Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Accidental War (Dread Empire's Fall #4)The Accidental War by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is definitely a comfort zone going on here as we return to our favorite heroes that always seem to bounce off each other in interesting ways. The worldbuilding is as familiar and as frustrating as usual, but here we come back to a large spacefaring society having rebuilt after the bloody war of the previous volumes. Seven years in, and neither grand hero has gotten the respect that either deserves.

Indeed, while they thrive, the conservative and staunchly traditional conformist empire severely distrusts anyone with a spark of innovation and desperately wants to get rid of the very people who won the war in the first place.

But of course, nothing is all that direct. Indeed, no direct shots were fired until economic collapse started a blame game that got all the reactionaries out of the woodwork. Soon, the lynch mobs followed.

Humanity is blamed in almost the same way Jews were blamed throughout history.

And the rest IS history.

Great action, very cool, interesting buildup, and desperate odds. A whole galactic empire versus the Humans that used to be an integral part of it.

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Going Postal (Discworld, #33; Moist von Lipwig, #1)Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of all the books in the Discworld series, this is the first one that made me truly go from a fan to a diehard fan. I enjoyed them all, to be sure, but this is the one that made me downright giddy and pleased.

It’s a heist!! Um. Kinda. When a heist meets becoming an avatar for a god of incomplete stories meets confidence trickery meets MAIL DELIVERY.

I mean, this is Discworld. It makes perfect sense. Who other than a successful (albeit caught by Lord V) thief to run the biggest government con job in Discworld?

All hail the Postmaster General. Beloved of all the gods and the crookedest personality in all of Pratchett’s works. :)

So funny, so magical, and so freakishly... real.

If you don’t steal enough, you’re hung as a thief. You steal enough, they call you The Government or a Hero.

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Machines Like MeMachines Like Me by Ian McEwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I risk getting a visit by the author to have my pet nailed to your coffee table, but I call this Science Fiction. He's now an honorary SF author even if he's never read a single SF book. *slow clap*

That being said, let's get down to the merits of this book. It's competent in two ways, but only to a degree.

It details many of the new, well-established concerns for creating real-life AIs without getting bogged down in the minutia of things like creating a truly moral artificial being. Yes, it touches on the morals and especially the ethics of human life, but it seems to be more wrapped up in the loss of agency (like regular humans) rather than actually finding an alternate, machine-friendly, route out of the intellectual messes. The author did bring up the original issue of computer chess and Go and pointed at that very theme for us to take a gander at, but he never followed through.

The other way was more to my liking but in the end, it really didn't have much of a point. I'm talking about the worldbuilding. I really enjoyed a world that still had Alan Turing in it, getting rich and powerful and solving the P versus NP problem. I probably would have had more fun if that was the topic of the story, in fact, and not the well-worn path of "androids -- can they be human?". The alternate history was full of great details and interesting bits, but then, if they don't really serve a purpose (and they really don't in the core of THIS tale), then I wonder why he bothered. Was there supposed to be a different end than this, one that tied everything together? I don't REALLY get the impression that this was a character study.

An ethics study, yes, but not a character study.

Even so, it just boiled down to average people making some questionable decisions, paying for their poor judgment, and us feeling sorry for anyone who lives in the real world. I mean, if superior beings all decide it's better to commit suicide than to have to deal with us, then that's pretty damning, right?

The novel wasn't THAT bad. It's quite average, however, for an SF.

Maybe it'll become a bestseller on the mainstream market.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Conventions of War (Dread Empire's Fall #3)Conventions of War by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This third book, originally conceived as a trilogy, is easily the best. (So far)

Everything about it is extremely satisfying even if it is very frustrating for the two main characters.

The battle on the homeworld, overthrowing the invaders, feels just like a more fantastic, more glorious version of the French Resistance during the WWII occupation, but thanks to the full weight thrown into the economics, the intrigue, great hacking, and the rising up of the population, it happens to work BETTER, IMHO. At least for a coherent story. And I rather cheered throughout it. :)

The battle out in space was no less fun, but I tended to get a bit more frustrated with the Old Praxis way of doing things. Stupidity and tradition do seem to go hand-in-hand, no? So my frustration was always on the side of our dear hero who always had a trick up his sleeve. Gotta love this kind of story. :)

All told, the entire novel is pretty freaking fantastic. My original reservations during the first novel were washed away in the steamroller of the story that came after. :) This is one of the best Space Operas I've read.

