Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The GlamourThe Glamour by Christopher Priest
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What do you get when you mix a solid psychological thriller with expertly placed leads, reveals, red-herrings and plot reversals, treat it gently, considerately, and then pair it with a righteous fantasy/SF treatment of the invisible man?

Do you get The Invisible Man? Hell no! Not when Christopher Priest writes it! Instead, you go down a rabbit hole of perception, negative hallucinations, a frustrated romance, a sinister triangle relationship, and PLOT TWISTS that kicked my butt.

And I thought Prestige was good? Well, welcome to an oh-so-gentle tie-in to all his other later-period novels, a very tight plot of discovery that takes the literary version of the old superhero problem of being invisible and makes it not only real but psychologically damaging. And my description doesn't do it justice. It's not like anything I've read unless I count those few handfuls of novels that manage to truly surprise me, of course. :)

I think the best part was how this novel demolished itself. I chortled with glee. :)

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

In the Cities of Coin and Spice (The Orphan's Tales, #2)In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This continuation of the Orphan's tales very much continues in the same vein as the first. Stories within stories, sheer, unbridled imagination... a modern 1001 Nights with a very sophisticated and original sequencing of mythologies, from nagas, selkies, winged skeletons, and ever-present hunger, of leopards, broken unicorns, women pared away to replacement parts, and most of all...

Of sorrow.

This novel takes a more liberal superstructure approach over the first, continuing the tales of the Orphan in such a way that even the stories have stories and those have deeper stories still, and the recursion slowly rises back up until we can breathe in the ink under the eyelids once more, gasping, shuddering in relief.

There is nothing more that I can say that the book itself can't say better. It is lush, gorgeous, lyrical, and it rewards careful readers. Careful re-reading. Valente is something of a master storyteller and these two works are dense and epic. Amazing.

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

Muse of Nightmares (Strange the Dreamer, #2)Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I may be in the minority here, but while I found this book to be quite good in certain particulars, I didn't fall in love with the love as I did in the first book. This one fell slightly short.

Don't mistake me, though. When it comes to the magic, the big action (when it does come), and the strife of choice and being driven, I have no complaints at all. Indeed, when we get to certain locations and scenes, I was on the edge of my seat.

A lot of this, however, spend a little too much time in the interpersonal angst for my patience level. And this is kinda unsual for me, if speaking about Laini Taylor. I've generally had a grand time with everything she's written. But the sequences where there is nothing more than talking kinda left me... cold. This time. I probably would have had a better time if most of that had been cut. Just leave me the goodies, please. :)

Mind you, most ppl who ARE fans of all that kind of writing in the YA genres will not have a problem with it. It may just be me.

But how about the core? How did I enjoy this compared to the first in the duology? Well, I was more blown away by the lyricism and the ideas and the surprises in the first. Let's be honest. This one had a few and they were very good, but it didn't feel as fresh. Or go in completely unsurprising directions.

Still, not a bad book. :)

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Friday, August 16, 2019

The Book of FlyingThe Book of Flying by Keith Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What might seem like a fairly straightforward quest involving Pico the librarian loving and losing his winged Sisi and going out on a quest to find his own wings or die trying quickly turns into one of the best Story-within-Story books I've read in a long time.

Why? Because he's a hopeless poet and a hapless adventurer. He's full of quirky stories told semi-inappropriately, falling in with bandits, having tea with minotaurs, and being lonely in young, vibrant crowds. Falling in love with literary and tightrope-walking whores. And a whole beautiful and disturbing section about eating. :) But more than all this, all the language is lyrical, poetical in instance, structure, and overarching plot.

It's about finally earning his wings.

And what the hell does that even mean? He doesn't know, either. The book is so damn sad and sweet and it pulls your soul apart. Every character is full of tragedy. Every character is full of love.

There's no way I can describe this without just telling you folks to READ IT. You'll know. Deep down. It's one of those works that speak to writers and deep readers of any caliber. The process of the discovery, the reveling in the imagination, the dark recesses, the loving ones, the sheer irrepressible dive into stories, stories, and more stories. How they define us, the stories we own, the stories we steal, the stories we give away, and the stories that are inherited, blown up, or die.

I can recommend this book forever and a day if that appeals to you at all.

And maybe, after much questing, you too can fly... if you can stomach the cost. :)

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral MindThe Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is very stimulating.

That is not to say it is correct or incorrect as a theory of consciousness, but there are enough examples and provocative ideas to make me *think* it might be right. And that's the whole problem. I can't immediately discount it. It keeps creeping back into my consciousness.

Even when reading it with deep suspicions, the very meme of this core idea breaks down the wall between my right and left hemispheres and I no longer have an external agent telling me what I must do. No voices, no riding in my body like I'm not an agent of my own destiny, and not even the god of the right side of my brain giving me instructions!

I jest, kinda. For this is the key to the book. It postulates that humanity was more like a zombie agent in the philosophical parlance than any true consciousness before the advent of writing. That language, itself, was a meme that forced us to develop, and re-develop our cognitions until we became our own agents, doing things by our own decisions.

Before, we were all highly perceptive creatures that always acted without reflection. We went through our lives, followed orders, did what needed to be done, but never thought of ourselves as actors. No "I". Language, as a meme, destroyed that boundary. Brought creativity into motive, the idea of self into all equations.

It explains why a mass of humanity could accomplish the pyramids on either side of the ocean, probably without complaint. There was no self. Death masks and spirits of the dead, gods, oracles, etc., could be heard by anyone and it all came from the "outside". Separate from us, but undeniable, like an edict from high. The theory is that these commands came from the right hemisphere. The creative center of the brain.

It fits. And so much of this book is devoted to the Homeric epics, to poetry, to possession, art, and music. When it became commonplace, the reliance on "gods" diminished. Rapidly. We internalized it, and it was thanks to language.

So seductive.

And it sparks my imagination, too. I think about how many people today want to submerge their consciousnesses again, be it by faith in God, alcohol, drugs, or any number of addictions (including internet!). It feels like a biological callback to the times when we did not have guilt or worry. We just followed outside orders from kings and gods, not caring if we lived or died because there was no "self" at all to care. It's a freedom in the most literal sense of the word. Freedom from self. I think of Buddhism. Or being welcomed in the arms of God in heaven. Of raptures and release.

This is what language freed us from. This is also the story of the Tree of Knowledge. Which happens to come from right after the time we developed this facility, according to Jaynes.

Interesting, no? Why have we come so far, so fast? Our humanity is much older than this timeframe, and yet it is not this chaotic, developed, or fractured. We selected ourselves, either genetically or socially, to increase the likelihood of a greater mix of both the left and right hemispheres of our brains. And here we are.

Very interesting.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Dark Age (Red Rising Saga, #5)Dark Age by Pierce Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Okay, folks. This is a big book in a number of ways. It's not only huge, physically, but it's dense with action from the alpha to the omega.

And it is BRUTAL. Just look at that title.

