

I personally had a great time. Not much new, honestly, but it was a delight. :)

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Blackfish CityBlackfish City by Sam J. Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5

It's okay, and them's the Breaks! ;)

I honestly thought this book was all right. Not fantastic but definitely strong in the worldbuilding, characters, and plot progression. The real stars are the floating ramshackle cities out in the Arctic Circle and the wildly delicious custom nanotech plague.

Everything else was a pretty cool but standard dystopia of Syndicates (mob landlords) and shareholders (super rich owners who are above the law), with fighters, skaters, hedge nano-wizards and bonding with animals thanks to the nanos. Pretty cool? It is pretty cool. Ish.

There's an obvious agenda here, the haves versus the have-nots, an almost mystical progression toward having a city without maps based on memory and the memory-plague mystery called the Breaks. I liked it and I was pretty entranced by it, but I'm not quite certain I buy where I was taken with it.

You might say that the Beginning and Middle was good, but the end left a bit to be desired.

Still, rather interesting. It was just the story itself that kinda flagged. Alas. Orca-savior? Cool in the particulars but maybe not in the whole.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are very few things I can say about this novel except it's Brilliant, Brilliant, Brillant. That, and I am afraid I'm a total fanboy of all Russian novelists and this one in particular.

And I thought Dostoyevski was good. Damn. This one is completely modern, absolutely unappreciated in his time, dead young, and hailed as one of Russia's most popular novelists. Ever. And for good reason. The satire, written in the 50's, lambasts Moscow's '30's and continues to be a threat to all Russia today. It became super popular in the 60's America and was the direct inspiration for The Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil.

Does this ring a few bells?

Let's get down to the reality of this novel a bit. The Master is the novelist writing about Jesus and Pontus Pilate. He falls in love with a woman, and she with him, and her name is Margarita. She becomes a witch. And in the meantime, we've got ourselves a total retelling of Job, a satire that raises the level of Cons to all new heights. *What? Moscow has CON-MEN?*

And of course, we have hard-drinking cats, the Devil, and Pontus Pilate running around Moscow, present day. Lots of action ensues, with decapitation, thugs running amok, plays that are really major shakedowns, rampant nudity, the walking dead, and the UTTER HORRIBLE TERROR that are all editors.

Did I mention I might have just found one of my favorite all-time books? Yeah. This here is gonna have to fight for room on my top 100 list of all time. Maybe it won't have to fight very hard. In fact, I might have to bump it up into the top 20 or maybe even top 10.

It's just that good.

I was reminded a lot of Neil Gaiman's American Gods in a very good way. I was also reminded of a lot of modern comic masterpieces. In execution, it's half-Noir and all literary despair in the other.

I'm in love. :) I wanna do a huge Russian kick now. Maybe re-read all the greats, and then head back to this one and revel away. :) Just. Wow.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

The Hunchback of Notre-DameThe Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knows, maybe I'm one of the only people in existence who enjoy good long novels about buildings. But then, there are a lot of fans of Follet's Pillars of the Earth, so maybe not.

Are people the thing? Or is it place? Or what happens when we start confusing a place with the persons within it?

Notre-Dame is a misshapen monster with a lumpy heart and a lumpy head. Or wait, is that Quasimodo? Is Esmeralda a good-natured gypsy dancer or is the spine of Paris itself?

Seen this way, the whole tragedy of Esmeralda's gross miscarriage of justice (or the BIG IDEA writ as architecture in Notre-Dame, Quasimodo) being the gross travesty of France's history, takes on a wickedly abusive satirical slant.

Or, if you prefer, a blind, deaf, and dumb legal drama so obviously obtuse as to become a farce... or is it? No. It's firmly a tragedy. Witch-killers, inquisition, hungry mobs, vagabond guilds, and blithe royalty, clergy, poets, and tradesmen... well, it's a sad, sorry tragedy where everyone gets a trowel up the flue.

Did I like?