I totally recommend THE SERIES. By no means do yourself the disservice of merely reading the first book. :)

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Monday, February 24, 2020

The Sundering (Dread Empire's Fall, #2)The Sundering by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second book in this space opera quadrology really takes off. The first has its fair share of space battles and idiotic commanders and a wealth of character building for our two main heroes, but the second book does them both real justice (thanks to the foundation of the first).

I honestly got rather excited that they might have gotten together. The team seemed rather unbeatable in the face of so much incompetence and tradition-hugging. But where the story went (to hell, basically,) was also pretty great.

There seems to be one enormous plotline that practically all these space operas follow. Idiocy, main characters who aren't idiots, a full crash-course featuring an invasion, and then a long space war that coincides with a lengthy ground siege. Some are written well, some aren't, but this one seems to have all its ducks in a row. I'm invested in both. :)

This series definitely has one of the biggest, most thoroughly thought-out, widest collection of worldbuilding I've seen in a mil-SF. It might not be as amusing as some, as flashy as others, or as deliciously character-oriented as, say, Bujold, but when all these different pieces (and more) come together in a single work, I can't help but be rather impressed.

And I am.

I've read MUCH worse. :)

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Sunday, February 23, 2020

The Praxis (Dread Empire's Fall, #1)The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Surprisingly good. Not freaking fantastic, but really, really good.

Of course, I have to discount the opening which made me want to run and hide, saying, "no, no, this book is so not for me," with all its stuffy space fleet stuff, but once we got into everything else almost immediately after the slog of a beginning, I was hooked.

One really shouldn't judge a whole series based on the first 30 pages. I should know better. And I was right. The life on the planets set me right. We got to see how the rich versus the poor live in a very cool setup that satisfies, we got to get knee-deep in the politics, but what caught me most was the steady, careful worldbuilding. The alien species are interesting, but not as important as the political moves and the attempted coup.

Sound like standard stuff?

Well, here's where it gets kind of interesting. This came out in 2002 and yet I was getting some serious Battlestar Galactica vibes... as in the remake, the gritty terror. And then there was the serious satire and weakness of the ancient military and this one captain's obsession with football that matches the entire fleet's idiocy. And then there was the homage to the end of the Senate in Star Wars, some serious culture vibes that would make it into the later Mass Effect games, and much more.

It's almost like this book inspired all the modern breed of space operas. Not the single-minded pursuit of space opera, but the celebration of all the things surrounding a big space battle while also delivering on that space battle.

For that, I really appreciate the novel. The writing isn't always what I'd call fantastic, but the ideas and the steady inclusion of so many different aspects of SF in general WAS. I enjoyed it quite a lot ever since we got through the opener and actually grew to love it by the end. It snuck up on me. :)



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Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Deathless GirlsThe Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I heard this would be a fleshing out of the so-called "brides" of Dracula written as a YA, I was worried that it would devolve into something a little less dark than what it really came to be.

Thank goodness, right?

There is a rather powerful trend to make vampires less... scary... these days, and building a mystique that lets us approve of these "brides" makes me feel some unease. Fortunately, the core of THIS tale is the brutality of being used and abused on the outskirts of accepted civilization, being a Traveler - or rather, a gypsy - and feeling truly powerless to hold on to your own fate. Rather appropriate. And the love between these two sisters feels very real, too.

The tragedy and subsequent adventure and additional tragedies are not particularly YA but the darkness might have had a bit more depth in general. Bad people were everywhere and only the slaves had redeeming qualities. Maybe that's appropriate for such a short novel and it was nonetheless enjoyable all the way to the end, but I did feel that the finale was RATHER rushed. It doesn't sit all that well with me. Yes, we know that these poor kids were ill-used and I can see why they'd crave power, but all we really get is a hard life and then a fait accompli without hardly any convincing, cajoling, manipulation, or struggle. A million other vampire tales live and breathe (or die) on that premise.

Should I judge this by the best aspects of all those other tales? Is that fair? I don't know, but I'm trusting my gut on this one. The book could have been longer to fit in a much more courageous and interesting end.