Now assume that the death count will be on par with the Black Plague. Only it's just super-soldiers in mech armor with genius IQs sporting the most massive war-erections ever conceived and both sides are willing to cut no corners to annihilate each other.

I'll be honest, I haven't been in much of a mood for total grimdark lately, but when it is done well, it is done well. And this SF Space-Opera is GRIM. WAY beyond it's YA roots, firmly in the territory of massive gore, mutilations, babies nailed to trees, sliced-and-diced monster horses, and so many wonderful characters slaughtered to the Blood God.

I got to know and love new characters among the old, grew with them, and I died with them. What a nightmare. And sometimes it was too much for me. Almost everyone in these books is harder than nails, unable and unwilling to give an inch, and willing to kill everyone for any number of reasons. Revenge doesn't even begin to cover it. This is pure nightmare chaos. Nevermind the high idealism of the previous books or the eventual dark fall that came with the previous.

This one will simply wash you in blood.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tales from the Perilous RealmTales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn't overawed by this, unfortunately. Or awed, as the case may be.

There was nothing wrong with any of the five stories here, but they all felt a bit average if I'm going to be perfectly honest.

Farmer Giles of Ham was a light romp with nothing but standard fantasy tropes, and I mean, super standard. The hero with the magical sword doesn't quite defeat the dragon, however. He just tames it. *shrug* Not related to LotR.

Smith of Wootton Major was a lightly magical, almost magical realism tale of the Fae with the passing on of gifts from one generation to another. Also not related to LotR.

The Tom Bombadil tale was almost exactly out of LotR. Rather disappointing.

The only one I actually rather liked was Niggle and the Leaf. No LotR, either, but at least I loved the story. :) It's almost too dark for words if you're an artist. :)

I don't know if I would really recommend this for anyone. Not unless you're a completionist for Tolkien in general.

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Monday, August 12, 2019

A Brightness Long AgoA Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be perfectly candid, I wasn't a huge fan of Kay's earlier work and I left off reading anything else by him, thinking I already got his measure. Two books in an early trilogy. They were pretty good but it left a not-so-pleasant taste in my mouth.

So why did I come back? Give him another try?

I can't really say. I don't know. I just remembered how lyrical his prose was in places and thought, perhaps, he had grown into an even better writer since then. That maybe I judged him a bit too harshly. Maybe I just didn't like the rape scenes in his early work. Something like that.

So what happened? How did my second chance go?

Amazingly, so it seems. :) I loved this book. From start to finish, the characters came to life, always interested me, and the place so reminiscent of Renaissance Italy simply shone and shone and shone through these pages.

The fantasy elements were totally understated. The world and the characters were not. I was enraptured by one of the most gorgeous, lush tales of youth, discovery, and independence. Of how he grew to admire and respect two men who were old, bitter enemies, of how he sidestepped and played his own role between their conflict. Of a non-traditional love with a woman who would always, by any means possible, remain independent.

If I sidestep some of the most beautiful scenes, it's not because they were not memorable. Indeed, a certain assassination and a certain race will be scenes I will never forget.

Far from having to push myself through this book, I found that I never wanted it to end.

This is one of the highest praises I can ever bestow. :)

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The Comedian: A dark and humourous, noveletteThe Comedian: A dark and humourous, novelette by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short and poignant, we follow an old comedian so very much like Jay as he discovers that he really CAN go home again.

I say this very tongue-in-cheek.

Lots of Scottish nostalgia and character revelations. Bittersweet. Good tension.

But best of all, it's quite effective. Beware Edinborough, you old men. :)

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Letter: An edgy and new-age, black, romantic comedy.The Letter: An edgy and new-age, black, romantic comedy. by Sean-Paul Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ahhh, romance, the painfully shy-style. :)

I can definitely say this was very cute and awfully familiar. I feel every pang as if I was Alice, sneaking in and out of my apartment complex, avoiding even the bare minimum of human social interaction.


And yet, sometimes... that need to reach out is totally overwhelming.

This novella worked for me. My only complaint? I want more. :) A nice ending, sure, but that's where the real story ought to take off. :)

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The Quantum GardenThe Quantum Garden by Derek Künsken
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

No spoilers, but there's a lot to love in this follow-up to the Quantum Magician.

For those of us who love it, there's a lot of hi-tech spec-speak with near-autistic mental states and high-computation, but there's also time-travel, a brand new con, and a twisty-turvy plot.

Sounds pretty standard, tho, right? There's a non-usual interesting tidbit that arrives, however. And I can't talk about it. You know. Fight club. But I really, really enjoyed the alien intelligences and everything surrounding them. You might say the hint is in the title of the book.


This one may or may not be as strong as the first book, but there's nothing wrong with it. Slightly slow in the start, a bit heavy (or just right) on the quantum cognition stuff, but I figure that's something half of us either love or hate as a whole. :)

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Spider-Man: Maximum CarnageSpider-Man: Maximum Carnage by Tom DeFalco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm treating myself to a little Carnage. I kept seeing it around in bookstores back in the day and more recently here on GR and I even though I was insanely curious, I can't believe I never got around to it.

The good: Most of it! I really enjoyed how bats**t insane Carnage is and how he polarized past villains into helping out as heroes to stop the pure chaos he represented... or gathering them together to get the blood flowing. And it was pretty over-the-top. Shriek pulled in the insane from Carnage and gave it to the streets of New York, boiling blood everywhere, while Carnage did whatever Carnage wanted. Which was pretty damn random.

And all the while, Spidey teamed up with Venom and the big theme here was maybe overdone but not out-of-place. When is too much, too much? Is it sometimes valid to aim for an outright killing? We know Venom believes this, but then, there's Spidey. He's our conscience. When HE agrees with Venom, you know it's really bad.

I pretty much dug every little thing about this comic until ONE LITTLE TWIST. And then I was like... OHHH COME OOOONNNNNNNN.

Ignoring that. That one little hail-mary.

And I'm NOT talking about Captain America coming to the rescue fairly early on. Or Dagger.

That last one little thing was so outrageously meh that I wanted to tear up the funnies. But I didn't. I figure it would have taken an issue or two more to prepare THAT right, instead of as a, "oh, by the way" fix. *grrrr*

OKAY, ignoring that BAD, the rest was pretty awesome and I am very glad I read it. :) Classic Spidey.

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Saturday, August 10, 2019

The TroupeThe Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Despite the sometimes slow feel of the start of this book, full of a mysterious Vaudevillian performance, a found (formerly missing) dad, and some dark, Cthuhlu-like creatures coming after the Troupe, (none of which SOUNDS particularly slow), this novel eventually picks up the pace and develops into some truly awesome, even epic, proportions.

I don't know what I was meant to expect when I read this, but what I got was NOT it. Traveling around, performing a bit here and there, keeping one step ahead of the Wolves, is just the start.

Eventually, I kinda fell into a delighted stupor as I picked up more than a few echoes of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Adjustment Team, Momo, and any number of beleaguered Vaudevillian tales.

Yes, expect the forces of light and darkness, of the Nothing and Song, of fae, of immortal caretakers, of tragic families, of longing, love, and massive betrayals that hit home again and again.

