Saturday, November 30, 2019

James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. SheldonJames Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography of Alice Sheldon is brilliant. Brilliant, but sobering.

I didn't imagine there would be such depth and investigation going into Alice's life, but not only do we get the character of it, but we get the whole glorious, convoluted, conflicted joy, sadness, and understanding of this person.

I mean, sure, the later-life effects of her writing under the well-respected pseudonym of Tiptree and her increasingly difficult dodges she had to perform to keep her secret from all of fandom and the friends she made from other authors was pretty fun, sad, and freaking fantastic. But when we see all of this through the eyes of her personal feminism and the resulting blowback in the SF field, the whole subject takes on a very poignant and relevant light.

She was very conflicted on the whole subject and it shows.

She led a rich life, from being the daughter of a popular novelist, living in Africa during the heyday of the Great White Hunter legends as a kid, to always knowing she never BELONGED anywhere, of how she was driven by rage as a woman while always having to put on a happy face, to her days as a professional painter learning from the greats, to her short stint as a critic, her joining the military during WWII, to her life as a chicken farmer, to her time as a CIA analyst, to her time as a psychological researcher on perception, to her much later career as an SF author.

What started as a joke turned into a name thrown into fame. She was a man who finally understood women! (Never mind that so many of the stories are DARK, dystopian, highly sexualized male-dominated stories full of institutional and personal abuse... and both sexes were to blame.)

The biographer gave us everything in Alice's life. Her lesbian desires, never fulfilled, her rebellious decision to elope with a man who was just as angry as her, to finding deep companionship with her second husband while never really getting what she really desired. Compound this with her agreement with him to form a suicide pact when things got to be too difficult, and then, at the end, after much illness and depression, she kills her husband and then herself, the picture becomes quite as dark as her fiction.

But this is not the whole story. Of course. She suffered lifelong depression and rage at the world, but it was science and the drive to build something lasting that brought her the most joy. Her core belief revolved around anti-entropy. I thought it was beautiful. She was always rational and deliberate. How she went about saying goodbye to everyone was as thoughtful as it was heartbreaking.

I've never read a more multi-faceted and rich biography. Of course, I can also blame the woman who is the subject of it for giving so much interesting fodder in the shape of her life.

Yes, it's a difficult life, too, but it was full of something really special. It might even go a long, long way to redefining our understanding of history. From a humanist perspective.

Just. Wow. What an interesting person.


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The Wee Free Men (Discworld, #30; Tiffany Aching, #1)The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This might be the best YA book I've ever read.


Need I say more?
Everyone knows how charming Terry Pratchett can be and his humor was always top notch. But what people generally overlook is the wisdom.

First Sight, Second Think.

That's the main thing about being a witch or even being a bit bright. See things as they are and never settle for your first think. Hello!

I love Tiffany. Harder than the earth, handy with string and a big pan. And she demands respect. :)

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Interference (Semiosis Duology, #2)Interference by Sue Burke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sequel to Semiosis starts out fantastically. I loved the amount of worldbuilding that had gone into this future Earth and the kinds of people they would be putting on a spaceship to interfere with Pax.

Ya gotta love the vagarities of human ignorance. It doesn't matter what we do or what we try, we always seem to f*** everything up.

So here we have an invasive species (us) doing what we do ALL OVER AGAIN on Pax. At least Steveland and the other locals have had an opportunity to get along for quite some time by now.

As we get to know both sides and watch the lies and the germs spread, I started getting a sinking feeling. All this downward spirals happened instead of a nice (possibly twisty) fantastic uptick with a sometimes wise Steveland. I discovered I had to start reading the book as if it was a commentary.

That isn't bad, of course. We all should see what the consequences should be for our blundering, mindless behavior and see the destructiveness of authoritarians. *shrug*

This is complex, well-thought-out, and subtle. Or sometimes not very subtle at all. That's FINE.

I guess I just wanted more diving into the whole cooperation mythos, more toe-dipping in other intelligences, new ways to make things work in the middle of sooooo much crazy interference.

The rest works on those levels, but I think this novel could have been GREAT. Not just good. But that's just my opinion.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Starsight (Skyward, #2)Starsight by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, all the goodness.

So, aside from not being able to talk about the joys in this YA space opera by the wonderful Sanderson, I can at least gush over the things it made me feel.

I was always thrilled about every space battle. It's a perfect blend of personality, piloting, humor, and many little oddities that make this kind of thing special. I was never annoyed by any of the main characters. I loved the AI's existential crises, the cuteness of the tiny fox/badger aliens and their king, and the fact that the majority of the novel deals more with perception and assumption than practically anything else.

The twists? Really great. But no spoilers. We've got an epic setup here and a very satisfying conclusion. You know, aside from that very last bit that makes me want to scream and tear out all my hair and demand that all the bookgods heed my plea for the next book in my hands RIGHT THIS INSTANT...

Ahem.

My only complaint? Our big bad aliens read like the ideological liberal left taken to an amazing extreme. Like, total caricature. And while we do dig below the surface and see a bit of variety, it's kinda funny how very... phobic... both sides get, or how those phobias take on some very strange features. Maybe it's not a complaint, but a bit of an annoyance because I would like to have seen a lot more subtlety and divergence in these details even as they grew more pronounced. But, let's face it, this IS a YA novel. Oversimplification, even in an ostensibly FUN tale written for the sake of FUN, is kind of the name of the game. :)

Putting that aside, I had a damn lot of fun. :) So I do believe this is a total win. :)



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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Angel Souls and Devil Hearts (Shadow Saga #2)Angel Souls and Devil Hearts by Christopher Golden
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Enjoying a nice revisit with the Shadow Saga, with evil Catholics and saintly Vampires!