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Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the FaunPan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My friend got me a beautifully illustrated version of this book and it has been a delight to fall into this story again. I'm sure a ton of us have seen the original movie.

This book is very much that story.

How does it compare? Well.

Is it as freaking DARK as the original fairy tale? Yes. Scarily so. The sense of oppression, desperation, magic, and YA horror is evident from the beginning and culminates in a true tragedy by the end.

Although some people might see the light and happiness in this, I suppose, I barely see any light at all. It is disturbing and relentlessly evil.

Of course, that could just be the fascism. *shiver*

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Only Begotten DaughterOnly Begotten Daughter by James K. Morrow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hesitate in calling this a satire because it's a highly-charged emotional bomb of a great story IN ADDITION to being some of the cleverest novels of scattershot inversions, sly winks, and outrageously funny situations.

You know, as funny as meeting Jesus in Hell is going to be, serving heroin to the damned in a soup kitchen just before they completely obliterate themselves. Or the realization that Jesus has a sister. A modern one. A true begotten daughter of God. Julie: the one who talks to sponges, gets scolded for performing miracles, gets embroiled in a plot of Satan, and who absolutely ADORES science.

I love Julie. She's so earnest. A good kid. And we get to see her grow up, get into trouble with her alcoholic best friend, save Atlantic City from a conflagration, and send herself to hell for 15 years, voluntarily. Where she gets to know her brother.

The aftermath... ah well, the aftermath is the hard part, emotionally, but what a great read it all is. Almost every line has a freaking SHARP comment to be made on religion and its followers. From the conception of Julie by a Jewish man donating to a sperm bank only to have the authorities freak out because it somehow found an egg in the container, to the anticrucification of the antichrist. Or what God actually turns out to be or where Satan winds up. :)

The text is SHARP.

Sure, we've had a number of classics that skewered religion before, but few do it as regularly and consistently and as cleverly as this one. The real devil is in the details, and this one gets under your skin like the buckshot of a shotgun.

I think, after reading only two of James K. Morrow's books, I've found one of my top favorite authors of all time. :)

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Friday, February 21, 2020

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's SorryMy Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderfully unclassifiable novel that is first and foremost CHARMING.

But if I was to classify it... or rather just list a bunch of things it is or has... I'd say it's about stories within stories, a quirky weird reverse-telling of Red Riding Hood, it's a popular culture nostalgiafest for things like superheroes and Harry Potter and even a bit of Star Wars, it's about death and loss and family and having a personality bigger than life and also making the best of everything that comes your way and believing that there ARE real superheroes in the world and they might be everywhere you look if only you open the door and get to know them.

And that's kinda the point. The book is full of tons of great characters. Sometimes they annoy the hell out of you but more often than not, after UNDERSTANDING them, it's hard to keep hating them. Or keep yourself from that begrudging love that you know you love to hate because it's JUST NOT FAIR that these people can turn around and surprise you by not being complete jerks.

I'm trying to say this is a good book. Despite, or perhaps because, it throws everything it is into this big pile and still charms us into believing it ALL MEANS SOMETHING. :)



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Thursday, February 20, 2020

Alien: EchoAlien: Echo by Mira Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Don't judge. In a universe where we're always the warm, soft fleshbags, a perfect breeding ground for natural born killers, there's GOTTA be an upside. Right?

Well, here's the formula: Get yourself all cozy with family. Develop all those characters, make them interesting. Give them flaws, give them a little, but not too much angst. Make it YA with a TON of hormones and crushing and even give them a chance to invite all the kids over for a little party out in the boonies of this colony world while the folks are called away on a special bonus mission to check out that derelict spaceship... And wait for the ovipositors, the bloodbath, and the wickedly funny physical humor that ought to be horrific but is generally just awesome.

This is an Alien novel, folks. It also happens to be written by one of my favorite authors. Maybe it accounts for why I never lost interest in the tale or why I was so smitten by the characters. Granted, I wasn't all that smitten with the love interest, but with the sisters? I would die for them. :)

This one, for all the normal horror formula, is written well enough, has enough emotional impact for me, that I might call it my favorite of the whole Alien Franchise. It helps that the biological know-how got included. As did some of the more interesting aspects of the other stories (movies or otherwise). But most importantly, there were a few minor twists that I adored and one single twist that I ABSOLUTELY LOVED.