Neat, huh?


I'm SO glad I finally got around to picking up some earlier Robert Jackson Bennett! I feel much better. And I'm delighted.

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The Jungle BookThe Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This holds up surprisingly well for something that could have been full of English racism back in the good old days of 1894. Indeed, some of the stories read very much like a modern YA book of parables with animals who seem much more human than the humans.

Big surprise, right? We humans are a monstrous lot.

That being said, this isn't just the source of Disney's Jungle Book, although a part of it is. It's also full of other great stories. Most memorable is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose who kills a cobra. But also horrifying is the tale of the sea cows, or rather, the White Seal. The tale of the elephant, Toomai, was delightful.

I should say it would be a great book for any child, but not many modern children know crap about India except, in my daughter's case, some snappy tunes and dance moves. The connect is kinda missing, you know? Like... Tarzan? Who the F*** is he?

Even so, as an ADULT, it's rather charming and delightful. :)

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Moby-Dick, or, the WhaleMoby-Dick, or, the Whale by Herman Melville
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not only is this a polarizing book for readers in general, but it is also a polarizing book for me.

I read it first when I was a teen and was amazed at its complexity and subtlety and the amount of scholarship that went into it. Not to mention the author's passion. But I also ABHORRED the subject not only because it is a nasty piece of real history, but because it made me roll around in the gore. And such gore... I would have preferred getting thrown into Dead/Alive as a character rather than have to live through the chop-chop of a whale surgeon.

Let me be perfectly clear. I loved to hate this book. But one thing I cannot do is hate the quality of it. It's about as untraditional as you can get. Brief moments of fantastic, mind-blowing action in between weird meta moments and then sheer-rock-wall cliffs of academic exposition.

We get a 360-degree look at the whole damn whaling industry, and that means we also get the heroism and the demonization of the sailors, of Captain Ahab, the camaraderie, the mean terror, and the iron-heart determination to see a thing through no matter the cost.

Oddly enough, this aspect isn't the strongest aspect, IMHO. I honestly got the feeling that Moby Dick was a condemnation of the whole enterprise even while it was glorying in it. This time, anyway.

I'll shorten this review, but honestly, I could go on about how freaking wonderful the language was, how many allusions, poetry, and how bloody-minded it was about giving us all a supremely clear picture of that hellish industry, but I'm sure this quick take will imply it. :)

Better on a re-read. Probably better on a third or a fourth.

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Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Arrows of Time (Orthogonal #3)The Arrows of Time by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm still in awe of this trilogy, and only for one reason: the math.

Oh, god, no, please, no, no more math, right? Well, Egan took math and built a universe for us and then populated it with interesting aliens discovering their universe from step to step. You could call this a mystery, or you could call it the basic drive to KNOW, but either way, we're taking this ride and Egan is taking us FAR off the charts of normal SF.

Say what you will about the characters or the basic plots. The fact that he has twirled them and us around a VERY different kind of universe is amazing.

And our generational mountain-ship aliens are caught in a very determination/non-determination story loop. Which is very a familiar territory for SF fans. So even if you don't quite GET the math which kinda inverts the whole space-effect and inverts the whole light effect. Where life forms and rocks emit light, where gravity is curved on the other side, where there is no light-speed, but rotation can take you to infinite energies and space-like loops in time.

Oh, hell-yes.

Our generational mountain-ship is caught in something akin to a civil-war between those who want to see into the fixed future and deal with the effects of knowing--on the resulting changes in the future because they knew, versus those who choose to just DO WHAT THEY WERE GOING TO DO ANYWAY. :)

And while there's a bit less math in this one than the first two books, thank goodness, it does resolve a few of the more interesting feminist issues regarding DYING just because you gave birth. I'm quite happy with the result. :)

Bottom-line: Do I recommend this for all SF readers? No. But for anyone who wants to be challenged, to have something really super-number-juicy to sink your brain into? Definitely. Read this trilogy. :)

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Wednesday, August 7, 2019

EdenEden by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a gem of an old SF! Indeed, Stanislaw Lem might be one of the very best SF authors, period. He has a wide range of works, from humorous to deeply disturbing to fantastically mysterious alien discoveries.

"What?" you say, "That whole tail-end period of the golden age of SF was FULL of great and detailed authors. Just look at Dune from 1965!"

"Yeah, yeah, but before Star Trek in the wee year of 1959, Eden was born, giving us one of the richest, most detailed alien worlds as seen through a small crew named only by their job titles, instead forcing us to see things through their worldviews, as screwed up (normal!) as they are, misunderstanding everything they see on Eden."

But this is not Dune.

This is a full mystery that gets only digs us deeper into our own misunderstandings. Because this is an intelligent alien race that does not think like us. Not only superficially, but fundamentally, with strange technological focuses and social structures. Not to mention biological tools that feel like the most excellent precursor to Farscape or Asher's Hilldiggers, or the look at a truly alien mind, as seen in Watts' Blindsight.

And I'm only mentioning a single aspect, here. The rest is a serious look at how much we bring in our own prejudices, making our own hell, wherever we go.

When I look back at first contact novels in general, few will have quite this amazing creative factor to it. Sure, some books will have so and so good characters, etc, but none will be quite as serious about giving us the truly alien or near-perfect mirrors to our own stupidity.

I count this a truly classic "Important" SF.

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The Return of the Incredible Exploding ManThe Return of the Incredible Exploding Man by Dave Hutchinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome to Pulp-Land! In more ways than one!

1. 3/4 of the novel is about a slow-simmering failed science-writer landing a cush job to write a book for a tech millionaire who bought a town. Add a bit of espionage and some funny interpersonal experiences with his new home and neighbors, and I still had a fun time wondering HOW THE HELL THE TITLE FIT IN. This is old-school SF technique, btw. Total pulp. :)

2. The last part is TOTAL freaky quantum superhero stuff with time travel, teleportation, and pretty awesome callbacks to the events in the first 3/4. I had a total blast with this particular pulp.

3. Pulpy! Like, literally. An explosion of biomass! PULP-LAND!

I had a good time. I didn't expect it to be like the Fractured Europe Sequence and I came into it expecting a light-hearted SF, and this is what I got. :)

Kinda like orange juice. Freshly squeezed.

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The Ten Thousand Doors of JanuaryThe Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like the cover to this book, the innards are lush, romantic, and adventuresome. Beautiful prose, much better story, and ten thousand open doors to other realms awaiting us.

Eventually. The first part reads mostly like a Secret Garden type story, complete with the right time period. This may be a bonus to a lot of you, but to me, it was quite simply okay.

When we get word of her father's demise, however, everything picks up pace. I particularly loved how vast swaths of plot were wrapped up in neat lyrical bows, how other subplots were either supplanted, charmingly, or given a rich kiss before returning to the main thread.

But what is it about, you ask?

Not, precisely, about imagination and books... but THROUGH the books, or rather word-magic, through half-seen doors will we fly. Alternate realities, perhaps timelines, brutal places, rich places, and in them all, January quests.

