Friday, August 31, 2018

To Hell and Back (Dante Valentine, #5)To Hell and Back by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lots of action right from the first page, scrambling up from hell and into Jersey.

I know. Not much of an improvement, but at least she has friends.

This is the last book and it's all about getting herself and Jeph out of the position they find themselves in. Lucifer has a rival. And then there are two rivals. All in all, between the growing factions, the action, and the culmination, it's a pretty fun book. We knew this was where it was headed since the first book. A showdown against the devil.

And this is what we got.

My only complaint was the super rushed end. You know, the wrap-up. It's rather unsatisfying even though the end action was quite decent.

Is it enough to lose another star, though? No... I'm still quite happy and pleased with how it turned out, romance and constant betrayal and all. This is, after, demons we're dealing with. :)

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Vallista (Vlad Taltos, #15)Vallista by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I won't say this is my favorite of the Vlad Taltos series, but when it comes to my ongoing need to re-immerse myself in the world that Brust has made, it's a solid addition... maybe not so much in the earlier bits, but when the mystery-fantasy begins unfolding, I really got into it.

That being said, Vlad goes time-hopping.

No, he's not becoming a god. He's still on the run and he has his friend-turned-into-a-sword and his two dragons within him. He just happens to have his mysterious disappearing friend send him on a mission to a mansion that happens to be WONKY as hell. You know, big magics, big mysteries, and a chance for Vlad to hop around all his old stomping grounds and other places he'd never been.

Fun? Sure! Resolved very well? Yep!

Somewhat a light adventure that kinda wraps up in a single sitting and we can promptly forget about it despite a number of BIG themes that have already been developed in the previous 14 novels? Yes.

Let me make this clear. Vlad, for me, has always been about a beautifully drawn worldbuilding experience with many races and many places, a funny assassin with an even funnier pet psychic dragon who joins him on every quest, and the magic. Lots of magic.

This is kinda light on the worldbuilding this time. The new places are fun tho. :)

Still gonna keep up with this series and see where it leads. Should be a full 17 book cycle, each focusing on a single theme on the fun pictorial wheel provided in the text. :)

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Ball LightningBall Lightning by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I got this book, I freaked out. I mean, let me put it this way: Cixin's imagination is heads and shoulders above most of the crap out there. Maybe even a large portion of a torso. :) So the moment I got it, I started dancing around and played the fool because anyone who puts so many AWESOME ideas on the page is going to make me do the happy-jig.

Fast-forward half a second.

I'm reading this. I dropped all my other projects like hot potatoes and felt very little guilt about it.

The establishing text is very down-to-earth despite the fantastic beginning of this kid's parents being turned to ash a-la a certain Avengers movie. Cue Deep Fascination Time. More establishing character moments in school, studies, post-work, and still he's devoted his life to the one phenomenon we STILL don't understand well... Ball Lightning.

Since this is near-future and everything is very recognizable as our reality, it really comes as a shock when, after certain military projects finally take off and other discoveries come to light, the world we knew and understood took a HUGE turn to the strange.

Not magical strange. Our understanding of reality strange.

And once we get to that slow boiling point, we're fully ready to eat. The novel TAKES OFF.

I don't want to spoil things, but OMG I'm still reeling from all the freaky AWESOME stuff that goes on here. Remember Three-Body Problem's AI housed in a multidimensional TINY matrix? Remember Death's End crazy bubble universes created to spec? Well, how about electrons in the macro universe hitting an excited state every once in a while? Or how about Schrodinger's observer effect played LARGE?

OMG all the possibilities and explorations, not least in the military-apps. A small boat versus a flotilla of Cruisers? Check. A macro-nuclear explosion precise enough to burn the hair from every living thing on the Earth? Check.

For the pure idea realm, I give this book ten stars and a Hugo nomination for next year. Easy.

I should mention this is a new translation of a book published in the mid-oughts. In point of fact, it came out before Three-Body Problem. So putting that all together with all those ideas running around in his head, I think this MIGHT be a more standard and accessible novel than TBP while running with one aspect of the coolness that made the other book so wild.

Who knows?

All I really know is that I'm going to EAGERLY await every single novel finally translated into English for my devouring pleasure. :)

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels, #10)Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's over. Ish. At least, the Kate Daniels-Lennart cycle is DONE.

It's been one hell of a ride, with bigger and badder enemies, like dear papa wanting to be in her life to take and corrupt his perfect magical grandchild or elder gods/dragons from pocket universes wanting to use and share Kate's new godhood in ruling the whole world.

You know, the same little problems on the same scale as Curran and Kate's little jealous tiffs. Or the fear. You know, fear of godhood or motherhood, of a precocious child spraying magic everywhere like a firework, or the inevitable showdown with gods and family and wondering how she got to this impasse.

I feel for her.

It doesn't help that courting rituals of gods can be JUST like being boiled alive.

This last book is easily my favorite of the whole bunch. Some series end with a whimper, but this one ends with a very satisfying bang. Emotionally, plot-wise, the level of magic amazingness, the fights, the betrayals, the successes... all of it just kicked ass.

Yes, things got wrapped up very nicely.

The only concern I might have is for Hugh and Kate. They have a lot of history and a lot of nastiness to overcome, and even tho some of it was worked out in previous novels and Hugh has had his own little awesome side-series kick off (I loved it) I couldn't QUITE make the emotional connect that Kate made. I may like the two characters on their own, but Kate's acceptance of Hugh is a mite unbelievable. As a reader, I'm totally on board with Hugh, but for Kate's sake, perhaps not.

Other than that, I still think the whole novel is something special. :) Very satisfying.




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Men at Arms (Discworld, #15; City Watch #2)Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Discworld Re-Read project #15. :)

I remembered that there was one particular Watch novel that lunged the entire Watch novels out of the stratosphere in terms of how much I grew to LOVE them. I had forgotten that THIS was that novel.

Vimes was great, but who really stole the show was Carrot. I'll love Vimes a lot more in the future, but for now, Carrot is KING.

Or not. That's a matter of perception and some small debate, all of which Carrot himself will probably have the right precedent and moral outlook and word to set right.

Other than that, this novel deals with racial prejudice in a big way. Trolls and Dwarves are at each other's throats. And then the Assassin's guild is deep in the muck thanks to a little theft and ideology. And then there's Gaspode.

I don't think there's any part of the novel I disliked. At all. Wolves and dogs and romance and bringing back the old monarchy kinda reverberated with a previous novel, of course, but I didn't mind. This was a different kind of beast. This time there was rioting in the streets rather than dragons. :)

Too cool. :)

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye (Millennium, #5)The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This fifth book of Lizbeth Salander, two not written by the original writer, is fun enough to keep on reading without any reservation, but not deep enough or creative enough to break any new ground.

Indeed, a lot of the plot elements are DIRECT REPEATS of the first three books.

Not that I'm complaining. Much. They do, after all, solidify and remind us of exactly what kind of person Lizbeth is. Minus the duct tape. But add even more revenge against abusers. For that, I am just fine. In fact, these laid-back observations, theoretically relaxing check-ins to a prison system to catch up on quantum loop theory is kinda awesome.

Woe to anyone actively abusing a broken woman in the cells nearby!

There's just a TAD reveal about Lizbeth in this one. She's not really the star of the show, believe it or not. This novel could almost do without Lizbeth.

The best part of the novel is pretty much the new characters. And that's perhaps how it ought to be.