That's hard to say. I loved the architecture rambling bits, which, I might say, might be the least favorite bits of other people. The characters themselves were sometimes amusing but always writ larger than life. I like that sometimes, and I liked it here most of the time. But there were points at which the tale seemed to get derailed and the more subtle points that Hugo WANTED to make, satire-wise, were lost in the drench of pathos.

Overall, a solid novel and it certainly doesn't fail to entertain, but I can't quite put it up there as an absolute classic.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Beggars Ride (Sleepless, #3)Beggars Ride by Nancy Kress
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's get this out of the way. The first 2/3rds of this book was filled to the brim with rather boring Sleeper and Sleepless politics. It lacked all the charm of the first two novels because the first two had great characters.

They're missing from this novel.

The characters we do have didn't manage to pick up and become great until after the first nuclear explosion.

Beginning and Middle in this novel was... meh. Not horrible or anything and I really DO like heavy explorations of gene-mods, social repercussions, and (theoretically) how they lead to massive political upheaval. I just didn't think it worked particularly well here. Unlike the first two Sleepless novels. The end conclusion in this one was satisfying in its way, dealing with an engineered plague that causes people to be aversive, isolationist, (and oddly compassionate), building up to another plague that's half relying on imagination, putting oneself entirely in another's shoes, and half cognitive therapy. It doesn't ignore the underlying biological issue, but it does allow for transcendental biology. You know... mind over matter -- at least when it comes to happy placebo events. :)

We are not limited to our biological destiny, no matter what the naysayers say.

Let's back up here. The whole series as a whole is NOT about that. Indeed, it's a rather awesome series about super geniuses being created out of a genetic alteration that removed the need to sleep. The children are blameless, oddly awesome, but then all the normals fear their super brilliance and work-ethic and focus, they're hounded, forced to take control, and from there take over the world with varying levels of success.

This novel is the aftermath of all that. It's goodish but sometimes meandering and often rather boring until THINGS START HAPPENING. Sigh. Well, they do, and the end is quite fun, but the rest was something of a slog. Alas. I just didn't care for what was going on until after the nuke. :)

Is this enough to save the whole novel? No. But I'm glad I got to the good stuff, for all that.

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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Caliban's War (The Expanse, #2)Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 7/7/18

It's so great doing a re-read. I mean, I was somewhat hesitant at first but it's so rich with detail and the action is perfect. And by action, I don't just mean Bobby in her Goliath suit. I mean Avasarala on her com. :) Avasarala is a FORCE to behold. :)

All in all, though, this second book happens to kick major butt. Venus really stole the show by the end, but all the Powers butting heads was also fun as hell.

Did anyone else whoop when Avasarala and Bobby got on the Rocinante?

It was truly great both times I read it. :)



Original Review:

The Expanse series is rapidly becoming one of my favorite stories, and it's only partly due to the scope. Look: If I'm going to read a space-opera, I want huge, Huge, HUGE scope, right? Well, it's my own preferences here, so the answer is a definite YES! I know a little astronomy and scale and putting all of that in perspective with what the hell just happened at the end of this novel is right likely to blow my mind, if it hadn't already been blown when I read Stephen Baxter's The Ring. That's not really that important right now, though, because this novel isn't that novel. This is a much better novel in all the ways that count; in characters, in action, in complicated drama and fully believable, no... engrossing settings.

I think I've read some fantastic space-opera, before, and I think of Bujold as one of the best, but now I will be putting these two guys at the head of the class. Thank you, D.A. and T.F.! For the rest of you peeps sitting on the fence about reading these books, get off your asses and get some startle on.

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Children of God (The Sparrow, #2)Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways, this novel rivals the scope of The Sparrow in both worldbuilding and theme. By the same token, both are portrayed in a much more dilute fashion.

This is not a bad thing, but it is a different thing when comparing the two. I loved The Sparrow's tight focus on faith and the loss of it and the general healing or the swift decline. Death came fast and suffering was slow.