Seriously, I'm both thrilled and a little disappointed in this second book. Mostly thrilled. I mean, I can do without some of the slowish bits, but with all the big explosions and military might chopping up the PoV changes, taking a trip to hell to save Peter, coming back to a massive blow-out with major demons walking the Earth, I really have NOTHING to complain about.

I think my main problem, on this re-read, is not the first two books at all, but the memory of the third. I hate losing my favorite characters. Peter is great and even though we barely see him in this one, he takes all the other stages in fine form. It isn't HIM that I love the most, though. I love almost all of them.

Read into that as you will.

But as for this book? I LOVE the twists and turns it takes. There are some really funny and awesome ideas floating around in here and the short-sharp-idea-jabs are the BEST.

I'm glad I did a re-read. It's just plain FUN. :)

Not perfect, mind you, but it is definitely courageous and genre-busting and willing to go all out. That's something I can appreciate. Big time. :)



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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Her Smoke Rose Up ForeverHer Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would like to say that each one of these stories by James Tiptree Jr., or rather, Alice Sheldon, are gender dystopian SF shorts that sharply highlight the darkness, doing it in miniature... but I would be wrong. Nothing she wrote is miniature.

In fact, all her stories are huge, not in length, but definitely in imagination, scope, and their inherent darkness. Even the ones that seem rather delightfully hopeful usually come from mate-eating gigantic alien spiders or from psychopathic and heavily abused tech who goes on a murder spree before she becomes one of the most positive people to enjoy a first-contact scenario.

Wow, right?

Most of these stories came out of the seventies and the focus on gender inequality, systematic institutional abuse, and the entitlement of jerks is all pretty front and center. The fact that Alice kept a tight lid on the fact that she was a woman writing as a man should tell you a lot. I personally think she did the whole shock-value, overboard characterizations of these abusive men as a way to normalize them in the literature. She made them heavier and darker than usual in order to underscore just how crazy it is.

The things we take for granted are NOT normal. Not back then and not now. But this is also rather the point. The shock value is in the psychology of it. We should be outraged, look at our own world, and see just how f***ing close we are to Sheldon's standard.

Scary. And others obviously agree. There are a lot of modern works that come very close to Sheldon's standard. Either they're paying homage or they believe the technique is worth revisiting.

But let me let you in on a little secret:

Alice Sheldon's writing is brilliant. Imaginative, scary, brutal, and definitely worth revisiting NOW.

This is some REAL dystopian literature. Psychological, societal, physical, and even existential. If you're scared of some nihilism, prepare yourself before picking up this book. :)

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Monday, November 25, 2019

The Body: A Guide for OccupantsThe Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For all of you other cyborgs and pure artificial intelligences out there, I should mention that this is a rather interesting primer on regular meat-sacks. It even has the distinction of not being science fiction at all.

But as the title suggests, outright occupancy usually comes with a rental charge. The bill always comes due.


I've read a few Brysons before... and my favorite has got to be A Short History of Nearly Everything. This one, from a regular knowledge-gathering stand, comes in as a tight second. The travelogues are fun and often funny, but Short History is pretty comprehensive and rather more funny. This one, however, was not very funny at all.

That's okay. Very little about our bodies, aside from sex and farts, is funny.

Bryson DOES, however, accomplish a lot, go over a LOT of ground. Pretty cool, in fact.

Do I recommend reading this? Absolutely. Everyone ought to have a primer on themselves. The benefit here is much more than meets the eye, though. So many new discoveries and outright debunking of myths have made it in this text. Recent ones, too.

You know that leaky faucet and the clog in the pipes? Yep. We really need to talk to the landlord.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Full ThrottleFull Throttle by Joe Hill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fine, fine collection of short stories.

When I decided I wanted good, traditional horror with fantastic characterization and full-hilt (or throttle) gore, I knew I couldn’t go wrong with Hill.

It’s not like this is all he does, but when I just want that visceral surprise death after getting to know some rather interesting folk, I found myself laughing out loud in a good number of these.

Maybe it says more about me than I intended. *shrug* Oh, well! Obvious modern morality plays are FUN.

I think I loved the first five of these stories best. My ABSOLUTE top story now makes me wish I had a job driving a bookmobile truck. I mean, seriously, I LOVE this story.

My least favourite story happens to be Hill’s SF foray. Sadly. I mean, I’m a big fan of SF in general and Hill is obviously a fan of the genre, as seen from his many literary references, but it just didn’t do anything for me.

But when he goes right for the jugular of either fantasy through tiny doors, including big game hunters, or a Sons of Anarchy treatment by way of Duel, I’m all over it. :)

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Friday, November 22, 2019

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

And in the space of a single short essay, I've just become an uber-fanboy.

She sums up all my own feelings on the subject in a delightfully welcoming essay on Feminism.

As in, hello, we all need to do better. Be more aware. Don't ignore the problem, but above all, be real to ourselves.

It's a simple message. And this author writes with such charm and very little anger. If I could choose any single manifesto to live by, (even as a man), I could do very much worse by looking anywhere else. :)


Here's another thing to chew on:

I feel hopeful.

I have hope.

Don't do as we've always done. See things clearly. And above all, treat everyone with respect.

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The FishermanThe Fisherman by John Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every fisherman is a storyteller.

And you won't BELIEVE what kind of fish got away.

As horrors go, we all know it's a hit-or-miss kind of thing. Some writing is fantastic, some of them have great ideas and thrills, and some of them ride that sweet spot all the way through. This is one of the latter. Our hero may not get too many fish on his forays, but his tragic tale, along with his buddy's tragic tale, sincerely sweeten the tale as it descends, steeply, into some really deep waters.