I like the twins. :)

So, yes, I had fun. That's my main concern. This isn't utterly derivative but it does straddle the line. If it wasn't for all the new peeps, I might have felt as let down as the previous novel after I got over the initial rush. Not so, here. :)

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Monday, August 27, 2018

Meg (MEG, #1)Meg by Steve Alten
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everything in me wanted to either rebel against reading this or just submit to the gleeful horror of a shark who's head is as big as a truck.

Obviously, I had to submit.

And you know what really caught me off-guard?

The plausibility.

Yeah, a 65-foot albino shark from the deep trenches, or rather, the ongoing survival of the species, living in the depths, never needing to see sunlight... until they were disturbed by intrepid explorers. :)

Yeah, well, there's real talk about Megladon teeth as far back as 10 thousand years ago. That's not exactly extinct.

Enter in the story.

Well, this is written well and fun, all horror, then adventure, and then pure action. No wonder it got made into a movie. :)

But you know what I like best about it?


*spoiler alert*



The story of Jonah inside the whale. :) Nooooooo... noooo spoilers!!!!

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The Devil's FingersThe Devil's Fingers by Hunter Shea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably one of my most favorite Shea horrors yet. :) Simple in plot and execution, it still hits all the right spots in my gross-out factor. Better yet, I'm constantly rooting for the new deaths. The more horrible, the better. :)

It's a walk on the wild side. There's a fungus among us! :)

*munches down on a mushroom* Yum! ... oh wait, they must think the same thing about us.

:)

Total B-Movie Madness! And it's a pure delight.

I may have said this before, but it bears repeating. I will always read Hunter Shea. I doesn't matter what he puts his hand to. As long as it's these corny monsters ripping apart dipshits and assholes, I don't think I'm ever going to complain.

Except...

My mental waistline is getting fat. It's too good! I don't even want to stray from any other high fat-salt stories! :)

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Origin (Robert Langdon, #5)Origin by Dan Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I keep reading Dan Brown despite a love/hate relationship with his bad guys. It's a close thing. All that mortification of the flesh and unreasoning religious (or whatever) fevers are good one or two times, but then it keeps happening and then the novels just feel like they were cookie-cutters with one or two new ideas evolving.

This one is *almost* the same as the others. But not quite. Sure, it has the whole requisite chase scene and religious nutters (apparently), and the BIG REVEAL is super sensational.

What makes this stand out for me is the fact it is pure Science Fiction.

What? No! This is a mainstream thriller! It doesn't belong to those pulp fictions!

*gives you an ironic sidelong stare*

Okay. Let's get real here. (view spoiler) Oh, sure, this is no Science Fiction.

Hell, I've read a hundred novels that WERE billed as Science Fiction that had a tenth of the SFnal themes and gadgets.

Don't kid a kidder. Dan Brown is tackling Vernor Vinge and Charles Stross at their most fundamental hardcore (view spoiler) technomagical Clarkian predictions.

And that's pretty much where I enjoyed this novel the most. :)

The thriller was pretty standard fare with a bit more inclusiveness and less-predictable twists than the previous ones, but overall, I read for the final reveal. In that way, it IS a standard mystery. :)

Fun. Oddly enough, I had a great deal of fun with this.


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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Rattus New Yorkus (Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All)Rattus New Yorkus by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Always be leery of any reviewer who says, "If you like, then..."

Why?

Because it usually means that if you pick up this book, you're gonna get eaten by horny rabid New York Rats juiced up the to gills on a super-potion, killing everyone in the most gruesome fashion ever.

Capishe?

Capishe.


Oh, I might want to mention that I would WATCH THE HELL out of this if it was a B-movie horror with an extra budget for all the special effects. It tickles all my fancies. :)

Shea usually does.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

Misspent YouthMisspent Youth by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It might be best going into this novel not expecting anything. I've only read a couple of Hamilton's novels and this time period or the ones following it directly is relatively unknown to me.

Fortunately, that doesn't mean a dime to my enjoyment.

As a matter of fact, this is pretty much a kind of family soap opera in a slightly more futuristic time than ours. It's soft-SF rather than hard-SF. And by that I mean we have two techs put on a pedestal here. The first is a global networking platform that has turned pretty much the whole world into the same architecture used by torrents today. Swarming data fields where tons of individual users make up a whole of some kind of information platform funneling at the end user.

The man who made it possible gave the tech away instead of getting filthy rich. And so he became a massive celebrity... who is eventually made the recipient of the first real fountain of life treatment, turning his old body into that of a man in his early 20's.

So far, so good. The premise of many a great and not so great trope, right here.

Now, where Hamilton makes it good is his characters and the interpersonal stuff. The focus is nowhere else.

In the end, it's a treatise on young man's follies (when he's actually an old man) in love and family. He's almost the same age as his son. His sex drive is driving him crazy. His wife, all his friends, everything is a mismatch.

The conflicts are great and the soap opera really unfolds in delicious and tragic ways, tempting us with a redemption arc ... or perhaps not. :)

Again, it's soft-SF. And where it shines is the characters.

For some reason, this novel kinda hit me harder than the previous two I had read, even though the official ratings on the other two were quite high. It may just be a case of right tale, right time, or perhaps I'm just getting used to the author's style.

Or perhaps he just meant this to be a bit more than a light tale and more a tale of growth and family. For that, I just happen to be in the right place to appreciate it. :)

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Arm of the Sphinx (The Books of Babel, #2)Arm of the Sphinx by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Piracy!

No, not the literary kind. The story kind! Senlin has taken on a new name and with his intrepid crew, they're flying the skies, being polite, and relieving captains of their loot, and generally progressing the character arcs. Multiple character arcs this time, not just focusing on Senlin.

I'm really enjoying the ride. Senlin seems to be going mad, Adam is trying to get back in everyone's good graces, Edith is going through a mid-life crisis trying to keep Senlin's secrets and dealing with her own armless issues, and our favorite acrobat is just plain delightful.

This book is utterly steampunk.

We've gone through the effort of introducing the world and characters quite nicely in the first and now we've got a somewhat random adventure time as they try to figure out how to find Senlin's missing wife (or find enough to eat).

Worth it?

Yah! This book has a few interesting and creative areas, and without spoiling too much about either the nature of or the details within either, the crew is headed to a zoo and a library. And few things are quite as they seem and the circumstances are pretty fantastic. This is the best quality of these books. Creative and fantastic, with well-drawn characters, cool worldbuilding, and even a platform for a bit of a philosophical ramble. But no worries, it's just there to spice things up and make the text stand out. :)

Oh, and the upgrades and tech stuff are pretty awesome. Not to mention the purpose of the tower! :) The librarian says, "Meow." And just who is the Sphinx? There are a lot of reveals in the second half of the book and overall, it's a bit less meandering.

BUT. This is a middle book. It's kinda obvious. Must wait for more.

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Friday, August 24, 2018

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie SocietyThe Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, I should mention that this isn't my normal cup of tea. That being said, I do like it for precisely what it is.

A literary romance. Sure, there's some real romance in there, too, and it being 1946 and in and near the heart of England, we can expect a lot of post-war recuperation. What's the hook?

A book appreciation society.

Add a moderately successful writer, a clever hook to get her interested in a small island that's nothing more than a small town, and show her the virtues of small-town community versus everything else.

Add great stories and characterization of all the members, their experiences while being occupied by Germany, and especially the heart of the Potato Peel Society and her experiences, and what we've got is a historical novel full of charm and wit and heart.

My favorite part is how the whole thing is written epistolary fashion. There's also a nice Dorothy Parker feel, too. But what I think most people are hungry for is the romance and the love of literature.