No spoilers. But it's definitely worth the admission price.


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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Dispel Illusion (Impossible Times, #3)Dispel Illusion by Mark Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a fantastic end to this time-travel SF trilogy!

Each volume gives us a firm grounding in these friends' cool D&D sessions and twists the events into very clever plots full of deception, imperfect memory, and time-paradox filled with the possibility of entire lost universes. Of course, it's not a good D&D session without REALLY high stakes, right?

But as this particular title implies, there may... or may not... be a lot of deception going on within the pages. Of course, revealing the spell, the purpose of this spell, or the number of people involved in this spell is forbidden, and not least because of the master illusionist at the top of the Tower of Trickery...

Muahahahahaha

I love the way this novel brings together all the pages of all three novels and gives us all a much more complete and delicious wrap-up and explanation for all the events.

It's definitely one of the best time-travel paradox-defying novels I've read. And it is DEFINITELY one of the most fun.



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A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent, #1)A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I'm in love with this book. No... I know it. :)

I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't a call-back to the early days of science when the practitioners called themselves Naturalists, being well-funded amateurs and Lords (Or Ladies!) striking out into the wide world for the simple pleasure of learning, discovery, and adventure.

Maybe I should have expected that. But then, maybe I shouldn't have expected it to be charming, totally delightful, emotionally rewarding, smart, and witty... but then, I did get that, too.

But the real kicker? I was caught and dipped in vinegar the very moment that we began wondering whether dragons had wishbones. The total love of books, the frustration that women with talent and drive always experience when they're told they're not allowed in certain fields, and the utter DEMAND one puts on oneself to succeed at all costs... well, THIS is what preserved me.

Great observations, charmingly told, this is almost like Indiana Jones with Dragons as written by a wonderfully quirky woman with a sharp eye. I can't recommend this enough.


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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tooth and ClawTooth and Claw by Jo Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This complex novel finally answers the age-old question of what would a Regency-Era romance look like if all the characters were dragons.

No, this isn't a Novak novel. This came out before. Indeed, this was popular enough to win the World Fantasy Award and it is well-deserved.

Far from being a gimmick, the core 'tail' tackles all the original Austen-like social criticisms such as inheritance law, marriage customs, a Pride and Prejudice level of anxiety, quips, and misunderstandings, the full issue of religious practice, slavery, and it even drags the Regency into a modern-era level of Equality.

As a novel about Dragons.

Hell, it succeeds on both levels. If you love Regency novels and you love dragons, I'm certain you and this novel are going to get along famously.

I particularly liked the inheritance issue. I mean, the peeps in England never LITERALLY let their families eat old, dear papa... :)



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Monday, February 17, 2020

Giovanni’s RoomGiovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one slick piece of writing. Like whiskey, this tale of universal love, desire, and the boxes we put ourselves in burns as it goes down, but like most fires of love, when it comes back up, it's very messy.

Of course, I could be talking about any kind of romance novel, but this one is special because it is written by a master of prose, it came out in the '50s, and it is a classic of gay literature. Or is it?

I don't know.

The writing transcends sexual orientation, the color of his skin (black), and dives right into the heart of what it means to be trapped. Trapped by love, by expectations, by poverty, by the community, or by your own pig-headedness.

Suffice to say, it's rather universal. I'm sure lots of people might raise their hands and say this is one of THE seminal pieces of black literature or gay literature, but I just see it as great literature. :)

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ResurgenceResurgence by C.J. Cherryh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm usually the one to start raving at the wonderful worldbuilding, complex politics, and absolutely fantastic detailed alien psychology and how it conflicts with human psychology in these Foreigner books. Normally, I'd be excited as hell to pick up the next book and find out if the mainland is finally getting its crap together, see if the refugee humans are settling in, whether the human island is safe at last, or ANY NUMBER of possible combinations, including more space-travel, a third alien incursion, or long-separated humans arriving to make a mess of everything that everyone else has worked SO HARD to find a balance with.