It is about family.

And I admit I did more than tear up a little at the end. It was particularly gorgeous.

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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Eternal Flame (Orthogonal, #2)The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Okay. Full disclosure. I'm more thrilled about the actual math and the scientific discoveries inside this novel based in a universe where light doesn't have a speed-limit than any of the actual writing.

Storytelling? Huh? What's that? Oh, yeah, there were a lot of good parts about feminism in alien biologies that seems rather on point. You know, fissioning your female into four kids but losing your mind and identity, having your male take care of the kids. Always fatal. I did like those sequences where the scientists try to solve it and buck the male-run system by postponing the fission and/or trying to, you know, STAY ALIVE. That took up a lot of the story and it was super easy to follow.

The OTHER part of the novel is what I'm raving about even though I have no idea what the hell went on. Like, almost at all. I mean, page after page after page of wavelength, free radicals in troughs, photons bouncing, near-limitless energy propagation, even about how time expands, reverses the effect we know, turning a little trip on its head from what we know. Generations pass in a ship but only a few years pass on the home planet? ODD! :)

But this will be interesting when these science-types all get back home.

So weird. So much jibber-jabber about high-science, diagrams, fully-fleshed out cosmology and physics and light-propagation. Based on REAL MATH, people. It's completely freaking incomprehensible to read, and yet it's thrown into a novel, fait-accompli, for us to ooh and ahhh over.

And I do. Ooh and ahhh. :) This is the highest rating I'll ever give to an incomprehensible novel. :) Full props for the ideas, but damn about the writing. :)

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Salvation Lost (Salvation Sequence #2)Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mr. Hamilton does it again. But this time, rather than kicking off an epic war of dead people versus the living in a high-tech far-future space-opera, he twists us around a truly desperate struggle against very powerful aliens coming to "save" us, preserving us and sending us to the end of the universe where we will all share the experience together.

Sound like some religious nutters? They FEEL like religious nutters. And it's awesome. This is the start of the full-on conflict right here. All the human worlds, some alien help, and the full efforts of our own far-future humanity are set against this odd invasion.

And it's an extinction-level event.

Never mind that we have near-immortality, quantum entanglement transporters, von Neumann transhumanists, or some extreme printing technology, minds as big as moons, or anything we thought would make us amazingly resilient.

This is total war. And the twists to come are pretty damn amazing. No spoilers, but this is one of the more impressive novels by Hamilton. And when it comes to worldbuilding and storytelling and the epic, that's saying a lot.

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Sunday, August 4, 2019

The SeducerThe Seducer by Jan Kjærstad
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book defies description.

Or rather, I will fail at describing it. That being said, I will willfully fail at describing this piece of new-classic Norwegian literature by calling it an extremely funny sexcapade of a magical penis. Yes, a magical penis. You've probably heard about it. They're usually attached to a Gary Stu.

AND YET, Jonas, our magical stud, is also a WIZARD at everything because he naturally gets the full sweeping talents automatically from every woman he manages to seduce.

It would be absolutely absurd and atrocious if it wasn't so eye-rollingly funny. And the novel doesn't even have the FEEL of a humorous piece. It reads somewhat dire and emotional because we keep bouncing around an epic framework of his wife's murder and ALL THE MEMORIES of his entire life as vignettes couched within ALL the most minor details that eventually make up an epically cool building of a single character that I admit I grew to love.

Just not because he's so stultifyingly brilliant at anything he puts his hand to.

Indeed, the whole structure of the novel is all kinds of brilliant for real. An endless tirade of moments from his life that doesn't apparently have anything to do with the dire scene in question but EVENTUALLY becomes super-important. Multiply these by a bazillion and you've got yourself a prism of a character as seen by so many instants and the effect is FREAKING AMBITIOUS.

All the props. I'm really amazed.

Of course, I was VERY often annoyed as hell about Gary and the magical penis. But oh well, right? The annoyance almost always transformed into me muttering, "Ohhhh, pllleeeeaaaaseeeee..." and enough eye-rolls to make my eyes pop out like I just came out of a Warner Brother's cartoon.

BUT it worked. Strangely enough, it worked.

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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Shark BeachShark Beach by Chris Jameson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shark week!

Yeah, I got roped, or rather, netted, into this little toothy holiday. What better way to enjoy the sun, with or without the water, than with our little predator buddies! No, no, I'm not talking about your droogs from the hood. I'm talking about REAL SHARKS! The kind that jumps out of a page and nom-nom your brain.

I admit I lost a few IQ points reading this, but THAT'S OKAY. We're not really meant to take away anything special back with us from this little family getaway except that ADVERSITY BRINGS FAMILIES BACK TOGETHER.


All told, however, and despite the fact that this novel was fast-paced and solid for all the things it does, it still isn't all that special. Fun, yes. Groundbreaking? No. Not at all. Seriously. But it was still entertaining. You could say it is exactly what the bloodthirsty doctor with a few extra rows of teeth ordered. He got his license from the University of Instinctville, but I'm not complaining.

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Time's ConvertTime's Convert by Deborah Harkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picking this book up is like coming home. Truly, we get lots of character goodies in this. Diana and Matthew and their precocious kids, for one, but it's the whole Clermont clan that shines.

In particular, this novel is REALLY about Phoebe and Marcus. And the American Revolution. And the French Revolution.

And the best part is, I don't have to use much imagination. We get ALL of Marcus's history! And we get to see baby Phoebe as a new vamp. :)

My favorite parts are all in the past, however. Marcus had a troubled past and we get to see his start as a medic in the R. War, but probably most interesting was the French Revolution. What a nightmare.

But don't get me wrong, this book has a modern plot just as good as the past. You know, the fate of everything and all. :) Those kids are sooo cute! And bitey. :)

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Friday, August 2, 2019

Diamond Dogs, Turquoise DaysDiamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two really fascinating novellas here.

Diamond Dogs is the ULTIMATE in grizzly puzzle-solving dungeon hacking. Just add alien tech, deadly puzzle rooms, and a rag-tag team of transhumanist and alien-modded humans who are monsters in their own right, and set them to work at the problem. :)

I mean, it FEELS like a heist. But a super hard-SF heist.

Turquoise Days really sets us in an alien landscape that pushes the boundaries. Swimming in an ocean of alien minds? Getting transformed so that you become an uber-genius when it comes to math? And it has heart. Totally recommend.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

QuichotteQuichotte by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness.

Okay, so you fans of Midnight's Children, behold... Rushdie has gone off the deep end with the sublime, the meta, the satire, and especially the meta. Did I mention meta? I mean, META, BABY.

Yes, yes, this is a modern take and full homage to the Cervantes classic, but it's a hell of a lot more than just that. For one, our Quichotte is a self-made man in all the best ways like Quixote, but instead of going overboard with Chivalry, we see the full age of tv sitcoms, reality tv, and even SF shows. And yet, this is only a small fraction of the book, itself.