This book has lots of heart and lots of emotion. On that level, alone, this would have made a very fine psychological thriller that could have gotten away with soooo much less than it did.

But Langan gave us a feast. A real feast. I thought we were going into traditional Lovecraftian territory. Books dredged up from time, creepy circumstances, old horrific histories that are just as deep and terrifying as what was happening in the present... but then the author gave us MORE. And More. And More. And I loved every single second of it.

The scope got pretty damn big. Just like those fish those storytellers like to talk about. But these stories within stories within stories kept getting bigger, more fantastical, and then, eventually, DEEP into uncommon myth, blasting away at the normal Lovecraftian line and giving us something special to sink our sharpened teeth into.

I feel lucky to have read this. This is the kind of gem I'm always keeping my eyes open for. Most of the time, books like this fall rather short of my expectations.

Not this one. This one delivers. On many levels. :)




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Thomas the RhymerThomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There's a lot to be said about a fantasy that is written WELL. In fact, one can argue that it is the only thing worth aiming for.

With tons of writers touching on this and that in the realm of the Fae, of wandering minstrels, of friendship, love, and loss, you'd think there would never be a way to STAND OUT from that crowd.

And then, this late in my career of hunting down all the best books on the Fae, I run across Thomas the Rhymer. There are no tricks in this telling.

It is, above all, a crisp, clear story about a minstrel who gets spirited away to the land of the Sidhe to live and love for the Queen, only to find the world changed when he returns.

I've read really great books about the fae, before, of course, but most of them are rich with side stories or buried within much bigger tellings. This book is ONLY about this one thing. And Kushner dives deep into these clear waters, only to bring back up one of the most beautiful, clear pearls of a story.


If I had to recommend just one perfect example of a man getting kidnapped by fairies, then this would have to be it. It's as shiny and beautiful as a crystal goblet. Or the plucking of a genius upon her harp. :)

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of YmrKa: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr by John Crowley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm conflicted about this read.

On the one hand, I think, with managed expectations, this is a delightful book. Mild, thoughtful, and almost always following the PoV of a special crow through the ages. One that has died, traveled the land of the dead, come back, and lives on and on. Sometimes Dar Oakley talks with men and women, sometimes he just has adventures, but they all tend to revolve around life and death.

I think it has a really good premise.

What I wanted was something more, however. More interesting conflicts, less average, run-of-the-mill adventures, and maybe less seemingly middle-aged-white guy musings. The thoughts on Christianity, or the reflections of the classic Greek stories aren't amazing. In fact, they're a bit timid.

Maybe if I had come across this as one of my first books into the wide world of wandering adventure through lots of time, without knowing and experiencing a hundred others that do the same thing as well if not better, I might have been amazed by this book.

As it is, I have, and other than following the admittedly pretty cool PoV of this crow through a vast stretch of time, with some admittedly cool mini-stories interspersed, I was profoundly meh'd by this novel. It's far from being bad, but it was... boring. To me. But that doesn't have to be the case for anyone else!

This IS perfect for anyone, however, who likes morality plays, good observations about Crows in real-life, and enjoys a sprawling, wandering tome of stories within stories... AND likes them done mildly, gently, and introspectively.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Under Heaven (Under Heaven, #1)Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Whenever I read a modern Kay novel, I always struggle trying to classify them.

In all normal respects, they read like classic historical novels set in culturally lush times, peppered with rich characterizations, and steeped in really classy, nearly (or fully) poetical language.

But this ISN'T a novel of the Chinese Tang Dynasty. It may feel like it, read like it, and have a truly heartbreaking setup that seems rather unique to the period, but it ISN'T historical fiction.

It is fantasy. Plain and simple. Made up era, made up world, (even tho it has a moon quite like ours), and enough references to make it FEEL like its a history we ought to KNOW.

And that isn't a problem, per se, but it's only fantasy in the worldbuilding. No magic. Just a fully realized world.

And this is very much a beautiful world. Saying anything more would still do it not enough justice.

I personally prefer a bit more magic in my fantasies, but that's only MY preference. I really loved the characters and the rambling progression of plot. Who knew that getting a gift of 250 horses for performing an act of charity for the dead could bring one SO MUCH TROUBLE?


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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Queen of the Dark Things (Dreams & Shadows, #2)Queen of the Dark Things by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What can I say? I'm a HUGE FAN of Cargill.

The first book in the Dreams & Shadows was freaking brilliant, full of fae and magic, jinn and coyote. All the dark things were front and center. The eating and the eaten. Colby the little kid and Colby the adult was brilliant.

This second book carries Colby along his destiny. Extraordinary magician, keeper of Austin, TX, bane of the fae, drinker of the not quite great hooch. He does what he does for good reasons and yet he's proven himself one of the damned.

I feel for him. Every step of the way, I've felt for him. The wish from his best friend, the jinn, has brought him around the world to see all the magical things in it. He was also given the power to shape reality. This is no small thing.

In this book, we wrap ourselves in the Dreamtime. We hang out in Australia a bit. We get ourselves enmeshed in good friends and horrible choices and demons. Lots and lots of demons. 72 of them. And the best part? Solomon's Ring. :)

This book is SUPER rich with mythology. Like, you can wallow in it, love every magical reference, and sink your teeth into really great plot. And not only that, every character is a fantastic treat. :)

I think of this as a combination Gaiman (as per American Gods), Cat Valente (for her prose poetry) and even a bit of Kevin Hearne thrown in. And not just for his UF, but for the great mythology.

As such, I'm completely head-over-heels in love with it.

Mythopunk. :) Easily, this is gonna be one of my all time favorites.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

Towing Jehovah (Godhead, #1)Towing Jehovah by James K. Morrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't remember when I last read a book as delightfully satirical, exciting, and brilliantly multi-layered as this.