And it's a testament to a writer who can STILL make such complexities INTERESTING over such a long haul.

Hell, even this book kept my interest the entire time, with all the focus on a little naughty animal and giving him away to a shelter, endless cycles of tea, meeting with a barely-remembered mischievous lord from a conflict-ridden province, and a seemingly endless number of passages of straight exposition to remind us, readers, the lay of the political landscape.

Okay. Maybe I got a little tired of the exposition. A lot of it is necessary, to be sure, but it could have been summed up or put into the story in such a way that it didn't drag on so much.

And then there was the other problem I had with the book:

Nothing happened.

In the other recent books, there was at least the storming of the Assassin's Guild or retaking the capital or running through the countryside. This one? Some guerilla action near the end? Action that didn't progress much of any plot? It's almost like this book was supposed to be twice as long with something really JUICY happening during the second half, but the publishers chopped it in half without looking at the contents.

Plenty of build-ups. No payoffs.

And yet, I still ENJOYED the writing. It's always like coming home when I pick up this series. I know and love everyone. I just wish I didn't catch them all on their day off.

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Sunday, February 16, 2020

GlimpsesGlimpses by Lewis Shiner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was already on board with this novel when I knew it was an exploration of music nostalgia and What-Could-Have-Been with certain albums by giants, from Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, or Jimi Hendrix.

Let's skip big events in the whole time-travel setup and move right into ART. Culture. The meaning of what particular pieces could mean for us all. How music still has the power to change the world.

If ONLY some of these ALMOST albums had been made...

Yeah. I was right there. Totally on board.

But if that had been all there was to this novel, I'm absolutely sure that it wouldn't have been half as good or as emotional or self-reflective if we hadn't gotten to know Ray... the man working on the old demo sessions, his failing marriage, his alcoholism, and his relationship with his dead father.

This IS a nostalgia novel, by all means, but it's also a rather awesome novel of obsessions, working through issues, and learning to grow. And I don't think that could have happened without his music obsession. The whole time-travel, helping the young musicians work through their own problems or nudge them in just the right way to help them MAKE those lost albums and even make some money by "restoring" them in the present-day early '90s is only a side-story.

I loved the mirroring of self-to-artist and the push to grow despite all the baggage that holds us back. It was not only charming... but edifying. :)

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Saturday, February 15, 2020

Tin MenTin Men by Christopher Golden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did like this book very much for several reasons: the device of using robots for remote interactions... or rather, full-out “peacekeeping” wars sponsored by the United States... brings up a very cool topic of responsibility, immediacy and especially morality.

When you’re more powerful than anyone and you don’t ever need to fear losing your life, there’s very little to hold you back from being a bully.

No matter your initial rationale, the slide is real. This is where the book begins, but thanks to a new kind of attack that upsets the balance of power, we get a pretty awesome Mil-SF adventure with lots of intrigue, fighting, and questions of might vs right.

So why do I only give this three stars?

Politics.

I would have loved it if there had been some real and detailed locations with real political factions and real multi-layered reasons for the fighting. Instead, we just get “anarchists”. WTF. It’s like the ultimate cop-out and generic bogeyman in writing, and yet, the novel starts out with honest humanization of the people in these occupied territories. We get the idea that these Tin Men are too removed and would be better off actually understanding the people they terrorize.

It starts out so strong.

And yet, the antagonists simply devolve into a pretty faceless mob that started out with genuine grievances and end as only “The Enemy”.

Let’s save the leaders, mourn our dead, and hate the anarchists! ......

What happened to the discussion of power differentials? Bullies? I guess the anarchists killed them.

*sigh*




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Sit, Stay, Love (Rescue Me #2)Sit, Stay, Love by Debbie Burns
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is pretty much a cookie-cutter romance with a haunted ex-military man and an unsure, perhaps even low self-esteem woman who fall into each other's arms while training ex-dogfight rescues.

I admit I read it mostly because it tugs on those doggie heartstrings. The rest was sugary-sweet and TOTALLY wish-fulfillment dreamstuff.

I could go into all the amazing HEA coincidences and even more amazing windfalls, but I really can't be all that surprised by ANY of it. Not really. It's a fantasy. A fantasy that includes tons of doggies, a wonderful rescue named Franky, a cat that behaves just like a cat, and a really comforting family-oriented house-fixing.