Say what? Yeah. He's practically a minor character in comparison with the author who creates him or the Med Salesman who takes on the role, the far-off maiden who becomes the quest (and I love her own story, huge,) or the sister of the author who must be reconciled. And let's not even start getting into Sancho, the imaginary son of Quichotte who has his own quest to become fully-FULLY real, a-la Pinnochio, Jimmy Cricket, and the Blue Fairy. :)

It's CRAZY, yo! And it is FAR from being a simple satire. After all, we have alternate realities, the end of the world, a moral and ethical decay that is purely American, while flavoring all the waters with Hindu culture in grand Rushdie style.

Is it a mess, too? Yes. But gloriously so. As in, let's just put ALL the crazy on the table here and tie it together with all-too-real interpersonal quests and redemptions and seeking love, whether fixing estrangement between siblings, sons, or yourself. It's also heart-rending, not crazy at all, and subtle. And sweet. Right before it gets crazy cool.

A lot of these kinds of novels often bounce off me. Modern, Avante-Garde, meta for meta sake, too clever by half. But this one has a spark in it that spoke to me. Sometimes I was on the verge of saying 3 stars, then sometimes 4, then back to 3, and then things come together brilliantly and I'm right there with an enthusiastic 5. So what am I saying?

Be patient. It's wild but worth it. :)

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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: We Can Remember it for You WholesaleThe Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick 2: We Can Remember it for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I cherry-picked stories out of this collection for a very simple reason. I had read most of the best ones from it already. :)

Interestingly enough, I got to revisit some snippets that later made it into some of his full novels in these previous incarnations. And far from being a chore or a let-down, a few of them enhanced my interest.

Like in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, one story got pretty hardcore into Mercer and Mercerism. I laughed aloud when I discovered that. Another encapsulated PKD's mystical experience in 1974, including the transposition of an ancient time with ours. Yet another made it into Divine Invasion, and another made it into Radio Free Albemuth.

Oddly enough, I got a lot out of these. They aren't one-to-one copy-overs and the differences are interesting to any scholar of PKD. Maybe not to anyone else, but *I* got a lot out of it. :) Added depth, maybe from PKD's deep fascination and some from the cross-overs between his real life and his revisits in his fiction.

The nature of pain and suffering, of being a jerk, of learning from past mistakes, and of transcendence, mainly.

Other than that, the other stories were quite good. I never need to fear PKD. If I need a good read, I can always come back. :)

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We Can Build YouWe Can Build You by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet another classic PKD. :) A lot of great humor in this one, too. Lincoln and Edward Stanton, brought back to life and running a corporation that sells simulacra, android re-creations of real people? Well, that's hardly everything in this novel.

Most of it knocks the ball out of the park about relationships, madness, and a misdiagnosis. I really think it's not Schizophrenia he's talking about, but Autism. Or in the spectrum. And that's all kinds of cool, too, when it comes to modern novels. But of course, PKD has always jumped feet-first in that particular pool.

Interestingly enough, this novel deals with the pre-Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep time, with Simulacra JUST getting on the market, getting that push to take on and prepare colonies off Earth, and EVEN Mood Organs. :) So much of that is hilarious and/or disturbing when you think about how things go later on.

This is definitely one of the livelier and light PKD novels out there, focusing more on doomed relationships and fantasies than most. Kinda fitting, considering the theme. Are we just machines? Are we slaves to our passions, or are we making new slaves for our passions? Even funnier when you consider that LINCOLN himself has become a slave of sorts. :)

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In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1)In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book has left me practically speechless. Almost anything I could say about it will fall flat in the sheer enormity of the experience.

So what DID I experience?


Dark fables incorporating wide mythologies reminiscent of all the best obscure fairy tales twisted in wonderfully unique ways, couched as stories within stories, adding tiny slivers of fate within each until it brings us back, wholly, to our Scheherazade, our poor orphan telling her story from the words tattooed on her eyelids. :)

My particular favorites were the witches drowning in light, the ones who would not die, the irascible pirate mermaid, and all the selkie stories. The dog monks were a great treat as well.

More importantly, this is VALENTE. Everything she writes is lyrical and fascinating and careful and poetical. From the words to the ideas to the characters and their ultimate fates, we run the whole line from vengeance to magical sex-change love to living stars in the sky.

I personally can't understand why it took me this long to get to her earlier work. It's fantastic. :)

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read. But this time... with my daughter. And, as it turns out, SHE LIKED IT. :)


Nobody be dissing my Gaiman, yo.

Truly, it does get better on re-reads. So dark. Like, disturbingly dark. Honestly scary. Maybe worse for adults than for children. Maybe. My girl hid under her covers during certain points. I call that a win.

Teeth and tails and buttons for eyes. Can't go wrong with a little fluff, either. :)

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Selected Stories of Philip K. DickSelected Stories of Philip K. Dick by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before reading this, I was awfully worried I wouldn't like these PKD stories as much (or even a fraction of the amount) of the movies that they were made into. And so I put it off, and with the help of another procrastinator, we put it off some more.

But then it finally happened. I read them. And all my worries melted away.

The core stories are all fantastic. The details in the movies flesh it out a lot, but the core stories are fantastic. :)

I won't mention all, but I will mention a few of my favorites.

Beyond Lies the Wub - a great sarcastic, meaty philosophical treat.
Paycheck - Almost play-by-play the same as the movie. Fun.
Second Variety - Screamers movie, perhaps BETTER than the movie. :)
Imposter- One of my favorite unknown PKD movies, same fundamental twist.
The King of the Elves - Funny and sad at the same time, and I would love to see this turned into a full movie.
Adjustment Team - On the fence. Probably as good as the movie.
Autofac - A great dystopia, post war, crazy.
The Minority Report - I really got into the subtleties of the *three* minority reports, this time.
The Days of Perky Pat - Creepy because we're already here.
A Game of Unchance - Carnie fun on outposts.
We Can Remember It for You Wholesale - Total Recall, anyone?
Faith of Our Fathers - Communist China has taken over the world, but who took over the Chinese?
The Electric Ant - A fantastic perception/reality fable featuring an android PoV. :)
The Exit Door Leads In - Perfect for all of us who just want to rebel. The MC is a weenie tho. :)

I definitely enjoyed these. The ones I didn't mention were not bad, mind you, after all, this is PKD. :)

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26; Death, #5)Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read: 7/29/19

Cheese and Chaos, time and death, the grand auditors of the universe, and every kung-fu movie ever made.

Does this sum up this novel?

Yep, pretty much. :)

Some parts in the middle dragged a bit, but getting all the horsemen together and Ronnie sped it up a great deal. And is it just me, or do Ronnie and Gaspode need their own novels? An epic team-up, perhaps? Maybe it's just me. And, oh, the end this novel actually brought a tear to my eye. :)

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

A Man Lies DreamingA Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. Certain novels are so rich that they beggar the imagination. This one dives deep into the hidden recesses of alternate histories and pure Noir pulp in a very satisfying romp. Or is it a transformative detective piece? SF, or a commentary on what it really means to be ... led by crazy ideas?