It's very firmly couched in bloody-minded literalism, but don't let that fool you. This is one SMART COOKIE.

Yes, God is a main character. But unlike so many other humorists, this version is dead. But unlike any number of humorist novels out there, Morrow throws out all the lame ideas and goes ahead and picks the most interesting choices. Every Single Time. Like choosing a God that is FREAKING HUGE before dumping him in the ocean.

Add the Vatican with some really anxious and embarrassed angels hiring a disgraced captain to tow the Godhead to his makeshift burying ground, throw the boat into a rather awesome reversal of Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, raise an island that is a crude, glitsy porn palace as a post-deist playground of unnatural selection, some mutineers, a hardcore rationalist subplot, and a bunch of nutty WWII re-enactment hobbyists, and you might get a tiny idea about where this might be headed.

This ain't philosophy. But then again, maybe it is. Hardcore philosophy behind a leering, jeering, madcap Monty-Pythonesque prose. Including the parrot.

I will never forget the parody of the transubstantiation.


I have found my next best favorite book. No holds were barred. Everyone, no matter who you are, is invited up to the table to get a punch in the nose. :)

All this aside, you know what I really, really want?

I want this book done as an Amazon Prime or a full-budget HBO miniseries. Including the gigantic corpse. All the frantic sailors trying to keep the predators off God's body. The air battle. The quiet, desperate times with full close-ups for the actors to show the deep conflict, the absurdist humor, the pathos.

It works on SO many levels.

This book has the probability to become one of the most brilliant adaptations ever.

I just wish.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Somewhere In TimeSomewhere In Time by Richard Matheson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book starts out rather rough and the time-travel aspect is half-laughable and absolutely necessary for the ambiguity inherent in the novel, but DAMN...

THIS IS ONE HELL OF HEA ROMANCE.

Love and first sight, straining against social customs, heaving bosoms, torn hearts....

Sigh.

I admit I kinda fell for this. I'm not a huge romance reader, but it was soooooo damn sweet and predictable and full of satisfaction.

But I also really appreciated the twist. :) I should probably re-watch the 1980 movie and see if it really does the book justice.

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Black BeautyBlack Beauty by Anna Sewell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When you're growing up in the 1880's, nothing beats the traditional Liberal education. The important features you ought to be learning about your world around you shouldn't only be the plight of orphans in the streets or the seedy underbelly of our overcrowded and filthy cities.

You need to be aware of animal cruelty.

In particular, you need to be aware that if you mistreat your horses, they will not be able to write effectively on their typewriters.

Do not assume these are all ghostwritten. There are lots of horses out there who are very good at writing, but if you overwork them and mistreat them, they may never show you the other talents they may have, deep inside.

#HorsesAreWritersToo

Please, be aware.

Bless your Christian heart. Oh, and cabbies DO deserve Sunday off. Don't perpetuate the injustices.

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Corrupting Dr. NiceCorrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this definitely falls under Romance. SF rom-com. But don't dismiss it so casually! It has a LOT of great worldbuiding features.

Time travel hijinx is only the start of it.

First, throw out paradoxes. New timelines pop up everywhere. But this also means that you can go back to the same past time and pick up the same person or mineral resource and bring it (or them) back to the future. Mozart writing a rock ballad? Yep.

Commercial exploitation of the past. Movie crews hanging out during the time of Jesus. Bringing Jesus forward. Several of him. Pop him out before he actually DOES anything. Enjoy the ramifications. Mix, stir, repeat.

Let's keep the reveals about the dinosaurs to the novel, shall we?

But the rom-com is actually the best part! Put a con artist next to a rich scientist and watch the sparks fly.

I had a really fun time. :)

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Dreams and Shadows (Dreams & Shadows, #1)Dreams and Shadows by C. Robert Cargill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I came into this with high hopes only because I knew the writer from the Doctor Strange movie and having really enjoyed Sea of Rust, but nothing quite prepared me for a full-out novel of the Sidhe. The fae folk. Changelings, a nasty Tithe, and the tricksy Coyote.

Oh, and let's not forget the other main story. Young Coby and his Jinn.

This is a very atmospheric and darkly delicious novel that really gives us the heave-ho into the whole storyline of poorly thought-out wishes, curses, and the kinds of monsters that live within all of us.

And the good intentions that lead soooo many people down the road to hell.

I loved this. It's right up your alley if you love Gaiman and Cat Valente. Dark, mythological, and as twisty as you like.

I don't think there's a single character in this novel that isn't a victim of his or her own hubris. And yet it always charms us, leads us to wonder and discovery, plays with us the way chaos magic always plays with us, and then sets us back down gently amid a field of gore, telling us that we'll be all right.

Or will we?

*tips his red cap upon his head, lets a little moisture drip upon his finger*

Yes, I think we will be all right.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is one supposed to have "fun" reading about the entire breakdown of HUMANITY from a collaborative Anthropological/Campbellian outlook?

Me?
Absolutely.

I was pleasantly reminded of Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything, but instead of wandering all about and being a little less funny than Bryson, what we get is a rather better focus with a little more depth on a subject very close to almost everyone's hearts: Ourselves.

Now let's get this clear. It's not supposed to be a full-out treatise, nor is it giving citations, but I've read a ton of other books that talk about almost everything in here. It's not new stuff. It is, however, written in such an engaging way that I pretty much fell out of my seat in love with the way they are all presented.

I really got into the counterarguments against agriculture, but before that, I loved the idea that people were all always pretty much always people. Language, myths, and ideas changed us all into the creatures we are now. It's a very Campbellian view. Language increases complexity, but also a closer reliance on details. Abstract concepts arose to help people conceptualize groups of people much larger than a decent gossip circle. We tell ourselves lies and stories in order to accomplish much bigger things.