For what it is... it's comforting. Did I get bent out of shape by it? No. It was a fine Valentine's Day read.

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Friday, February 14, 2020

The StandThe Stand by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was slightly anxious to jump into my second read of The Stand, but after having read most of his other novels, often having read them twice, I figured I was up for the challenge.

Of course, the challenge is not in the length. It's easy to assume that might be the case, considering that it has well over a thousand pages, but no. It's Stephen King. It rambles, it rolls, and it often rocks. And for many people, the assumption is that this is King's best, most epic work, so there's obviously a LOT of forgiveness going on here.

What? Do I sound like I'm leading up to a bit of CRITICISM of The STAND?

Maybe. A little.

For a book originally released the same year as Niven/Pournelle's Lucifer's Hammer, reworked more than a decade later with an extra novel's worth of text, it is still an apocalyptic SF following a long tradition that echoes On The Beach. It's darker than most that came before but pretty on cue for Niven/Pournelle's vision.

One thing that King does really well is characters. I have to admit I'll always give him the biggest prizes for his people. I really appreciate the huge distinctions between decent folk and the other kind. It's obvious he supports a wide, wide cast of all kinds of people, strong and weak of each sex, crazies on both sides of the good/evil divide, and he makes no bones about letting people die for all sorts of good or plain lousy causes. It's FUN. I mean, why else would you want to read a book where 99.4% of the population dies horribly in a super-flu only to watch them go nuts on themselves and whittle down the gene pool even more?

So what's my problem?

Some themes haven't aged well.

We've already had a long, long run of about fourteen billion novels, tv shows, movies, and even music albums giving us the whole Christ motif. Epic battles of Good Versus Evil. Just because King does the same thing but slightly better than the smug, self-righteous masses doesn't mean that my enjoyment isn't marred by the eye-rolling heavy-handedness of the whole schtick.

"But what about Flagg!", you ask?

Yep, he's pretty wicked and cool. I still just got the impression that Walter/Man in Black/Martin was just playing a silly video game in a shadow-world where nothing mattered but his desire to watch all the bugs scurry around and eat themselves. In Wizard and Glass, he's simply whimsical about the world that died. His whole part in the tragedy is played off like a homage to Baum. He's never more evil and crazy than he is in The Stand, but then, he's nothing more than a projection, a shadow. And this version of the Earth, at least in the terms of the Dark Tower, is also nothing more than a shadow.

It's sobering. The biggest themes in The Stand basically say trust in God. Don't think. Just do whatever silly thing comes to you in a vision. All things serve the Beam. Yup. If it wasn't for this and most (but not all) of the supernatural elements that conveniently or explicitly tied up this work in a genuine Deus Ex Machina, I probably would have given it a glowing five stars. It is OVERFLOWING with great characters and situations.

It didn't age as well as I had hoped.

Unfortunately, I prefer MOST of SK's other works over this one.



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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

FirewalkersFirewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first review on GR! :)

I was pretty thrilled to get the copy on Netgalley. So much so that I had to read it the same day. Am I nuts? Or am I just a Firewalker at heart?

Gritty, depressing, and like a Hobbsian nightmare, these people live in a hothouse city on life support, barely kept alive because it is the base and the tether to the orbiting space station. Its people barely scrape by while the Roach Motel that takes in all the dignitaries and the rich are kept in Air Conditioned luxury.

Sounds rather familiar. Doesn't it? Well, Firewalkers are the ragged teams of poverty-ridden go-getters that fix the things that not even the robots can fix. They are the ones that get things working, but they're expendable and most of these young kids never come back from the near-apocalyptic desert surrounding the town.

The context is emotionally painful and takes up a large portion of the character building, but it's when the novella takes off into the wild that I was most thrilled.

I loved the tight team. I LOVED all the discoveries. No spoilers, but damn, Tchaikovsky has a huge fascination with creepy crawlies and programmed personalities, no?

The adventure is large, the stakes larger, and the end was super satisfying. I'm super glad I got my greedy hands on it.

'Nuff said.

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Agency (The Peripheral #2)Agency by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you were a fan of The Peripheral when it first came out, I'm certain you will also be a fan of this sequel. Reading the other is NOT required, however.