Children of God added many new dimensions to the tale. Many characters from either alien species and humans had their time as PoVs. Emilio is still a major character, but not necessarily the Main Character. Sophia and her son Issac have a lot of screen time. As do the once-pacifistic vegetarians on the alien world and the meat eaters. Do we need to get into that little feature? Maybe, maybe not, but let's put it this way... Soylent Green is People.

Where does forgiveness reside? Can it even have a place in the discussion where the meek are constantly preyed upon and the arrogant constantly get away with it? Is this a novel about our own world? Actually, yes and no. The alien society is writ large for us, but better than that, it's delightfully complex.

Russell does a great job juggling all these issues and as a cohesive whole of a novel, I'm surprised and delighted by how wise and multi-layered it develops. Emilio heals a bit of his heart but is eventually convinced to return. Sophia, in the meantime, wrangles up the meek and starts a revolution.

Everything else is gravy and nuance and a delight. :) There's nothing simple about this tale. In fact, between the two novels, it might be one of the most heart-wrenching alien tales I've read. So much better than, say, ET. ;) Little about faith, hate, understanding, and intelligent discourse touches that tale.

This one is for smart people.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The Sparrow (The Sparrow, #1)The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Let me be a bit real here. I was a bit anxious about reading this because it seemed to be yet another Jesuit first contact novel including aliens.

Now, let me be clear. I actually like religious ruminations when I'm in the right mood and when it's done well and when the context is backed up with solid world-building, whether local or extra-solar. Blish did it extremely well with his Jesuits and aliens. I was simply worried that this would be more of the same. Meaning of life and faith for the poor unsaved brothers from other systems kind of thing.

But actually, what I received was a prototypical near-LitSF that was erudite, humorous, full of likable and complex characters, and a full-blown excellent novel in structure, prose, and thriller-type twists.

And yes, there is also a lot about aliens, tragedy, loss of faith, and especially rape.

We know it's a tragedy before we even really begin. There are two timelines. Before. And after. The nearly saintly linguist-priest Emilio is the sole survivor of an 8-person mission to Alpha Centauri after a musical message gets decoded, luckily, by peeps bankrolled by the Vatican. He comes back mutilated, completely out of faith, calling himself the Whore of God (as in a reference to Beloved being the highest title in a harem), and who keeps everyone around him ignorant of the details.

We must learn about it the long way. But in the meantime, we're treated to present and past as others attempt to heal him and get him to talk and we're delighted by how fresh and funny and faithful he is early on.

The science bits aren't bad and Russell does a lot to keep it real, glossing over a few little issues such as power sources and stuff, but this isn't nearly as bad as some more recent LitSF titles I've read. This is actual SF with a deep and complex storyline about faith and tragedy and a really nasty surprise about the aliens. All three are intertwined.

No spoilers, but my god the end is pretty horrible. We're given a lot of great characters and characterizations, so losing them this way, and then seeing what Emilio had to go through, was damn rough.

A sparrow falling in the wood, but yet, the Father sees all, indeed.

My initial reservations were unfounded. Both atheists and the faithful can find wonderful things in here. Indeed, it's meant to be challenging as hell. And it is.

As for being a new-modern-classic for SF, I can definitely see it. Most of these other LitSF titles are lightweights in comparison.

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

PandemoniumPandemonium by Daryl Gregory
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I suppose this is the first Daryl Gregory that I really really loved. And since it's only my second novel, it might be not too far a stretch to start thinking he might be one of THOSE AUTHORS.

You know, Good Ideas, Great Execution, Cool Characters, Deep Plot... and while we're at it, it's a fantasy/SF hybrid with major horror undertones, a vast world-building mythology/history doing an alternate universe diverging from the '50's and ending in the present.

DEMONS. Or is it daemons? Whatever, it's awesome. Possession all over the place and while there are still people with mental health issues, real demons are possessing people out in the open and it's kinda obvious as hell it's a real thing. So real that it's on the law books. Media. You name it. It's there. And this is just the setup.