Easy, right?

Well, the author takes us all the way through the agricultural revolution, into cultural theories, monetary theories, political theories, and scientific theories. All of these have made us what we are, and all of them come from the basic storytelling concept. We believe banks work, and so they do. We believe that our social structure works, and so it does. If we don't trust it, it falls apart, but that's the whole point. We trust the story to be true, and we continue on. Money works this way. The author goes into the fantastic rabbit-hole called Credit. Fractional reserve. We all know it works so long as we trust it works. The same is true for Capitalism, or Buddhism, or the Medieval outlook, or Christmas.

Shall we dismiss, or enshrine, the rest of human history this way?

Sure! Why not? It FEELS right. The story this author tells FEELS trustworthy. I'm hooked.

But then, I'm a writer, myself. I believe in the written word and its power to transform the world. Myth as Life. Myth IS Life. Every instant of our own lives is the artifact of the stories we tell about ourselves. It's not so hard to believe that everything else we do as a species follows the same method.

Hello, money. What makes you think I should believe in you? Oh, wait, you tell a very compelling story. :)

I like this book. :)

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ArcadiaArcadia by Mark Lages
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my second Mark Lages book and I'll be honest, neither of them would have caught my interest in the random playing field of searching for books in general. BUT... having read them by the author's request, or indeed, after getting past the first chapter or two with either book, I can now firmly say that I'm a fan of his writing.

I didn't expect it. I truly didn't. And especially when I learn I'm dealing with a novel about teen suicide, I really out to have squirmed and tried to wiggle out of it... but that's the magic of his writing.

It's warm. Gentle. Empathetic.

We don't jump into the mindset of the suicidal teen except through his poetry, his essays, or some of his actions. We see everything from the PoV of his confused but caring father, who, fortunately or unfortunately, snoops through all his son's things. A grey area? Yeah, of course, but in this case he really does admire his son.

Jacob marches to a different beat. Sees things very differently from most. He's an idealist in a crass, crude world. A sensitive boy unable to deal with the very real negative stuff in this world.

His father is just as lost, but in a different way. This is as much his story as his son's.

All of this could go either way, of course, depending on the writing. Mark Lages holds on to this very gently, leading us up to the critical event with love and care.

Best of all, he doesn't take any easy way out. I admire his courage.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My third time reading this has confirmed something to me.

The world is worse than I originally thought, prayed, or hoped it could be.

It's also easy to scratch the barest surface of Orwell's grand dystopia to see the truth of the world of 1948 or 1984 or 2019 or probably even 2091.

We're all doublespeaking all the time. Maybe we believe we're not. Hell, I'd bet that none of us consciously maintain two contradictions in our heads as we juggle the party line... but then, maybe we do. You never know. It is probably about something personal, not political. Maybe it's about saying you love a job you hate, or a spouse, or your own body.

Just applying this to the grand sphere, that people in power got power for the sake of power, and then manipulated us all into believing that we put them there by our own free will, is just a single step further than all the other little lies we keep working so hard to convince ourselves about.

Do you like the way that we deny environmental concerns? Or the future of our energy? Or the very real idea that crop failures stemming from a cascade effect could starve us into near extinction in a single generation? How about the thought that even the most optimistic and drastic of measures in any of these realms is still going to be too little, too late?

We don't even need to look at Orwell's hate-driven society that systematically abuses its populace and then releases them once they're compliant. Just look around us, right now.

Who among us has the single overarching desire to JUST BE LEFT ALONE. Not hassled, not abused, not tormented? This is a far cry from reaching for self-fulfillment, love, and esteem.

I think we're already here. At least we're self-aware enough to know we've always been at war with Eurasia.

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God of WarGod of War by Matthew Woodring Stover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm a huge fan of Matthew Woodring Stover and that basically sums up why I took on this book.

I mean, I played GoW one and two back in the day and I have very fond memories, but it's not particularly DEEP, you know? Oversexed, overviolent goodies. If you love slaughter, you'll love those games. It doesn't hurt that the Greek Pantheon is being its usual nasty self.

So what about this book? Is it something different than the games?

Nope. It's pretty much all the fights and pathos from the game but done in novelization form. That means I can enjoy the nutty craziness in another format and have it all laid out for me in a single sitting.

Do you LOVE bloodshed? Do you love tons of monsters getting eviscerated and s**t stained talons rending flesh? Hello! Do you love climbing the backs of titans and taking on Ares in a one-to-one combat? Hello! Do you love going completely Over-The-Top in violence and rage and regret and bloodlust?

HELLO! This book is for you. You don't even really need to know the games. Just enjoy a fun romp through the hellscape of Greek literature twisted into Pure Action Goodness. :)

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Monday, November 11, 2019

The Shadow YearThe Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would be lying if I said this was really a YA novel, but for all normal purposes, it is written from the point of view of a kid in Elementary school and has all the generalized coming of age elements.

However, this is very much for the adults. Nostalgia, sure, harkening back to a small town NY in the early sixties, drawing from all grand features of what I'll call the genre of Epic Grownup Nostalgia with Horror. You've probably seen it around. In A Boy's Life, or SK's IT. Or Stranger Things.

There are a lot of imitators, but the writing in these have to be MAGICAL if it's going to catch my love. This one has a lot of that magic.

Oh, a lot of the mystery revolves around a prowler in the neighborhood and missing children and the strange movements in a town mockup downstairs and his kid sister's strange abilities, but that's all window dressing to some really fantastic outright writing.

I definitely recommend this for you nostalgia fans or younger folk who are curious about what life might have been like, once upon a time, when it was NORMAL to go out with your friends all day long in the neighborhood without supervision.