In fact, for a great deal of this novel, it's just a fun ride with an AI and a lot of time spent with drones. The AI is NOT your average superpower, but an uploaded mind/AI hybrid based on ad-hoc technologies designed to be a normal, average APP. :) Of course, when the App gets alpha-tested, it slips its leash and the rest, as they say, is history.

Or is it?

Because the world of the Peripheral, and this one, is a story of additional time-lines. Of a future that has gone busted but still tries to reach back and solve some of the major problems of ours even though they won't be able to make a change on their own. Yeah. I know. Selfless behavior. WEIRD. But it makes for a very interesting tale.

And I admit I got a little lost in places. The cool details and the bits about WHERE we went all wrong in 2016 are both humorous and sometimes a bit odd, but overall it blends quite nicely with our prejudices.

The places where the story is full of action and intrigue are my favorites. I was MOSTLY interested in the cool future and current tech. Everything else was pretty much on par with all modern William Gibson, however, and old fans will still enjoy it. :)



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Monday, February 10, 2020

Daisy Jones & The SixDaisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Big disclaimer here: I am a huge fan of music. So anything like this kind of novel is going to get me revved up without having to come close to being well-written or gorgeous or anything. Kind of like horror. You know it might be painful, but you dive right in because this is what you've always done with certain genres that you're giddy about.

And there's PLENTY to be giddy about in Daisy Jones and The Six.

For me, it felt like the HUGE drama of Fleetwood Mac, with Buckingham and Nicks front and center as Billy and Daisy. It also felt like the creative drama in Pink Floyd between Gilmour and Waters. There was even a bit of the feel of Led Zeppelin's tragic Bonham.

But you know that tragic crazy love story that isn't a love story but a CREATIVE story that gets dragged through the mud with all the longing and the drugs and the Rock-and-Roll? The sheer power of art doing things that should never have gotten this big except by sheer dumb luck and talent?

THAT is the real core of this story.

Forgive me. I've got a hitch in my throat. It's just *waves hands over face* too emotional.

:)

Yes, this is absolutely, balls-to-the-wall, Rock Nostalgia. I was freaking four years old when this fictional drama would have been going on. BUT I DON'T CARE. I love music and I'm sure a great deal of you out there ARE AS WELL.

This is also YOUR book. :)

Get your s**t together and read it.

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Sunday, February 9, 2020

OsamaOsama by Lavie Tidhar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Osama is one of those novels that keep on surprising me long into the reading. It FEELS like a noir with some really cool easter eggs. What sets this one apart from most noirs is the fact that this is in an alternate dimension.

Coolness already. But when we're dealing with an easter egg like an enigmatic novel named Osama, based on a revolutionary vigilante hero Osama Bin Laden, things get... weird.

Never too weird or too quick, this mystery only gets deeper and stranger when we dive into the worldbuilding. Fascinating, in-depth worldbuilding. Rather obscure turning points in history, deeper explorations of culture, and here's a really good tidbit: Vigilante justice conventions. You know. Like comic-cons, with panels, guest stars, discussions, but all about real-life vigilantes. Like Osama, who is a hero here.

One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

But most of this novel takes place in England! It's freaky! Disturbing. Very reminiscent of Man in the High Castle. But in some ways, it's BETTER than PKD's novel. It has more to say, better pacing, and a super-addictive noir style for all you mystery fans.

Of course, when we start bleeding into another universe... all bets are off. Things get very interesting indeed.

Hello, world. :)


I'm quite impressed with this novel. Lots of food for thought.

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Mr. ThursdayMr. Thursday by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I definitely get the feeling that this is Literary SF.

You know, the kind that uses average characters but pumps them up with mini-stories and obsessions and drives that are very grounded in the real world and do it much longer than the Genre-standard but then add ONE SF element to make it spin in an entirely different direction?

So. The good: I like subtlety. The three characters are caught in a weird loop and I'm pretty certain that it's all about those damn butterfly wings. Everything that is done to prevent the thing actually causes the thing, but this point is extremely subtle and others might disagree with me.

That's the thing about literary stuff.