I'm a huge fan of the literature bit, of course, but for me, I was only slightly interested in the whole Doc Hollywood romance. The feel of the Possession romance was quite understated, but it was there, but even so, the heart of it is people finding something good to love and pour their heart into during some really trying times.

It's a common enough theme. And heaven knows, we need it. And while I'm not going head-over-heels for the novel, I have no complaints.

I may have been forced to read it, but that doesn't matter. I don't regret it. :)

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Delirium Brief (Laundry Files, #8)The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Second read in about a single year. How about that? But the series is great and I feel nothing but happiness when reading it. BOB IS BACK. I admit I've been missing him.

Suffice to say, I'm REALLY looking forward to the next and latest book to come out at the end of October!

Could anything get MORE FUBAR for the world?

Lesser evils, indeed. lol


Original Review:

I'll be honest, I've been a long-time raving fan of the Laundry Files, so when I got the next pre-release from Netgalley I practically fell over.

For those of you who've never had this on your radar, let me synopsize: It's part Spy-Novel, part Gibbering Cthulhu horrorshow, and part bureaucratic nightmare. Oh, and it's wickedly funny and charming and I love all the characters in this SF-UF. Sound good?

Oh yeah, and we get a huge dose of Bob in this latest one. Lately, we've been getting great Mo and great Alex and Cassie, too, but Bob has been my main go-to guy here, from his days as computational magic-tech-support all the way through his rise in active-duty Spy to middle management and THEN to... *gasp* upper-management. His wife Mo with her ex-eldritch-murder-violin has had her own bump into Senior Auditor status, never to be left behind.

But what about now? What is the Eater of Souls doing?

Oh, nothing much. Just fielding the Elvish invasion/sanctuary application fallout on English Soil, fencing with mind-numbing horrors and other paperwork, and a full-scale liquidation of the Laundry Files. Oops. Political nightmares! But what about all the demons in the basement? What is to happen with them or our Special K or our beleaguered fanged civil servants?

Here's the best part, however... we get a huge dose of Bob AND Mo AND Alex and Cassie in this novel, yo! All the mainstays get their time in the light, and good thing, too, because things have never been this dire.

What about the (magical) Oaths of Service, man??? Oh man...

Is it the end of the world? Very likely.

I won't spoil this because it hasn't even been released yet, but the twist is absolutely horrifying. I read the entire thing with a huge smile on my face. It's just one of those kinds of novels.

Utterly enjoyable, that is.

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Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human IntelligenceDragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carl Sagan is a big name, or at least he used to be. But other than the series Cosmo or the movie with Jodi Foster, he was known for his speculation in... everything. :)

In this case, it's consciousness. By the title, he's referring to the lizard brain. And considering the fact that he was writing this out of the 70's and he disclaimed the hell out of it, it's meant to be a conversation starter for laymen.

All good.

And it's good, too. If I was reading this 40 years ago or even 30 years ago, I'd nod energetically at a lot of the ideas. The writing is good, the ideas sound, and the subject is still obviously open today.

So what did I have a problem with?

Actually, my complaint is rather prosaic.

It's just dated. HEAVILY dated. It's like the line from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where Prosser still thinks that digital watches are a good idea.

There are better books that do the job of this one, but for the time I'm sure it was pretty fantastic. Not everything was dated. Philosophy and basic math and the broad strokes were good. But the fields of mental health, computers and computer games, the current development of cloning, AIs, and a huge extra list WAS.

Alas. Time marches on.


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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Hull Zero ThreeHull Zero Three by Greg Bear
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think I did Greg Bear a disservice. I kinda avoided his more recent novels ever since Quantico and all the Halo tie-in novels because A: I wasn't all that interested in Quantico and B: I never played the Halo games.

Oh, I know, I know, SHAME ON ME... but then I saw the rating of this book in GR and thought... huh... maybe I ought to pass.

Well, that is a DEFINITE SHAME ON ME.

Why? Because Bear goes all out with the Hard-SF with a grand reprisal of the delightful Biopunk glories I tended to associate with him. Plus this is a total space opera horror with our MC waking without memories and losing skin to the freezing surfaces while a young woman tells him to ignore all the dying men in pods all around him.

Great opening. Sure, it might be like one or two horror SF movies you might have seen, but never mind that. Bear just opens there and turns this into an adventure on a very interesting HUGE spacecraft surrounding an ice moon it is consuming, all the bots and biological horrors seem to be out to clean up or destroy the newly awoken clones, and the rest is all pure mystery.

MYSTERY IN SPACE. :)

Great golly! If I was just reading this without knowing the author at all or knowing what great books he has written in the past, I would still probably rate this the same. It has elements of Indiana Jones with biological monstrosities on a broken Big Dumb Object that feels like that old movie The Cube, where sooooo many copies of the core characters keep getting ushered out like a respawn in a video game, where the whole damn ship is BROKEN and all we want to do is figure out WHY.

And Bear does it. He keeps things hopping and full of great descriptions and hints and images that would translate awesomely to the big screen or a full miniseries. Impalements, jumps, monsters, corpses galore, and nasty robots. :) Too awesome! And it's a straight adventure, too, starting out in the first part of the ship, Hull Zero One, barely surviving the trek across the almost destroyed Hull Zero Two, and praying there is safety and answers on Hull Zero Three.

And all the time, the spaceship revolves and revolves and does it's gorgeous interstellar thing. :)

Don't think that's all, tho. There's great introverted stuff here and his exploration of memory and identity gets full marks here just as it used to in, say, his Queen of Angels. This is chock-full of all the goodies and ambition I've come to admire in all his writing.

Where it doesn't succeed is not of consequence. On the whole, when compared to similar kinds of Space Opera SF, hard or otherwise, Bear's imagination is truly one to behold and love. I'm reminded of just how much stock I always put in his books.

I'm back.

I should never have doubted.

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Eclipse Penumbra (A Song Called Youth, #2)Eclipse Penumbra by John Shirley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The worldbuilding in this trilogy is really something else. It is near future. The best parts of it isn't what kind of tech is in it, although some are pretty cool like prolonged lifespans up to 140 if you have the riches or a specifically targeted reprogramming of memories for all the best propagandists.

No. It's pretty much our world. A space colony near the Earth notwithstanding. :)

No, the worldbuilding shines in the details and the direction everything is twisted. The first is obviously a Fascist mockup driven by the Religious Right blown up into an outright racial pogrom of a scope similar to those of the Nazis. But this time, war broke out sooner and the tools on both sides of the war are a bit more interestingly divided. Suffice to say, civilization has gone into an eclipse. And by the end of the first book, the SA, or the bad guys, HAVE WON.

Everything else is about resistance fighters, degrading situations for everyone, and getting to love a few new MCs with an expectation of getting punched in the gut. Hard. Again. Along the same lines as the first novel.

I wasn't disappointed, either.

So much racism is put on highlight here. So much truly horrible crap goes on. But let's be clear about this. My intuition says we're on the side of the angels. This is just a dark, dark time. And it's pretty epic. World War spreading out into space, nations turning on each other, exploring media, new nasty laws, injustice, and of course, misery and grief.

There are some cyberpunk elements here and the text is updated to have newer tech and more recent historical events that tie directly into the events here, but what really stands out is just how similar this world is to what we could fall into yet again.



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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Fated Sky (Lady Astronaut, #2)The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The worldbuilding aspect deserves mention because this is a full continuation of all the events in the previous novel, one where a meteorite destroys a good portion of the United States and where the nineteen-sixties become a backdrop for a big push off the planet due to rampant heating and eventually boiling oceans.