I know, right? That's some SICK FANTASY, right there!

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Sunday, November 10, 2019

Supernova EraSupernova Era by Liu Cixin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me be honest here: we need to accept one major handwavium dance move to enjoy this novel. That being said, if we just go ahead and accept the basic premise that CHILDREN under 13 are naturally resistant to catastrophic radiation exposure, or at least they'll heal up when all the adults around them die off, then we've got a pretty great early dystopian nightmare.

The nearby supernova going off, close enough to do more than annoy and far enough away to not just kill us all, is an awesome macro-scale starter for any kind of SF novel.

Ok, so after that? We've got a pretty awesome setup for a kids-rule-the-world SF worldbuilding extravaganza.

The adults tried to do everything they could to prepare these kiddos, of course, but human nature gets the best of us all.

It's PLAYTIME. The old world was BORING, after all.

It's also almost like Liu Cixin was told to write a YA novel back in 2003 and he nodded sagely, snickered under his hand, and went about writing the ultimate coming of age novel.

Only this YA went ahead and killed off the majority of humanity gave us one of the most horrific wars ever created in the spirit of fair play.

Wow.

Now what I'm saying here is: the ideas are freaking awesome, explores a ton of great avenues, and horrifies the freaking hell out of me. The characters are not all that fantastic, but this SF is very much in the spirit of old-school SF masters who want to run hard with the ball.

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The Return of the SoldierThe Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written during WWI, I honestly thought this would be more about the war, but no, we get a sneaky peek into the inner workings of a man who came home, shell-shocked, only to find himself in an untenable position.

What? Has his wife left him for another man? No. He seems to have another kind of problem. ED? No, no, no... MEMORY LOSS. Sheesh. People.

Seriously though, this is a great snapshot of a time when so many men were voiceless. Indeed, as seen through the three women in his life... his wife, his old fiancé, and a female cousin... he's still pretty voiceless. The trick is in reading between the lines, or inferring from everything that happens in this plot and sometimes in letters we're not privy to, that gives this soldier his voice.

This is a romance, folks. A fascinating one, even. Lots of gray areas. And three women who only want to see him be happy.

Of course, the issue is clear and clearly horrible to contemplate.

A very thought provoking novella.

And for those of you who love period pieces and revel in really awkward class stratifications, this is also for you. :)

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Saturday, November 9, 2019

The ChimesThe Chimes by Anna Smaill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a rather original work revolving around music, the magical effect of music on memories, and how it takes this idea and runs full-hilt into total worldbuilding with it.

Huh?

I mean that certain music retains memories and others, including the Chimes, takes it away. Most of the world, or at least this oppressive, poverty-stricken future London, has forgotten itself. The Chimes are played to keep all the memories lost.

I love most of this. I really do. You can tell the author is very deep into her music. The main character and the group he runs with plays beautiful music, combatting the effects of the Chimes, surviving like street urchins, and finding love among all the questions and developing the tale into a quest to stop the Chimes.

I really enjoyed that.

What I didn't particularly enjoy was the slow, almost impersonal way the characterizations developed. It took a long time for me to wind my way through the musical riffs before some juicy handles presented themselves.

And then there was the way normal words were changed in spelling, for worldbuilding effect, that didn't really seem to have a reason. I didn't get the impression that this was a journal written by someone who had lost his ties with our standard language. I understood that Simon was a farmboy with some rather awesome musical talent and a side-talent for saving and storing memories. Writing, except for musical notation, seemed to be quite secondary.

*shrug*

That being said, I did enjoy the oppressiveness and the rather jazz-like discoveries and movements in plot and setting. :)

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Friday, November 8, 2019

The Buried GiantThe Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit that I liked this well enough. For what it is. At first it seemed more like a light fable but then it became a full-out allegory reminiscent of some bastard child of Le Morte d'Arthur: King Arthur and the Legends of the Round Table and The Pilgrim's Progress.

If you like this kind of thing, with a pair of old people meeting up with another pair of old people to go on a long meandering journey of lost memories and misty time only a few years after King Arthur's death, stumbling along a grey shadow world to, at last, defeat a mythical dragon that poisons the land of the Brittons and the Saxons, then I seriously think you ought to read this book.

It's well done in a very old tradition, briefly touching upon what might appear to be modern fantasy but really isn't anything of the sort.

This is old fantasy. Some of the oldest traditional fantasies we have, dressed up in plain speech and designed to touch the modern reader without going into any kind of mealy-mouthed religiosity, instead keeping things very much on the surface.

The reveals were fascinating to anticipate. The journey filled me with ill-defined dread.

The end, however, to this allegory... well, it's kinda average.

Expected. Old-school.

I mean, Sir Gawain is an old knight here. Sir Wisdom is an interesting, if horrific, plot device.

Does this deserve all the accolades? Maybe, but only if you're in the old school literati wanting a good treatment of old subjects done in a modern way. Everyone else might be a little bored. Or disgruntled at the lack of big giants rising up out of the ground with huge armies actively trying to defeat its greatest foe. Any of that will merely be recalled in the deep past or anticipated for the future.

This one is mostly only about the old folks.

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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Gideon the Ninth (The Locked Tomb, #1)Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this one holds a lot of promise. The wordbuilding, alone, is enough to leave me giddy. It's not super deep, mind you, other than the interesting features of the Houses and the fact that this seems like some sort of epic fantasy by way of hard SF so far in the future that there's no real difference, but it's these very elements that capture my imagination the most.

Gideon, herself, is often kinda annoying. Her Necromancer tormenter/friend is even more annoying.

Mind you, their kind of annoying is very much in line with a lot of modern YA but I may be getting tired of the over-the-top torture sessions. And when I mean torture, I mean sheer brutality and nastiness in spirit. These two only start really getting along after they realize the REST of the houses are worse in the bats**t insanity.