The rest of this novel has surprises. So I'm not gonna start spoiling stuff, but the fact that this begins quirky and develops fascinating twists and never strays far from a gorgeously drawn world with complicated and cool characters in a VERY un-UF way, becoming more of a thriller than anything, makes me want to jump for joy.

It's a serious treatment of both mental health, fantasy, and Jungian analysis. :) And because it leans fully on the hardcore fantasy side rather than a trite dismissal on the traditional fiction side just makes me weep with joy. :)

So yeah, I love this stuff. :) Quality all the way through. :)

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Kitty's House of Horrors (Kitty Norville, #7)Kitty's House of Horrors by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For me, this is a big year for resuming old series. I think I read up to the current installment of the Kitty Norville and then ... completely forgot about it when new books came out.

Oops.

Well, here I am and I'm back to say... it's fun! Not the best UF I've ever read, but for all you folks who like to see your favorite Werewolf Talk Show Host get invited onto a Reality TV show that then becomes an all-out classic horror/mystery with peeps dying off like supernatural fleas, then this is definitely the book for you.

Truly, it's light, fast, and fun. No major entanglements, but there are old bit-players from earlier novels who get some screen time. Some dead time, too. It's a whodoneit! With shapeshifters, psychics, and magicians!

Can everyone get along long enough on or off the camera? :)

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Monday, July 2, 2018

The Gathering Dark (Shadow Saga #4)The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Christopher Golden will always have a soft spot in my heart. Why? Because when I read the first two books of this Shadow Saga back in the nineties, they pretty much blew me the f*** away. I thought the characters were delightfully historical, especially because it was real historical and interesting characters being pulled through time because they're now vampires, and also because this was on the forefront of the UF movement making an enormous splash and paving the way for the TRULY super popular ones that came later.

Only, this one never QUITE took off the way those others did. And that's a real shame. Why? Because of the freaking AWESOME SCOPE. It began with vampires pitted against the evil Catholic magician army who kept opening gateways to actual HELL, the subjugation of vampires who aren't exactly evil, just bound by magic to seem that way, and then there was the whole soul thing. Vampires have souls.

Sound like a common enough UF? I mean, besides an army of Catholic magicians opening up city-large gateways to hell to fight the menace of the vampires that they, themselves, made?

Okay, skip that for a moment. Those were the older books. The characters were pretty much larger than life and delightful but sometimes they were somewhat TOO much drawn with a broad-tip pen if you know what I mean. Very little subtlety. But who cares, especially when you have our modern world overrun with city-block-sized demons and good vampires learning to fight and transform in the daylight, or Peter being locked away in hell for a little real-time but for him it's a thousand years, him coming back as one of the most powerful magicians EVER, and battling it out in some of the hugest OVERPOWERED battles I've ever seen in any modern fantasy. In any UF, even.

So why isn't this more popular, again? Why isn't he revered as a god?

HELL IF I KNOW.

So then the third book came around and tons of my favorite characters died and a very unsatisfying end happened and I got BUMMED OUT. Enough that I didn't bother looking to see if he wrote any sequels.

Hint: He did. Four more.

Guess who got embarrassed and ashamed? That's right! ME!

I didn't do any re-reads. I just jumped in with book 4 after a LONG hiatus. How did it go?

Good. I was pretty much WOWed all over again with the magic, the baddies, the enormous scope transforming our modern world as the big bad demon transported whole towns to hell. En-masse. With lots of blood and gobbling of poor people. And armies stepping in to get stepped on. And even the super OP Peter getting his a** handed to him.

Cool. So cool. It's the scope, the descriptions, the HUGE magic on par with Feist or a number of regular big-magic fantasy authors, only it's ripping apart our modern world. :)

And then there's the conflict and harmony of Peter's infernal magic with the Gaia magic. And the love story with the actual magical whirlwind ripping apart waves after waves of demons.

Was I wowed? I was wowed.