What makes the novel special is the luck and quirk and the actions of the women to get themselves equal access to the whole project. It's not just a space race. It's the survival of humanity. It's not like people are going to clone themselves out in space. :)

This novel picks up with the Mars project well underway. Nice touches, or perhaps themes, constantly brings back the inequality issue in both race and sex. And since this is a very valid concern for today as well as the 60's, but the 60's are at enough of a remove, it actually comes off as more charming and calm while being quite realistic. There's no bra-burning here. No nasty tweets, either. One might say this is a perfect combination of subject and platform just distant enough to give us all some great perspective.

What makes this better than most others is Kowal's writing. I'm invested in the characters, I want to know what happens, and it always straddles a great fine line.

Oh, and it's a great adventure, two ships going to mars, lots of complications, and a few really big and wonderful heart-to-hearts.

Anyone have a problem with a certain male from the other book?

Ah, well, I LOVED the redemption arc here. That's just me. I'm also male, but I hope that doesn't matter. Reasons and better understanding can go a VERY long way to transforming a dick into someone who might still be a dick, but at least he's not SO much of a dick. Oh, and respect goes both ways for the characters. That's a big bonus. And a lesson.

We're all in this together even if we're all jerks. :) :) Am I talking about the battle of the sexes? Maaaaaybe?

All said, I'm quite impressed and very happy to read this novel. It can possibly be read without the first but I would never recommend it. Characters are most of the fun here.

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Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oddly enough, I had to revise my original rating on book 2 down to accommodate my feelings for this one.

Whoa, right? Well, I found I liked this one more than the second, but that's just the thing. I didn't fall head over heels for this one.

So I had to deal with that dissonance.

This novel is about as bucolic as you can get aboard a spacecraft. Totally pastoral. The focus is on ordinary people doing ordinary things and backing off the whole action schtick to get introspective and a bit aimless. I like that on occasion, but sometimes I just have to be in the mood for it.

In this case, I was. These novels are all character driven. I can't expect huge happenings and anyway, they didn't happen. So what do we have left?

Details, themes, and asking the biggest question of all... why are we here? What does it mean to live in a place where you're scared, how do you know what to do with your life, and how to hold on to happiness. The big stuff.

I liked it.

Generational space ship, aliens, communication stuff, closed systems, the spirit of wonder... all this is still in the novel, of course, but the focus threw all that into the background. What we have left is a close to the cuff drama. :)

Pretty nice, actually. :)

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Monday, August 20, 2018

Degrees of Freedom (Samuil Petrovitch, #3)Degrees of Freedom by Simon Morden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third novel in the Petrovitch books is easily the one I enjoyed the most. But why? Ah, well... because of everything that came before. But why?

Because while this novel takes place years after the first two books, headed far, far away from the time when Samuil used to be a very smart operative and well after the time he was just known as a breakthrough scientist -- adding a true AI buddy named Michael and a true anti-grav device using miniature black holes to his list of accomplishments -- he's still better known for being damn smart. Across many levels.

He's an SF wizard. Like, literally. He's one of the smartest people on the planet and nothing stands in his way. He's also ruthless. And yet, his progress as a decent human being is a huge part of these books. I'm enjoying it. :) Lots and lots of entertainment here. :) And it doesn't hurt that he cuts through problems with the cleverest nuclear solutions. How does he stop all of Europe from being annihilated by the crazy Americans? ooooh goodness.. you just have to read. :)

The author never stints and explaining a scientific concept, which I appreciate, but he does let us (or forces us) make do with the state of the world and any kind of interpersonal changes that might have gone on in the intervening years between books. Don't expect any hand-holding there. Jump in and figure it out for yourself. The journey is as fun as the discovery.

It makes for a slightly more difficult story, but who wants everything handed to them on a platter?

As it is, I'm mightily impressed with the scope of our changed world and just how crazy it has all become in these novels. Our near-future has never been so bleak OR hopeful at the same time. :)

Techno-thriller. Check. Hard-SF. Check. Soft-SF focusing on relationships and our state in the world, including AIs and sociopathy. Check. Higher-than-ever stakes. Check. I think it's a damn fine book. :)



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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Saint City Sinners (Dante Valentine, #4)Saint City Sinners by Lilith Saintcrow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We've gone from necromancy to body horror to becoming one half of some sort of demon/human hybrid soulmate thingie across these books, with friend or lover or frenemies dying left and right and turning poor Dante into a walking wreck... or a wrecking ball.

In other words, it's a decent UF with all the goodies AND it's as high-tech futuristic as it is fully magical and full of practitioners of all kinds of magical arts AND a full community of Demons pulling strings from hell. You know, like Satan. Or Japh, Dante's soul mate. :) Details.

But this book picks up on a dour note mainly because of the strong-arm tactics of Satan and his need to quash the rebellion brewing because his control over his possible new children is slipping.... or has already slipped.

And now Dante and Japh are on or will soon be on different sides of this little nightmare. Dante is going to save her kin. Japh is just trying to survive, and if he doesn't deliver, both of them are going to die.

Here's a GOOD conflict. Add all the sexual tension, the jerky behavior of a demon who can't or won't understand, and the love between them. Add swords, lasers, vamps, undead magicians, werewolves, gene-spliced and augmented hackers.

And MORE dead friends.

Let's let Dante go all out on a revenge kick. And have to decide whether she will betray all her principles AND her death god Anubis. :)

Pretty cool popcorn fiction by any standard. :) And yes, I'm still having fun. Isn't that the point?

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Distress (Subjective Cosmology #3)Distress by Greg Egan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this is exactly what I hunt for in SF in general. Give me hard science, slather me in a hundred beautiful hard-science ideas, blow me away with high-tech biotech, computer science... and especially the hardcore physics geekery.

Mind you, this isn't any kind of soft cookie full of throwaway made-up terms. Egan goes for the jugular and explores as much science and possible science and fully-realized future societies changed by total control. Or somewhat total control. Lots of magic bullets for diseases and gene-editing and living by photosynthesis and hardware augments of all kinds including built-in video recording... such as that our MC uses as a reporter.

And all this is just a sweet setup for the beginning of the novel before he switches tracks from biotech to pure physics.

But wait, isn't that a bit too much for readers to digest? Concept after concept?

Oh, sure, probably, but I'm one of those readers who LOVE to be slathered in concepts and be blown away by smarts. :)

Once the novel switches from bio to physics and the hunt for the Theory Of Everything, things get wacky. The part of the world he's sent to is all kinds of Anarcho-syndicalism and what seems to be cults springing up around these leading scientists who are hot on the trail for not just the Grand Unified Theory, but the math model that encompasses everything. They're treating these theoreticians like gods. Or prophets. Or saints.

...And for a rather interesting reason.

This is a novel of Consensual Reality. :) They believe that whoever reaches the most popular model of reality will thereby CREATE that reality. It's a cool-as-hell idea supported by none other than REAL QUANTUM THEORIES. :)

And so we're thrown into a thriller that leads to chaos and warfare, political intrigue, religious nuttery, and no little exploration of sex in the rest of the pot.

I had a great time! I think this was my favorite of Greg Egan's Subjective Cosmology trilogy. Now, I should mention that the trilogy isn't a true trilogy in normal terms. They're a trilogy in theme only. They are very much standalone novels that don't intersect except in the Grand Idea and how much can be delved.

Honestly, I'm kinda blown away here. I expected him to be a rather decent author, but not one who is this adept at so many different fields of study and doesn't mind going wild (or brave) with the Big Ideas.