Is it a feature of being necromancers? Maybe? Maybe not? Either way, it's tolerable and sometimes even edifying when they sort that crap out.

The one thing I have absolutely no complaint about is the bones. No bones to pick with the bones. Or the battles. The puzzles. The reveals. I loved all of them. I'm a big fan of all the necromancy in general and the fact that they have it all with spaceships too is a real treat.

I'm definitely continuing with this. A little good interpersonal resolution has gone a long way for me. :)


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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Amber SpyglassThe Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read 11/4/19:

I'm regularly astounded at how well-beloved this series is. I mean, let's look at this for a moment: we're surrounded by liars who are heroes, murderers who are the best of folks, drunkards who are the most noble, and a God who is feeble, the push of the devil is a rather positive thing, and we're meant to root for the big battle against Enoch, one of two of the only men in the Bible to ever have been raptured up to heaven. (Of course, he was promoted well beyond his ability and became the Metatron, the big bad false God-in-Standing, so we're not meant to feel like we're ACTUALLY satanists here as we read this book.)

What? Wait, WHAT?

Oh, that's okay, folks. It's fine because this was written by an agnostic atheist. He only believes in enjoying life on the material plain, in making heaven right here on Earth, not falling for the one-off and rather harmful joke we've always been told. After all, Heaven Doesn't Exist. Hello! Be good here and now while you're still alive, dummy!

But let's review this:

The series is one of the most well-beloved series by almost everyone for all time.

Why?

Because it's liberating? Because it puts a sharpened stick in the flaming pile of poo of an idea that says that sex in the idea of Original Sin is BAD? Or is it because most of us are sick to death about religion? Or because he manages to subvert everything and still manages to give everyone a bit of good in the tale and refuses to make the whole story about Atheists versus Deists?

I simply do not know.

I do know that the rolling elephants were f***ing stupid.

I didn't mind the whole trip down under, however. :)


Original Review:

I thought it was hilarious to have Enoch, my favorite, rare renegade man amongst angels play the villain. It was especially precious to have a reversal of roles for our favorite angels in heaven and a not so thin veiled christ figure in the shape of a lying little girl flying down to sheol to free all the purgatoried souls.

I giggled some more when those little wheeled beasties crushed the nuts of an otherwise smooth storyline.

Honestly, it wasn't my favorite book of all time; neither was the whole series; but I did really enjoy the whole Madeline L'Engle fantasy touch. As opposed to the painful C. S. Lewis touch, Pullman has an even lighter touch, with a generous dose of darkness to help us swallow a completely virtuous pre-teen serial murderer who loves his mom and an imagination-less serial liar who takes the role of christ.

This isn't to say I didn't like the novels, mind you very much. It makes me wonder what would happen if Chuck Palahniuk rewrote these novels. Hmmm.

Should I suggest it?

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The Subtle Knife (His Dark Materials, #2)The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read, 11/5/19:

I think I still enjoy the emphasis on the extended worldbuilding in this book more than the flavor of the characters. Lyra is somewhat diminished, unable to shine in the Big Happenings of the first book, relegated either to lying (unsuccessfully) to a relative suburbia world, losing her way, and relying an awful lot on Will, her new friend.

Will, on the other hand, is only really interesting when he holds a knife.

*shrug* I found all the villains in our tale much more interesting. And the worldbuilding, of course. Lots of sympathy for the devil stuff going on here.

That being said, I'm not sure I really enjoyed this particular alternate-reality hop's direction. Sure, the place is about as subtle (from our world) as the knife from my kitchen drawer, but I also admit I enjoyed the concept of the knife quite a bit.

I really enjoyed the worldbuilding in this book more than anything else.


Original review:

There's less action and a hell of a lot more story-meat in this book. I'm enjoying it immensely, especially for all of the John Milton tones. It also has a beautiful synthesis of anthropology and religion that I can't help but giggle at.

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Monday, November 4, 2019

The Golden CompassThe Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Re-read, 11/4/19:

I think I might have been a bit unfair to the book in my original review. Or maybe I was a bit disgruntled with YA literature in general at the time. Or maybe I was getting tired of the whole chosen one with the miraculous oracle bit driving the plot forward.

But let's back up a bit here. In the particulars, I liked running around like an urchin. I did like all the Daemons. I liked growing up among all the academics. I liked running around and being a very English nuisance and getting involved very civilly with evil folks and right proper decent parliamentary folk.

And what could be better than to top it all off with a trip to the north where all the Scandinavians are! Um, I mean bears. And witches. And evil research facilities that OUGHT to have been where Santa's elves made some non-dusty toys.

Yeah, it was pretty entertaining. Very quick-paced. Somewhat annoyingly light on the character-building so everyone seems like pieces on a big game board with a big narrator pushing them around by a rather cool compass... but okay for all that.

I guess I tended to remember this book in a slightly lesser light than it really deserves, considering how many YA novels are like it these days.



Original review:

After reading the first nine-tenths of the novel, I was expecting nothing other than a YA adventure novel. When I finished it, I saw the interesting bits finally come alive. The writing is smooth and the characters, while rather one-sided and painted with broad strokes, works well here. I can't complain, because most book's characters rather fall into the same category and so I must focus on ideas and how those ideas are pulled off. The locales are charming, and even though we're missing some depth, it's to be expected by the type of the novel it is. I did find myself wanting the viewpoints of the parents more than our lovely silver-tongued liar, but I think this is just my own frantic desire for understanding a character's psychology. Good book, and I'm looking forward to more adventure.