Christopher Golden may not have a lot of subtlety, but his hold on grand ideas, gratuitous satisfaction with big magic and bigger gore, and the whole ball of yarn that is his world-building more than makes up for any shortcomings.

Think BIG SCALE COMIC BOOKS with an independent story that shakes the hell out of you. Doing what only novels can do. There's a reason why he's well known as a comic author now. And it's generally because people loved the hell out of what he did in his early novels. :) I assume.

I know he never lost his knack. Whatever issues I had with book 3 is wiped away with the cool bits in book 4. :)

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List by James Mustich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

1,000 Books to Kill You.

I don't know if this list is quite as life-changing as it purports, but I will grant it this: It is very eclectic and a wide-reaching list of true classics interspersed with the best of the best B-List books you've probably never heard of or you might have heard in passing before they slipped beneath the waves of all the other books on the high seas.

That being said, this book is a beautiful doorstopper. Enormous, picturesque, fully annotated and researched, and each book is picked with love.

Do I have any issues with this tome? Perhaps. There is a pretty obvious bias to it that may not be fully realized because of the preponderance of outright classics herewithin.

The unknowns are generally packed to the gills with 30's to 50's popular books.

It wasn't obvious to me until fairly late into my reading, from first to last page, alphabetical by author, because the old classics were heavily represented and the new modern classics are also there like quota victims. You know, like the random science text, a book or ten on travelogues, or ones that kind of surprised me like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Quicksilver, and Underground Railroad. Others are a gimmie like Hitchhiker's Guide and Harry Potter... even Among Us!

But for the most part, the heaviest weight of the books belong to the beginning of the Baby Boomers. The kinds of books that might have been on the shelves of that generation's parents. Growing dusty and perhaps picked up right at the time that those children hit their 20's.

I'm not saying this is wrong or that this list of a thousand books to read before you die ought not to be targeted to this aging population. Indeed, that sounds about right. They might pick this up and be proud of themselves as they go, "Hey! I read that!"

I know I did. I've probably read around a 1/3 of these books, myself. I also made a huge list of books I want to read, too, sinking my To Read shelf to new and unplumbed depths.

Alas.

Still, I'm quite happy to have read this. Even with the reservations. And not all books tickled my fancy... by a long shot... but it was very fun to browse.

I just ask one thing... Did SF just peek it's head out during the 30's and 50's and then just GO AWAY or something? So silly. There are only a FEW SF books in here. Definitely a major failing.


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Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse, #1)Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 7/1/18:

I feel like I've read this book three times now. Sure, not quite true, but I DID watch the Expanse episodes encompassing this book. So close enough. And now, after a third (sic second) read?

Pure love.

This is the gold standard for space opera. :) Everything else is just trying to catch up. :)

My original review still stands, too. :) I love it all. It's as close to genius as this kind of story can get.


Original Review:

Fantastic Space-Opera! I didn't know what to expect when I picked up the book besides the basic premise, and yet I was slowly drawn into situation after situation that got bigger and more bad-ass, contrary to what I was expecting in the first hundred pages or so. Sure, Solar-system action, big haulers, warships... I didn't expect the scope to become as large as it soon became, and believe me, I was quite satisfied with what came next. War? No problem. An expectation of high-level manipulation? Again, no problem. Cthulhu vomit zombies from galactic gods? I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. Sorry about the spoilers, folks. I couldn't resist, especially how well it was developed and written and snared me big time. The title could have been filler, but actually, it was spot on mythological-wise. There were quite a few great cultural references that never felt strained or out of place. I was frankly delighted by the story and ideas. I've read quite a few novels that couldn't match this one.

I am tempted to compare this, slightly, to the tone and complexity available in Brin's Startide Rising. Nothing quite matches between SR and LW except the amount of world-building, depth of characterizations, implied scope, and delightful multiple plot twists. That is a lot, mind you, but in no way are the two related in the story! Leviathan Wakes was my first intro into the Expanse and I'll be looking forward to reading all of the rest, including the not-yet-released 4th book, with great anticipation.

Great, great space opera!

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