I've just gone from fan to fanboy. It took a few novels, but once I discovered how much depth and breadth he's willing to go across these few books, I'm honestly amazed. :)

So yeah. I think I'm going to go wild reading everything he's got.

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Saturday, August 18, 2018

NumbercasteNumbercaste by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There really *IS* a growing number of social media dystopias out there. Enough to fill a rather large subgenre.

And why not? We can see where this kind of thing is going. Social ostracism on an ever-growing scale. Look at that great Black Mirror episode, or even that great Orville episode, or if you'd rather, then head on over to The Circle or TWO Claire North books, Sudden Appearance of Hope, and 84K. And Malka Older, too, of course.

There are a ton more out there, I'm sure, and a large handful out of those I've read that I haven't even mentioned. But that's my point.

We're in a time of warning. And this novel does a pretty fantastic job of exploring where the trends are headed without going into wild territory. Indeed, having a single score that incorporates EVERY LITTLE DETAIL in your life, including whether or not you relinquish your seat to an old person, is not that far off from where we are now. Every bit of our lives is a marketing campaign already. All we need to do next is rank how desirable you are for all those markets but have it under a single company and we've got actually accurate credit agencies and a whole new way to cast aside undesirables.

But be forewarned. The corporation a character. Probably a bigger and more impressive character than the PoV. :)

This definitely one of the best ones of this subgenre. It really goes in for the ideas and the full exploration of where we're headed rather than an overblown thriller or something with mystery aspects. I think it's just plain Fascinating. :)


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Abaddon's Gate (Expanse, #3)Abaddon's Gate by James S.A. Corey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-Read 8/18/18:

Doing a full re-read of the series is almost like coming home. I've read a lot of space-opera at this point and this duo keeps hitting the ball out of the park. Tops.

I mean, who else can run a great character arc for Cassy, from all-out revenge to such a believable change of heart? Or the whole craziness of the slow zone? Or Miller?

The whole idea of doors and corners when it comes to the whole damn universe kinda freaks me out. It's Dark Forest time.

And even if I know what happens in the later books, it doesn't diminish the feel of this book. I'm right there with them all over again. Brilliant. And now... I really need to binge-watch the new season on tv.



Original Review:

All of the implicit promises made to me as a reader have been fulfilled and titillated and stoked to a nice fine fire. I wanted something with huge scope, and while I kept thinking about Iain M. Banks Culture or more to the point, Brin's Uplift War, or even Pohl's Gateway series, I was thoroughly impressed with the Expanse because it kept me grounded in the multiple scales needed to fully appreciate it. Sure, there's series that have galaxy-wide adventure, but how does one truly draw the reader into a true appreciation of it? Answer: have an extremely fully-fleshed solar system and the need for an equation between time and distance. Keep all of the action in that localized space but throw the implications of something so vast and horrible into the mix that it makes everyone feel like ants. These guys have that little literary monster on a leash and they like to let him snap at pedestrians. I love it.

The characters are all spectacular and engrossing. I'm not just talking about the standard crew, either, but even the many who fight, love, and die in this fantastic story. The quality of story and writing is amazing.

I will be following this series forever, I do believe. :)

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Finding MaxFinding Max by Darren M. Jorgensen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So here's the big question. Can a novel that is fairly strong as a thriller, or rather, a psychological horror filled with tons of abuse of all kinds, be redeemed after a bunch of short sharp jabs to the incredulity center within my brain?

Let's back up. The first 70% of the novel is solid as a thriller surrounding a man who had lost his 5-year-old brother to a kidnapper only to find him all grown up as a homeless 22-year-old, himself as a social worker laden with guilt.

Enter in the girlfriend. The brand new girlfriend who loves this social worker without much preamble or reason. So far, not a big deal.

The writing is solid and the character exploration isn't bad. The lost kid goes through a TON of horrible experiences and we're left to suffer with him. Much pathos. Horrible experiences. You can guess all the child rape that goes on, the weird circumstances that allowed the kid to survive 17 extra years despite almost everyone's wishes he might have died.

But the new girlfriend makes some piss-poor choices and what had been a decent thriller became an unbelievable and downright horrible (for me) romp that made me almost DNF this. I don't do that, but I wanted to.

Love conquers all, right? Well, maybe for those characters, but levels of incredulity hit their limit even for a massive SF/F reader like me. Maybe it's just the abundant psychological horror meeting with an unbelievable amount of understanding, or perhaps it was the whole "sharing is caring" mentality, or maybe it was the whole "bullshit" when it came to sleeping with the bad guy to save her boyfriend.

Whatever.

It hit all my personal rage-filled buttons and made me BELIEVE in the characters and then I hated all their choices. Unbelievable choices. Really crappy choices.

And what happened after? Love and forgiveness?

You have to read this to see what I mean. I don't think I'm out of line in thinking that this crosses all kinds of lines. First, it's the pain and horror of child abuse on a massive scale, then it's an unbelievable amount of acceptance from several layers and people, then it's the full consideration of the after effects? NO WAY.

This requires a ton of disbelief. And when it comes to thrillers, there shouldn't be all that much of it. We shouldn't be asked to believe all this love and acceptance right after so many bad choices. Even characters should know better. Putting a cap in his ass is better than what happened. ; ;

So parts of this is a solid thriller... and other, more character related believability issues, is a full 1-star.

I'm taking an average.

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Turing's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital UniverseTuring's Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had an issue with this non-fiction, but also a whole lot of love.

So this is about the mathematicians who heralded the whole computer movement. You know, the OTHER, more disreputable and crazy smart people like Von Neumann, Gödel, and all the other nutters like Turing who ushered in the computer age from just a thought experiment into a hand-made lab and later into the co-authors of the nuclear age.

Yeah. THOSE crazy nutters. The ones that ran enough physics programs on their automatic machines to model nuclear explosions and bring about the bomb. Computers, and not the poor women (and a few men) who got paid to crunch math by hand for years, are the real reason we have the nuclear age. And also why we have genetic sciences.

Pretty obvious, I know, but still, these guys are some unsung heroes. Just programmers. Sheesh. Whatever.

The book is full of love. I love the people. And then there was a wholly appropriate section expounding on science fiction and the future of AIs and I LOVED that, too, especially the form a realistic alien might take.

So what issues did I have?

WAY too much time was spent on the schools. Early schools, history, blah blah blah. Sure. Colleges are important and such, but I lost my caring factor until a while after we were introduced to Von Neumann. And what an interesting guy he was! :)

A side issue I should have more problem with is the role of women in this non-fiction, but like real history, too much idiocy prevents half our population from having more active roles. I'm not too fond of how the women here were relegated to being facilitators, suicidal wives, or footnotes to Crick and Watson. But let's be real here. We have a horrible track record at pushing these people aside in reality, not just in history.

I can appreciate the minds SHOWN HERE while still wishing the other minds had a chance. It didn't diminish my fascination. I can have MORE fascination to spare elsewhere. :)

So. Maybe not the best non-fiction I've ever read, but I did learn a hell of a lot about the people who ushered in the computer age and it's quite a story. And honestly, it makes for a more realistic story than the others I've read that focused more on WWII encryption engines as the real focus and impetus for computers. Making nukes is pretty damn huge. And obvious. :)

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Alien Space Tentacle PornAlien Space Tentacle Porn by Peter Cawdron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What's the most important discovery, ever? Hint. It's an idea.

Equality.

Yes, a short novel with the best title ever is all about: equality.

Who'd have thunk?