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Alien: The Cold ForgeAlien: The Cold Forge by Alex White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's put this book into context, shall we? I didn't expect too much because it is, after all, a horror in an SF setting just like the movies. We have a cross between Alien 3 and Alien 4 without so much of the goofy, with Weyland corp still being the bad guy, and very few actually likable characters.

Stir, mix, let steep in some xenomorph stew, wait for the stupid humans to do something nasty, perverse, and generally unlikable. *Hello, efficiency expert in a top secret lab!*

And then let things get out of control.

Honesty here: I was pretty bored by the formula leading up to the alien breakouts, with a slight exception to Blue, who suffers from a massive degenerative disease and who also uses (or abuses) a synth. Maybe I wanted something rather more ... original ... before everything went to hell. One thing I can say about the newer canonical movies is that they broke new ground even if they kinda broke the cannon (and some credulity).

But, in the end, I did end up enjoying the human monster twists, the glorified horror, and the bloodshed. Should anyone expect anything more from movie-universe tie-ins? Maybe not.

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Saturday, November 2, 2019

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of ConsciousnessOther Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Strangely enough, this book -- which could have turned into a free-for-all metaphysics/philosophy speculation-fest -- actually turned out to be a relatively careful, thoughtful science book that poses, but does not attempt to prove, that octopods may be the real deal.

Intelligence does not need a spine. Hell, to me, this should be rather obvious.

I appreciate how the old scientific prejudice and just plain annoyance with the creatures might have skewed clear thinking about squids. I also understand that very little in the way of extensive research has been done on them.

But what really fascinates me is the hints at what they really could be. Their short lives notwithstanding, they seem to have perceptual powers that are astounding. Every inch of their skin seems to be hyper-aware and the chromatophores (skin pigmentation changes) are wildly expressive and responsive.

What I think, and what the book is careful not to speculate on, is pretty fascinating: deep communications are going on in the visual medium. Indeed, since octopods' neural structure is across their entire bodies, we can make some really interesting suppositions. Like full-concept transmissions, learning, teaching ... perhaps even more ... between these short-lived creatures. Maybe consciousness.

Me? I love this. The author doesn't take it there, but leads us to this doorstep. It's up to us to dream. :) I love dreaming. :)

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Friday, November 1, 2019

Permanent RecordPermanent Record by Edward Snowden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a highly-readable and thoroughly fascinating account of Snowden as a child, his ethical foundations, computer ethos, and his original desire always do the right thing.

For any of you who don't know his name, you'll find a thousand accounts that turn him into a hero and a thousand that turn him into a traitor. I totally recommend reading his own words. He was always careful and thoughtful and did what he did for what he thought was the very best of reasons.

By any stretch of reality, he simply gave true accounts, backed up with real data, to the most responsible and courageous reporters he could find.

What is the crux?

Proof of worldwide surveillance for everything that has ever gone online, stored forever. This means there is no privacy, and no accountability. Any two-bit dictator might later use ANYTHING you might have EVER said from your childhood all the way to the things you said this morning. Any joke, anything you thought hidden anonymously, any vile, atrocious, mean statement. Anything you might ever be ashamed of. And let's not forget anything that your computers might control, such as cameras, microphones. Or your cell phones, even while powered off, always being able to track you.

Your footprints and your very metadata as a person is online. Stored forever.

The U.S. government lied about this.

Ed Snowden, as a sysadmin with high clearance, also had access to utterly amazing amounts of confidential documents, knowledge of the high tech systems, cryptology, and the programs that, with a little intelligence, could be rendered from their original compartmentalizations into a seamless, rather obvious goal.

This knowledge conflicted with is ethics, his very sense of what is right, and so he did the bravest thing he could have done. Become a whistleblower. Let us know the state of the world we live in. The truth.

Since then, many people have reviled him. Many have been blown away by the sheer courage and selflessness of his actions.

I, for one, believe in the Constitution, most of which dealt with securing the privacy and the basic autonomy of its citizens, limiting seizure and the state's power. When you think about it, this huge information-gathering complex that records everything for later sifting is nothing more than absolute seizure. It has made an absolute joke of the constitution.

I believe in my right to privacy. It has nothing to do with whether I have anything to hide. Do you think because you have nothing to say that you ought to give up your right to ever write again? How about burning all your books because you don't feel like reading? Sound good to you?

So yes, I'm one of those people who call Snowden a hero. I've been following this for quite some time and the whole thing leaves me speechless.

He is one good man standing up for what he believes in. I cannot begin to tell each and every one of you how much I care that he stays safe.

This book breaks it all down quite wonderfully, explaining everything. I totally recommend it for everyone. It might sound rather dystopian in parts, but the real world is already there.

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SlashSlash by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm of two minds on this one. I love horror in general but there are a few kinds of plot devices that don't work too well for me. Of course, there are some major exceptions to the rule, but I'm gonna cite one movie franchise that never kept my interest no matter how many times I sat through them: Friday the 13th. Jason. Meh. He made me lose my love for hockey and all straight-up slasher types.

But what about Scream, you ask? Well, we all know that was a PARODY and a great SEND UP, far outclassing the original fright-snoozes.

So what in the blazes does this have to do with Hunter Shea's novel?

It's a somewhat generic slasher "film" in an old abandoned resort. The best part is the build-up, the impact and the insanity of the Final Girl who had survived one attempt, only to off-herself and leave her friends scratching their heads, preparing themselves for their own eventual slaughter.

I really wanted to get into this. I'm a fan of this author. He does creature features wonderfully, crazily, and induces many an evil chortle in his readers. This one is of the same quality. It's a great send-up for an oft-tread storyline.

But me? I was bored silly, not able to connect to anyone but the Final dead Girl. Maybe that's to be expected, but I have seen it done well elsewhere.

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