Let's say it. The big surprise. Wolf, the PI living in London, was actually the failed Socialist Party Leader from Germany who lost the election in '33. That's right. He is Hitler. And Germany is overrun by communists. And England seems to be full of his old cronies who have left him behind to become thugs on their own.

Rich, rich, rich stuff here. And it's a great noir, dealing with pride, being broken, Jewish employers, and lots of references to Hitler's book and the publishing industry. Failed book, I might add. :)

I had a great time. None of it was in your face or obvious except for the careful reader, except, perhaps, by the end of the novel, but that's not really the main point.

Oddly enough, I loved one aspect more than all the rest. Hitler's weird transformation into a Jew. It didn't happen right away and had lots of good reasons behind it, like being undercover, but SO MUCH happens that turns our history on its head and pours it all on this poor man... even making him sympathetic in a way... as he lives, learns, and through his embitterment, makes us feel.

I've read nothing like this. It is a class of its own. :) Not a satire. Indeed, rather careful, very mystery-oriented, and often disturbing, but not for the usual reasons. And then, the framing device of the dreaming man, living in a concentration camp... well, that's another added bonus that just makes me think and think. :)

Really enjoyable novel. And btw, it's tied to Unholy Land. I would recommend reading A Man Lies Dreaming first.

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RevivalRevival by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what I thought I would expect when I read this, but I did not expect to be chortling with glee by the end of it.

And I chortled.

Under any normal circumstances, I might yell out, "Hey, folks! This is an expertly-written homage to Lovecraft, Tesla, Rock & Roll, wrapped in several hardcore coming-of-age stories within stories." But that doesn't do it justice. It's about faith and the loss of faith, about cures and their costs, and about a rather awesome con job.

But who is conning who? This question transforms all the elements in this novel from a clever twist into something quite deeper than I first thought.

Sure, there's a Victor Frankenstein element, too. But what really snagged me were the dreams. The hallucinations. The place where even death may die. :)

No spoilers, but if anyone hasn't already read King and wanted to start with something, they really can't go wrong with this. It has all his old style but... there's something BETTER in it. :) It just has something. Maybe genuinely likable characters, maybe a tighter control on his craft. Something. Something great.

And it freaked me out by the end. Freaked me out good. I call that a win. :)

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

The Clockwork Rocket (Orthogonal, #1)The Clockwork Rocket by Greg Egan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Greg Egan writes some freaky cool SF. But a word to the wise: expect relatively rigorous math when you step into his worlds.

I'm not saying that you can't follow any of the plots or enjoy the characters without it, but your basic enjoyment of this will stem directly from your enjoyment of FREAKING COOL MATH.

Not that I followed everything, myself, but learning and enjoying the process gave me pretty much all the enjoyment I needed while reading. :) I mean, yes, getting to know a race of people (read aliens) who are very much plant-like and bud and regrow limbs and eat the light that the forest produces IS FREAKING COOL. And learning that their light perception gives them the ability to grok a much deeper sense of red and blue shifts, even minor time-travel perception, is also FREAKING COOL.

And then we learn that this whole universe happens to be envisioned on a simple little alteration from our own? That there is no light-speed? That the speed is based on the frequency and there is no upper limit, that energy can be created out of very odd sources? Like plants? This isn't energy conservation, this is energy creation. As in, fundamental.

So yeah, we go from basic life to basic science to uncovering the secrets of this particular universe all the way up to making a generational starship run by intelligent plants and see them STOP TIME and ... go backward. :)

And Egan does all of this step by step, giving us a sometimes loose interpretation but still a helluvalot more strenuous proof than almost any SF out there. Besides his own, of course. Because he kinda does this all the time. And blows us away. :)

Otherwise, what we have here is a steampunk novel with plant-aliens breaking the fundamental laws of the universe on a generational starship. HOW COOL IS THAT? :)

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Strange WineStrange Wine by Harlan Ellison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always think it's funny when I read a collection of "all new" stories only to learn I've read over half of them already, but them's the breaks. :)

Maybe I shouldn't have been so dedicated in reading as many Harlan Ellison stories, huh!? Ah well, that's okay. He writes great shorts.

My Favorites were "From A to Z, In the Chocolate Alphabet" - Super short stories for each letter of the alphabet.

"The New York Review of Bird" - a wonderful tribute (or otherwise) to Cordwainer Smith.

and especially "Seeing" - a pretty hard SF tribute to perception in all it's glories. :)

I might have enjoyed this collection better if I hadn't already read most. But again that's okay! It comes with the territory of shorts!

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A Bridge of YearsA Bridge of Years by Robert Charles Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This late eighties time travel SF is very sedate and careful, focused more on characters and mystery than anything directly related to the two main timelines. Early sixties and late eighties. The SF aspect and plot is actually rather sophisticated, building some nice rules and much better method, and the hints and descriptions of our future and even a much more distant future kept me going nicely.

But what was the best part of the novel?

It read like a thriller/horror. :) Lots of careful character build-up, curiosity, awe, and exploring new situations, if not times. Just with this aspect, I had a great time.

Yes, there is a lot of great time travel SF novels out there, but so many lack good characters and heart. This one succeeds on that level. :) It's not flashy, but it kept me on the edge of my seat for the entire time.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

The October Man (Rivers of London, #7.5)The October Man by Ben Aaronovitch
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is probably my favorite novella in the Rivers of London series. Of course, we're NOT in London. This takes place in Germany! The place where all weird things have a place and a procedure attached to it. It's Germany! :)

And we have a lot of fresh faces. And fungi. And fun times with fungi. And a pretty awesome refresher on the magic system as well as some really cool police procedural legwork.

All in all, it's a slam dunk Magic Police procedural across the border, chatting up the local rivers and the regular people. Not to say that local rivers AREN'T regular people, because they most certainly are. I don't want anyone to get the wrong opinion from me. In fact, if there are any rivers out there reading this review, you're welcome to chat with me and look me up. I'll offer you some wine any day.

I'm REALLY looking forward to the next novel in the series. :) :)

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Barren (Demon Cycle, #5.5)Barren by Peter V. Brett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm very happy to get this novella following the events in The Core. Or rather, I should say it gives this small town the kind of ending it deserved in the tumult that wrecked the land in The Core. Huge things happened there. All towns getting attacked at once, demons pouring up from every corner, close calls, and a trip to the core of the demon realm. Big stuff. So of course, little towns of a thousand souls kinda get forgotten for the sake of pacing. And that's okay.

That's why writers invented novellas. :)

What sets this aside from all the other novels and side-stories is the repudiation of all the gratuitous uber dark brutalizations. In fact, it focuses on same-sex relations and the still-nasty small-town ugliness that follows those people of a different persuasion.

I personally thought these demon novels were partly a commentary on the ugliness of man, anyway. Adding demons to punish them just happens to fit the bill nicely. So the corollary is simple. Successfully fighting off the demons must come, in part, with setting ourselves to right. And this is what we get.