But no worries, it's also a fast-talking ride with a magic-tongued New-Yorker falling for a hot alien babe who has a nefarious feminist agenda that gets him in trouble with cops, more cops, even more cops, and government cops.

Oh yeah, and Chicago was threatened. As in... Boom. :)

But more than that, we find out that porn is pretty cool.

And that's what I like to learn in a morally and ethically sound novel that includes tentacles.

Banana, anyone?


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Les MisérablesLes Misérables by Victor Hugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic among classics.

I'd been meaning to read this ever since... what, the '80's? Okay. So I'm a bit late. No Andrew Lloyd Webber, either. And what a beast this novel is! Almost 1500 pages, full of grand sweeping expositions on War from Napoleon's exploits and downfall to the second French Revolution, diatribes on the language of convicts, the dealings of wine-houses, sewers, and no less than a dozen different social injustices of the time...

And yet, the horrible misery of the novel, some might say a grand depression from the outside and in for poor Jean Valjean, is rightfully a romance of epic proportions.

The misery isn't just his, of course. A wide tapestry of miserable creatures inhabits this novel. Some might say the miserable is all of France. They're all a mixture of the execrable and the divine. Full of heart and joy and committing suicide in the next breath. One might say that Paris was... perhaps is... bipolar. Manic and depressive.

As long as we go by the events and the backgrounds within these pages, of course.

Bigger than life and real for all that, this is probably one of those monsters of a novel that should be read and digested over a long period of time. That's not to say it's difficult to read at all. It's just long. So much happens it's like enjoying a better rendition of Shakespeare's King Henry the Sixth (in the entire) mixed with a milder Dostoyevski's Crime and Punishment, adding a comedic romance with a little of Dicken's underworld horror shows, then topping it off with a dispassionate review of history with a massive side-order of satire.

Can we really pigeonhole this work?

No. Not really. It has wide swaths of everything.

And that's why it is a classic among classics.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Short Victorious War (Honor Harrington, #3)The Short Victorious War by David Weber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have no real complaints about these books other than the fact that they're straight space opera that are entirely mil-SF. In the first book of the series, I was thrilled to get to know all the misfit characters and see how Honor won them over by being just plain awesome and win actual fights at super-long odds, but the same kind of formula doesn't quite work for me a second and third time.

She's already an established badass. Even when super-wounded in the previous one, she got up and led everyone to victory. In this one, she turns a whole predatory society that aimed for a short victorious war into a quivering embarrassed mess. Nothing short about it, and far from victorious.

I like the idea... in theory. Who doesn't like an underdog story? Uh... wait... the brass are contriving her into underdog positions. She's not an actual underdog now.

Still, she pulls a rabbit out of her hat again, so all's fair in love and war.

Except, I'm not quite sure I'm a big fan of the writing. I actually like a good amount of exposition, but not always about the same thing. In this case, it's all military and tech and how it all works together, spelled out in great detail and usually the reason why we get our big wins.

Fine, fine. But even I have limited patience for that kind of thing if that's almost all there is. You know, aside from getting some on the side or a petty vengeance from a jerk or the political machinations on either side of the war. They just aren't all that great.

I look at Bujold and then I look at Weber and I just can't compare the two with any justice. I think I'll always prefer Bujold. It's mostly just the writing, I think.

Alas.

I might have to stop the series here. Interest level just plummeted.

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Kitty Goes to War (Kitty Norville, #8)Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A solid UF read checking off all the boxes for the time it came out.

You know, support the troops, even the werewolf troops coming back from Afganistan. Give them a safe place for when they might go off the handle and kill folks at home.

It's a decent feel-good novel but nothing all that special. Not really.

A little magic and a humorous new uber-villain (but not for the characters in the book) doing a bit of a murder spree spices up the tale. And then there's the new and improved Cormac the magic user.

I don't know. This is just fluff. It's fine and fairly entertaining but ultimately forgettable.

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Monday, August 13, 2018

Operation WormwoodOperation Wormwood by Helen C. Escott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thriller is the product of 10 years. For the nature of this mystery, it's not so much a whodunit as a medical mystery with long-range ramifications.

Not to give too much away, the disease targets a very specific group of individuals, and no, it's not a targeted virus made by us. As a line in the novel says, "I'm not going to put out an arrest warrant for Jesus Christ."

So yes, it is also religious... to an interesting degree. Bad people are being punished. Everyone else in the novel is just trying to figure out what's going on and making do with the hand they're dealt. This includes the church, the police, victims of abuse, and the abusers.

Warning: this might be a trigger novel for victims of child abuse. Almost the entire novel deals with pedophilia.

On another level, the novel is also a total wish-fulfillment piece for the victims.

Either way, it's a very decent thriller that explores a ton of different angles, mainly relying on the church and a bit of the secular authority to drive the plot.

After ten years, it's obvious that this novel is quite polished. It's worth a look.

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Two of Six: A Captain's DilemmaTwo of Six: A Captain's Dilemma by Tomohito Moriyama
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella mixed the complications of the basic conflicts inherent in choosing who must live and who must die when resources are scarce with the Turing Test question. So let's break it down. Six people must be pared down to two on a spacecraft. The AI refuses to make the decision, leaving it to the captain.

Got it. And... it's okay. I've seen so many iterations of this in SF that I'm forced to put aside the question of originality and go for technique.

Do I feel sorry for the characters, am I invested? Unfortunately, not all that much. Some were already suicidal-ish and when we're left with a purely Utilitarian argument, all that we might have for a something cool is an AI twist since these are the two (and only) real elements in the tale.

There's nothing particularly WRONG with the novella. It does what it sets out to do and asks some primary questions, but then, it's also not fundamentally different from some of the more creative SF stories that came out in the 1930's.

For the exact same questions.

So. The story is okay. Solid but not that original.

On the other hand, this novella IS good for one thing. It has the Japanese text right next to the English translation so it works very well for students learning either language. This is a very strong selling point for all you eternal students. :)

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Unholy LandUnholy Land by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lior Tirosh, the main character in Lavie Tidhar's novel, may as well be the author. I mean, the author certainly seems to think so, both being more or less a self-described semi-successful pulp-fiction writer of SF, and like writers being in their own stories, they tend to go absolutely nuts on the imagination bits.

Well, at least, the good ones do. And guess what? He's one of the good ones. :)

This book wears several hats and unlike a normal hat-trick, this one does it gently enough that we barely even realize we've gone from a noir mystery in an alternate history to jump headlong into an existential crisis across multiple Earths where neither memory, history, or selfhood is set in stone.

Add to that the wonderful little twist where this is a history where Isreal never happened, where the grand refuge takes place in Africa... a thing that really and truly MIGHT have happened... throw in the Zohar and wonderfully interesting quasi-religious ideas that drive the Qabbalah, including the words of God and reading the Torah from a prism of different experiences and world-building viewpoints, and we've got a much deeper reading experience than anyone might assume from a first glance.

In fact, even tho the actual tale is fun to follow and only gets more and more interesting even as it amps up the bloodshed and deeper mystery, it deserves another read-through for the subtext. It's not just about the Jewish condition although that is a big part. It's about identity on a much deeper level.

I only read Central Station before this and both are very different beasts, but neither of them is lightweight or pulp in nature. Indeed, I'm rather thrilled at how many levels both succeeded.

Unholy Land is probably BETTER than Michael Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union, by the by. The other had them all retreat to Alaska and this one had them wind up in Africa, but the true joy isn't in the location. It's in everything. :)

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

New Clone CityNew Clone City by Mike Hembury
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a surprise! I picked this one up on a whim through Netgalley and let all my expectations rest on the cool cover. And title. :) But you know what?