Not easily, and not without tragedy, but the fight to make things right is its own reward.

Plus gigantic worms crashing through the town square, mind-controlling demon princes, and slavering hoards of monsters adds a little spice. But then, doesn't it always?

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The Harvest (The Heartland Trilogy, #3)The Harvest by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A surprisingly good conclusion to the trilogy. After the second book's cliffhanger (literal, in this case,) I was kinda surprised to come back a year in and full of massive character changes. Maybe not personality changes, but when you come back full of blight and light and you're kinda like the Green Man or Swamp Thing and the rest of the world has gone to s**t in war, what can you really expect?

Changes. Indeed. And all told, I enjoyed this conclusion quite a bit. It still has that YA feel but we went from farm life to a life on the run in the dirt and a different kind of run in the clouds to full entrenchment and embittered enemies in the skies in this one.

I *mostly* thought it was great. I did have some slight issues with the near deus ex machina world-killer ending, but not with the actual resolution. I'm glad I finally read this. The imagery will absolutely stick with me. Plant monsters and mechanical men and all. :)

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Blightborn (The Heartland Trilogy #2)Blightborn by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA SF has its ups and downs, that's for sure, but the better ones of the bunch always seem to rise to the top. This happens to be one. And I'm surprised, honestly, because whenever I think of Wendig, I think of the brutal pottymouth I've grown to love in his Black novels. :) YA? Wendig?

But yes, I really enjoyed the first in the trilogy. Especially the worldbuilding. The second steps it up a notch by taking us right into the clouds as well as the seedier elements down below, on the run or setting the stage for a revolution.

The point is, we've got sky gods and earth gods. And this kind of thing can be done very, very well, or very, very badly. Good news, folks! Wendig pulled is pulling it off by focusing entirely on the peeps. :)

I honestly appreciated getting the girl's perspectives in this one. Everything got rounded out a lot more from the first.

But I will also say this: I REALLY feel like these three novels might have been brilliant as one single tale. Huge, yes. Especially for a YA. But damn that would have been epic. :)

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Under the Empyrean Sky (The Heartland Trilogy, #1)Under the Empyrean Sky by Chuck Wendig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty cool mix between rural farmer YA life and a wickedly evil genetic nightmare of a world with a richer world floating above them. I mean, sure, it's about friendship and rivalries and getting on rickety hoverboats and avoiding the specter of genetic mutations deep in the plants that start turning people into walking cornfields.

Details. It's all in the details. :)

The YA stuff was certainly competent even if I'm not all about the rural farmland stuff. I really, really loved the horror elements, however. The worldbuilding made the craziest stuff fairly commonplace and it really set me on edge. :) A lot of WTF moments that I loved.

Other than that, we hardly got any page-time with the OTHER folks in the sky, but I get the feeling we're gonna. Especially now that everything in Cael's life has gone to hell. :)

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Confessor (Sword of Truth, #11)Confessor by Terry Goodkind
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally finished the Sword of Truth series!

So was it good? Was it more of the same? Was it kinda heavy-handed with the philosophy? Yes! To all of the above!

No, honestly, it was rather interesting, even with all the super-bloody-football games and the neverending chatterbox about life-affirming actions, trips to the underworld, tons of research and magical theory, and a war, another war, a siege, and a ginormous army getting ready to consume the last remnants of the logical and the reasonable.

In other words, it's an epic fantasy with an agenda. And you know what? I still don't mind the agenda. Ayn Rand lives on. :) And despite all the long-winded stuff, there was so much action, tension, reveals, and massive successes and failures to fill a book twice as large. And this was a large book. :)

I'm happy I finished. I don't care what anyone else says. :)

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Monday, July 22, 2019

Exhalation: StoriesExhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

All said, Chiang's new collection rocks. :) I've read a good number of these in other places, but it doesn't diminish my enjoyment. I'm referencing the stories I liked the most.

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate - 1001 Nights meets fixed-timeline time-travel. Easily one of my favorites.

Exhalation - A rather interesting logical-breakdown of universal principles from the PoV of a robot race.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects - Novella, and easily the most wrenching, exploratory of the lot. Touches not only on artificial life and AI, but the same kind of feelings we might have for autistic children and trying to save Zoos. For pretty much the same reasons. And I got rather invested in this. I can see it becoming a problem in our future.

Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny - So cool! A mix of our recentish Science History and a very plausible alternate past, part psychology, part 'oh, crap, we definitely could have done this to ourselves'.

The Great Silence - A Fermi gut-punch.

Omphalos - A great reversal of an alternate reality, where proof of god's intervention, creation, is everywhere, but scientists come to a startlingly different conclusion. :)

Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom - Another novella, and fascinating as hell. Part self-help group, part scam, and all focusing on the nature of alternate reality informational crosstalk. :) I'm really surprised at how well this one worked for me.

I keep noticing how much Chiang loves to mess with our understanding of our basic reality. It's a Thing. A great Thing.

How does it compare to the previous collection? Neither better nor worse, because it is all him. Quality, a lot of exploration in different ways, but always reaching for the same high standard. :)

I loved it. :) No complaints at all.

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Sunday, July 21, 2019

Of Human BondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Look, I admit to being a W. Somerset Maugham fanboy ever since I watched Bill Murray in Razor's Edge. One of my favorite movies and afterward, one of my favorite books. Oddly enough, however, I didn't get around to reading Of Human Bondage until very long after. Why? Because I made the mistake of watching the classic adaptation of it first. I'm talking Bette Davis, baby. She pulled off such a trip of a Mildred that I have forever hated (or loved to hate) the very IDEA of Bette Davis and/or any portrayal of Mildred in the novel enough that I became downright TREPIDATIOUS, man.

I got the FEARS, man. The fears!

But I got better, see? I got over those fears and read the damn book, see?

And it has everything. Including my undying hate for Phil's stupidity over Mildred. But so much more!
It has the full gamut of the human condition, from childhood raised in strict Anglican Christianity to total disillusionment, from studying to get into Oxford, changing his mind to hang out with the freaks in Germany, then France, picking up all kinds of styles and thinking habits, all well before WWI. We see Phillip go through being ostracized, being lonely, trying his hand not only at the Clergy, but being a bohemian artist, a physician, and being a love-struck fool.

When I say everything, however, I mean everything. All different ways of being, exploring who he can become before the Gen-X kicked in, of throwing off one shackle of thought after another after another... and yet, still getting caught in the toughest shackle of all: human relationships.

Did I mention I hate Mildred? Well, for all the times I really loved Phil, I hated him the most when he was in deep with this woman. So stupid! STUPID! And yet...sigh.

I may have gotten deep into this novel. It's up there with all the classics, in my humble opinion. So clear of style and dedicated to exploring what it means to be living, learning, and surviving. If you wanted to, you could trace all the philosophical greats, step-by-step, seeing how morality and ethics don't die even when you shake off the mold, or when you try your hand at completely different modes of living, one after another, to see what sticks, and all the while learning intense lessons that never feel forced. Indeed, I feel for this guy as he keeps stumbling about, just pushing himself further and further into a position where he's either following his dream or he's fooling himself. And that's just the thing, isn't it?