Totally satisfied.

It has a lot of quirky cool characters and a futuristic city that is full of cyberpunk elements, but at its core, it's hipsters, rednecks, reactionary hate-types, gays, druggies, hackers, and revolutionaries. :)

And the way it reads is a delight. It has a polished and wicked cool voice throughout.

What really stuck with me wasn't the feminist Kali revolutionaries or the reactionary types importing thugs and ex-military to push an anti-gay movement in New Clone City, but the ex-hipster artist-sometime-druggy cool cat who learns he has cancer. He gets himself embroiled in a wicked plot to get his hands on an experimental treatment and my goodness... what a ride that was. :)

At its core, it's a character novel. But don't let that fool you. The plot is pretty wild and fun and I had a great time. Excellent world-building, great sex, and people, people, people doing what they've always done. There's nothing one-dimensional about this novel.

Totally recommend.

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Legacies  (Repairman Jack, #2)Legacies by F. Paul Wilson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm dipping my toes back in this series.

The first was okay. I mean, it had great elements of libertarianism, staying off the grid, being a vigilante, and also having all the rough and tumble elements of a detective novel with some outright horror, so by all rights I should have fallen head over heels for it.

A little while later, I found that it was slightly too tame for my tastes. Traditional stuff mixed together didn't quite come off as a genre mash, just an interesting pastiche. Fine. Let's pick up the second.

I didn't love this. But I didn't hate it, either. The villains were super prejudiced and/or traditionally nasty. You would know what I mean after reading it but no spoilers here. How it all ties back into the MCs is properly horrific and Repairman Jack does what he does best. Investigate, kick the crap out of people, and do a lot of illegal things for good reasons. Breaking in, threatening, dressing up as Santa Claus to kick the crap out of a guy who stole toys reserved for AIDS babies.

You know, the standard stuff.

So what's my problem with this one?

It's kinda... boring. Too many detective novels and mysteries. Nothing really stands out except the FACT of all these interesting elements being meshed together. The rest of the time, I'm like... well Spencer at least talks about books... :)

This one just talks about the gold standard and how bitchy his ex is being. Funny, interesting on the surface, maybe, but it doesn't delve deep enough for me.

Still, I'm a bit curious to see how he stays off the grid in the future books with the world changing around us so much. Am I curious enough? Maybe.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Starfish (Rifters, #1)Starfish by Peter Watts
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely not my first reading of Peter Watts and it sure as hell won't be my last. He's rapidly becoming my total absolute favorite hard SF author. Maybe not quite my top top top choice, yet, but he's getting close enough to kick Alaistair Reynolds off his perch and he makes Stephen Baxter definitely run for his money.

More than anything, I'm in love with the quality. He's wild with the hard SF explorations. Transhumanism and what it means to be human at all in the face of the alien or the alien within us is merely a huge part of his novels but it is not the end. He drives so many of his characters forward with an amazing array of psychology and depravity and simply focused survival.

These guys were transformed to survive 400 pressures in one of the deepest trenches in the ocean, to live on the local life, to supply energy to the rest of the world. So who would go down there, fully transformed with biological computers, on their own free will?

Ah, there's the rub. They get marginalized survivors, abuse victims, pedophiles, maladjusted driven iconoclasts.

It makes perfect sense. Send the strongest people we have, the ones we can also sacrifice, and let them do what they do best. Survive at all costs.

Of course, between the psychological pressures, insane real pressure, and creeping maladjustments, you might think this was already a great psychological thriller with enough transformed humanity to keep any SF fan thrilled... but he goes a bit further and gives us the basis and an amazing exploration of a clearly superior and truly alien life form taking up residence down in the trench.

Watts does aliens AWESOME. He gets the concept that alien is probably going to be VERY alien. No blue suit humans, but thoroughly alien across the board.

I LOVE this stuff. Original, well-written, pushing all the boundaries, and it's even full of heart.

To think it's FREE, too! On the author's website!

We really ought to re-think our concepts about popular fiction. Just because it sells super well doesn't mean it's good and just because a book is free doesn't mean it's not brilliant. Popularity is capricious.

This is the kind of novel that blows me away on even the science and species level, not just story or characters. He knows his marine life and even offers up a long biography at the end. Gotta love it. :)

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The Order of TimeThe Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Take two. Time has swallowed my review. My first one anyway.

I wish I could take back the time, do it over, but entropy hit GR (or at least my internet connection) and something less than the total heat-death of the universe made me realign my perceptions of reality and time.

Oh, wait. That was this book!

Half historical science, some equations, the theoretical underpinnings of quantum loop theory, the role of entropy and heat in the determination of what makes TIME, and half philosophy and what makes our consciousness drag together all the underpinnings of the blur we call reality.

Together, this is physics and metaphysics. The Greeks got it pretty damn close, but then, so did St. Augustine and Heidegger and Kant. Is it all relative? Yep. Thank you, Einstein. Every point on the curve of our universe has its own particular Time. Now is meaningless since the relationship between every point can never intersect with the others. It's all past or future and THAT is all perception. Time is change, too, and not to put too fine a point on it, all we can really do is put a rate on it, never carve it up into its smallest particle.

So what about consciousness? It's all interpretation of what we see, baby. The stratifications of what we work by are just an approximation and it says nothing about how a child sees a day versus how an old person sees it.

Carlo Rovelli combines the two and does an admirable job of trying to reconcile it all.

Impossible, you say? Possibly, but he also gets 9 out of 10 points for style. :) Beautifully written.


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Thursday, August 9, 2018

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

I'm of two minds on this book.

It's pretty damn awesome when it comes to characters and the gentle push toward an alternate Star Trek kind of universe with almost no posturing and no overpowered gunships. The dearth of alien species is a nice touch, making it more of an archeological mystery. These future humans happen to be peaceful, too, for once, and most of their principled actions reflect those of the Federation but there's also a more realistic bending of the rules, too.

Enter this book. The Omega clouds are absolutely immense intergalactic clouds of nanotech that spike huge energies and are apparently programmed to seek out any intelligent life. Cool, right? It might explain the lack of aliens. The next world in the path of one of these happens to be pre-industrial LIVING aliens! Oops. And the cloud will reach them during this novel. Oops.

Enter conflict, a race to save an alien species, provide tons of commentary on general human stupidity and opportunism. Hey, look, let's grab as much as we can of their civ to sell because they're all about to become instant relics!

It sounds like a really good episode of Trek, right? Right. Well, no complaints there. I never expected total and complete originality out of these. Just a careful and methodical worldbuilding, care and devotion to characters, and a hopeful outlook despite everything. Including a very regular death toll on every single outing. (Wait... redshirts?)

So what's my problem? We get a fully developed alien culture here including PoVs from these guys, right down to a fully religious world-build and science-debates and a huge survival thing.

Well... I'll be honest. As long as we stuck with the humans I was pretty invested. The aliens? ... not so much. The whole self-aware cartoon character nod and the way we humans fell for how cute these buck-toothed aliens... well... I guess I can see it but I didn't really appreciate it.

It might just be me. The commentary was fairly clever but the way it was pulled off? I don't think McDevitt went far enough. Or the amount he did go was a bit too far for the pacing and investment I was supposed to have in saving these guys.

Too much of the novel was slightly meh. Not a lot of meh. Just slightly. The rest was engaging and interesting. :) Hence the four stars. But this is pretty much on the same level as the second Academy novel for me.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Dr. Thorne (Chronicles of Barsetshire #3)Dr. Thorne by Anthony Trollope
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have never read anything by Anthony Trollope until now. Of course, I've heard of him alongside names such as Charles Dickens and an earlier generation edified by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.