Neither he nor we know which it is.

And as an artist, I feel for him. Deeply. Sometimes all you can do is put one foot ahead of another and hope you're wise enough to know when you finally have a good thing.

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Love Minus EightyLove Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a book that is pretty much all a romance, it's full of great science, tech, and outright horror. The titular theme refers to corpse dating. It's kinda like a half-way point for necrophiliacs, old-rich-geezers, and tortured musicians to pine over pretty dead women. And when I mean pretty, I mean pretty. Only the beautiful get selected for possible reanimation and if they don't have special insurance and they don't get picked to be a bride-like-a-slave, they get defrosted and dumped in a landfill.

The rub? These women are brought back in a speed-dating nightmare, fresh from death, only let to live for five minutes as some rich creep tries to find out if you're "the one". Just think about it. Your afterlife will be spent trying to do everything you can to debase yourself and be the perfect mate JUST SO YOU CAN COME BACK TO LIFE. It's a special kind of hell to be caught in desperate speed-dating for the sake of your very existence.


But, yes, this IS a romance, and every part of it is wonderful. Hard, depressing, hopeful, loving, and wonderful. I even grew to love all of Rob's friends. :)

I can't say whether this is my favorite Will McIntosh book, but it damn-near perfect for all that. Romance, interesting tech-based horror, a future dystopia for the dead and recently un-dead, and a massive condemnation on us. You'll see. It's totally worth reading. :)

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The CyberiadThe Cyberiad by Stanisław Lem
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While I was initially tempted to treat this collection of 1965 short SF stories with kid gloves because I was already a huge fan of Solaris, I didn't quite understand that this collection was already a heavyweight of humor, satire, and delight.

Where the hell have I been? I should have read this back when I was a kid! Alongside Hitchhiker's Guide! As I read this, I gave a constant chuckle-rumble, especially with the Seven Sallies of Trurl and Klapaucius. These two master-builder robots get along with their wits and near-infinite capability to make things. Anything. And they are tricksters. Very funny tricksters.

The one time that Trurl made a poetry machine, I was f***ing spoiled by some of the best math poetry I've ever read, and here's the kicker: This was translated from Polish. Hell, it was translated into several dozen languages. But the English translation retained ALL its flavor. :) It was honestly funny.

All of this was light, clever, and always to the point. These are traditional fables, almost like the old Chivalric tradition, but add the element of gods granting everyone's wishes to the downfall of the wisher, and you've got a very good idea about what's going on here. Oh, and almost every character is a robot. The wisecracking kind.

I admit I've read a number of things *like* this, but never to this one's high quality. This is a perfect cure for grimdark malaise. :)

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Finnegans WakeFinnegans Wake by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has got to be the best, most fantastic, wonderful book ever written to have absolutely freaking defeated me. Not only is the wordplay and freakishly brilliant alliteration such that I want to roll around in it like a dog in autumn leaves, but the language is also so dense and impenetrable I can BARELY get a sense of what the F*** is going on.

Is it brilliant? Yeah, I can see that much. I can also so see that it was specifically written to break modern literature scholars from their dependence on LSD and Heroin. Both used at the same time. And this is the "lite" version of the drug which is much more insidious because it is even MORE addictive and it happens to kill you in about thirty days after reading. It's a socially-transmitted Irish cancer. It's also a mudkiss written by a psychotic who throws readers into the abyss without a parachute. It was written by the Joker. You know, the one that just wanted to watch the world burn.

It's murdercock English. It's being peed on by pearlypets. It's joking around like a hearse on fire. It's a nappywink.

Honestly, I would NOT have DNF'd this at the midpoint if it wasn't so freaking dense. Or if I were completely drunk in a room full of other Irish foks shouting out random lines from this monstrosity. Or if I joined a cult, bringing this book with me to counteract the crazy by a more potent kind of crazy.

But I did none of these things. I was DEFEATED.

But I do it gracefully. I admit I was beaten by this madman.

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AntarcticaAntarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Almost every time I read a KSR book, I'm either awestruck, amazed at the scope, or I have to say something silly like, "Every time I read a KSR book, it's the favorite book I've read by him!"

Well, guess what?

Seriously, though, this one has the added distinction of KSR actually having been to Antarctica, and plot aside, the descriptions of the 60 below landscape, the problems associated with long hikes or just plain living there at all, makes this one of the most vivid novels he's ever written. This is quite aside from the Mars Trilogy, as good as it was. This one obviously hits closer to home, with all our crazy and screwed-up personages making yet another mess of things.

Because, let's face it, no nation or corporation has a good track record when it comes to reckless greed, fear of the upcoming energy crisis, or just not giving a shit because "things are bad everywhere". What does this mean for Antarctica? For those oil deposits? Or every nation capable of staging an end-run around the international treaty? A treaty unenforced and possibly unenforceable?

It brings up other familiar topics from KSR's other books as well. Ecology is a big one. Antarctica is the last clean place on Earth. It's rough on us and that's the main reason why, but you and I both know that where there's a will, there's a way. But there are also people willing to fight for the love they have for the place, and this is their novel. The fighting isn't really done with guns, but there *IS* ecoterrorism going on. There are also some rather awesome ways of living with zero-impact on the continent. Political and economic ideas that deal with the full problem. And characters that immerse us readers fully in this gorgeous, stark landscape.

I totally recommend this novel for anyone in love with cold adventures. It's full of history and the present and has a strong eye to the future, in every aspect. Now it's time to close my mouth. Snow is getting in.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Empress of ForeverEmpress of Forever by Max Gladstone
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First things first: I had a great time.

As in, this is a goofy, fast-paced, unabashedly hard-SF, galaxy-spanning space-opera mania that mixes cloud-computing universe-spanning quantum-computing with the afterlife, instant travel, world-eating gods, cyborgs, huge space battles, and a HUGE baddie in the Empress of Forever who is literally impossible to defeat because she IS the substrate of the entire universe I just described.

When it comes to the whole grab bag of SF concepts and the way it is all put together, this is no lightweight SF. It made me dance around, happy as a pig in muck, and I pretty much forgave anything else because Gladstone KNOWS his genre inside and out. I thought he couldn't be topped in the UF field, but I should have had a bit more faith. :)

So why aren't I giving this a full 5 stars? Because the plot is kinda standard and predictable. The twist, especially, and although I DID like the backward hints residing in the naming conventions that spelled it all out, the SECOND twist that I expected didn't come.

The characters were pretty fine. The focus did have some self-realization going on and this is definitely a Lesbian space adventure that has a lot of Iron Man overtones. Otherwise, the description in the blurb is accurate. Guardians of the Galaxy misfits, indeed. No complaints here.

Fun stuff, ESPECIALLY after you get through the opening bits in the book. It really takes off once a certain lady gets woken up. Definitely popcorn fiction for the nanotech infected galaxy. :)

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