To say that there are a lot of novels about marriages being dominated by money and status in these popular Victorian (or Regency) novels is to be laughed out of the pub for being a damn rube. I'm almost to the point in my thinking that there is NO other kind of popular novel. Romance? Check. Estates? Check. Awful people doing awful things to innocents and the innocents generally get theirs in the ends? Check.

And this one is no different. So, moving on, let's see what makes this stand out from all the rest.

It has very well-rounded characters, not blown up and made larger than life, but full of wonderful details and turns that make them feel a bit more genuine than Dickens. It's not quite as forcefully idealistic as George Elliot, and it's not as unabashedly critical of the whole system as Austen.

Indeed, the main criticisms Trollope has is about people. And he has no qualms showing the full gamut and range of what we are and what we do. The good and the bad. The shameless and the shameful and the sweet. I like it. :)

I won't say it's all that different from all the rest, but it is enjoyable AS A GENRE. Yes, as a popular genre, it's several inches above most and often on the same level in both quality and entertainment as the other authors I just mentioned.

I honestly had a good time. :) Of course, I actually like Victorian and Regency novels and I've read enough of them to never get hung up on the god-awful ALIENNESS of such a society, but that's where being an SF aficionado comes in handy. I love worldbuilding. OF course, this is our world... but we can be sooooo alien to each other. :)


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Monday, August 6, 2018

Senlin Ascends (The Books of Babel, #1)Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a lot to love in this book. I was quite on the edge giving this a chance when I first picked it up, but the whole damn idea of having a full adventure in the mythical Tower of Babylon just struck all my fancies at once. I remember Ted Chiang's short story about the Tower of Babylon so fondly... I just had to imagine it taken as a full novel.

So how did this pan out? Wonderfully! Maybe not the same level as Chiang, but when dealing with a tower that not even airships can reach the top levels and whole cities are contained within, we're dealing with a delicious idea-driven fantasy with a world-building potential with LEGS.

Good? Good. And while it doesn't go all out with the Babylon run, it does strike out a super-solid Steampunk adventure through and through. Focus on a slightly sanctimonious headmaster with his new bride, take them to Babylon as the super-rubes as they are, and then tear them to pieces.

So nice. :) Innocence becomes an adventure to reach the top to find his missing wife as the mean streets of dirty London... ahem, I mean the Basement of Babel, steals, lies, and cheats every noob that lands on its doorsteps. Move on to the whole haves and have-nots in the bathhouses in the third level, or the hucksters in the second, and turn it into a heist novel, a revolutionary novel, a PIRACY novel.

Am I impressed? Sure! I mean, all these elements are pretty commonplace in fantasy anyway, but when you ply them with a deft hand and make sure the awesome core of the Tower of Babylon is still at the core, and I've got to say we've got something pretty original going on here.

I RESPECT original. It's not WILD original, though. It's solid fun, turning steampunk on a brand-new almost hard-SF edge while bringing in a lot of elements of the old Babylonian society all the while. And we have airships. I likey. :)

So many of those steampunk novels have been kinda... lacking. This one seems to do it RIGHT. :) Because it's not really steampunk. It's just plain creative. :)

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Rogue Protocol by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Urban fantasy has made it to the broken assassinbot AI stage in a big way. Just as much internal monologues as the other field, but this is entirely a corporate/spaceships/planetary colonies kind of popcorn fiction.

Is this is as good as the other two delicious entries? I think so. Maybe not quite as interesting as the last, but introducing the near-skinjob Miki who is treated at worst as a pet and at best as a valued member of the team was a real treat for us, if not for our favorite broken assassinbot just trying to make ends meet long enough to watch her favorite SF soap operas.

And trying not to care whether her clients kick it, of course. :)

Frankly, these novellas are smooth as silk and enjoyable no matter what goes on in them. I blame it on our MC robot. Her ruminations into her nature and her abilities and her interpersonal growth when it comes to the other robots she meets could make even watching paint dry rather interesting. Even so, it's a good thing we're ripping heads off bad guys and dealing with the intrigue of pretending to be someone's chattel or pretending to be human... sometimes successfully... while always running the risk of becoming a major scary target because she is what she is.

Ongoing goodness? Yes. Very enjoyable.

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The Moons of Barsk (Barsk, #2)The Moons of Barsk by Lawrence M. Schoen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Netgalley for getting this early.

I remember having a few issues with the first novel because of the feeling of aimlessness during the large opening. A hero's journey? Sure, but it wasn't until much later that the "abomination" started getting proactive and interesting in his own right. The end was particularly great. I love all the things that Speakers do: quantum stuff and memory stuff and speaking to the dead stuff all mixed into a heavy SF foam.

My other concern was about the REASONS for the total hate-on for the Fants, the humanoid elephants, by the rest of the other "humans" of different species. Some old wrong, the need to quarantine the whole race based on some kind of evil that even the ghosts of old grandmothers can't quite pin down. And yet, the Fants are still vilified.

Fast forward to this new novel. Our young elephant has gone from a 12-year-old to a 14-year-old and he has rockin powers, being able to split his consciousness, speak to the dead, have telepathy across space, unlimited by lightspeed. Coolness. And even his status as an "abomination" is mitigated by a ton of new friends he made during the first book. Excellent. And we continue on with a number of additional PoVs as well, including the Speakers, the ruling class, and some others, all of which add dimensions to the tale which I thought were pretty good. We're dealing with the issue of the Fants, the technology they developed on the sly, and their place in the greater galactic society.

Yes, the big driver is still a whole race's destiny, the prejudice surrounding them, and the possible "feel good" solution of mixing up the greater peoples with those of the Fants.

For the MOST part, I really enjoyed the drive, the meat of this whole novel, and the conclusion. We really had to make some sort of conflict and resolution with the ruling class of Speakers. And so we did, along with a drop-down, a kick-ass awesome scene full of quantum-memory goodness.

But.

And here's where I reduce this book from a total 5-star rating to a 4. Even though we were introduced to the possibility of the "big solution" that eventually comes at the end, how it is actually pulled off kinda leaves a lot to be desired. It's not officially a deus-ex-machina, but it seriously skirts the edges of one.

Other than that!? I think it's superior to the first. There are more hints as to the deep dark past for the Fants, there are great and interesting developments for the race, and our little abomination is getting kinda beast. :)


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Iron and Magic (The Iron Covenant, #1)Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems like I'll be reading everything the team of Ilona Andrews writes, EVEN IF the first glance doesn't really strike me as something I'd love.

Like... Wut? Another paranormal romance? Look at that cover. *chokes on a laugh*

No! Please! No more!

And yet, this old big bad of Kate Daniels and his new bride still struck a nerve. Hugh grew up with the same crappy "father" as Kate, with all the blood magic and crappy parenting and world-crushing (literal) ethos that comes with Roland.

This is not that story, although some elements do show up in spectacular fashion.

Rather, this is a medieval-ish story of a lord and a lady who are both the masters of their domain, who hate each other, but who have married for the sake of alliance. Add a bit of Cthulhu-horror magic, raiding parties between the cycles of tech/magic in the world, fluffy pastries, and a hot romance that swings from hate to passionate love in all the grand traditions, and I've pretty much summed up the whole book.

Really. It's the journey. Not the end. :)

Oh... wait... it IS a paranormal romance! *laugh*

And you know what? I don't care. I'm hooked.

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