The bad: A lot of literary stuff focuses on normal folks with normal obsessions or workarounds in lives that have gone wrong. It usually conflates them to a grand degree but we're supposed to fall into the depth of the normal, average scenes to get invested in these characters. Mandel succeeds with this for the most part but I personally get kinda annoyed at the whole Literary scene for pulling these stunts in the first place.

And then when we DO get the third part and it's all SF, we're supposed to wonder at this one little comment at the bar, regarding the time traveler, that makes me think he MIGHT be some kind of future corporate legal thief of the past, but then I think he's just in love, but then he just starts questioning everything he's doing...

And the payoff is kinda lame.

Literary, sure, and made to make you THINK about all these subtleties, but ultimately, it's still lame.

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The Empress of Salt and FortuneThe Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm always on the lookout for writers who are getting people excited, and this one graced my radar several times before I was able to grab her on Netgalley.

This one has some really cool setting descriptions (evocative and colorful), excellent use of object descriptions (telling very understated stories that branch much deeper than first implications), and some very cool points of subtlety in the telling of a much larger story.

In a nutshell, we hear the story of an exiled princess in a Chinese-like high-fantasy dynasty and we see how she got power in a male-dominated world. But again, the story is subtle and prefers to keep a mild face throughout.

I enjoyed all of this quite a bit.

There are also some pretty wonderful non-binary characters, but it's not like we should judge this novella based on whether it is non-binary or LGBTQ...

Right?

Let me be honest. This novella is not that new. I've read some rather wonderful Guy Gavriel Kay novels recently that is just as evocative, set in similar situations, with as much High Fantasy ethos, culture, and it punched me with many subtle punches. I felt for both the females and the males. LGBTQ and straights.

Kim Stanley Robinson has also pulled off something as wonderful in Years of Rice and Salt.

I can probably rattle off half a dozen shorter works from the last two years alone and more than two dozen LGBTQ novellas that are coming nearly exclusively from several notable venues, all of which tout that we're FINALLY getting LGBTQ stories... and yet it almost feels like EVERY story I read that is published today is ONLY LGBTQ.

Am I a hater?

Hell no. But let's put it this way: if any market is glutted with a particular agenda, then one cannot accurately say that they're FINALLY getting a voice. Back around 2000, it was unusual. Now? Well, out of every recent modern book I've read, approximately 9/10 are LGBTQ. When did diversity come to mean exclusivity?

And if you ask why I'm bringing this up here and now, I want to be clear that I'm not coming down on the author. I'm going to read more of her work. The finger I'm pointing at is the industry and the fans who stoke their own anger at society by removing equality from the playing field in the name of diversity and then come back to tell us all that things have been unfair for far too long.

I have a very strong sense of fairness. This isn't the author's fault. I suppose I'm drowning a bit in the fact that there is LGBTQ everywhere I look.

That being said, returning to this novella, I really DID enjoy it, but there is already a lot of SilkPunk out here. This one is one of the more subtle of the breed but it isn't all that original. It stands on the shoulders of many previous storytellers.

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass, #7)Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, I have to admit that I had a good time with this book in particular and the full series as a whole.

I don't think I'll ever call this the BEST series, however. It does fairly well with the characters but it does better with how all these many, many characters interact. Maas has a gift for giving a wide cast its full due.

The magics and the over-worldbuilding are handled quite well and while the originality may not be anything spectacular, it is handled in a very solid, very vivid manner. If the series was a food, it would be a big chocolate cake baked to perfection. There's nothing original about the cake, but it tastes good and it feels good and sometimes you might get a little carried away with it and you might get a stomach ache.

I'm thinking about all the many, many, many sappy romance scenes.

Ah, so be it. There's a little bit of everything in here. Bloodlust, epic battles, massive magic, gods, and a near-perfect payoff. The novel not only functions to give us all that perfect landing, but it also happens to shade itself in a TON of references to JRRT's Return of the King.

That's nice if you don't mind the blatant nods left and right to lend that certain AIR of legitimacy, and for the most part, I didn't care. It was all pleasant enough and respectful enough that I just can't get worked up about it.

No.

This series isn't one for the history books, but it gives its readers a lot of familiar tropes and does them very well. I had a good time. Of course, I may not remember much of anything that happened a year from now because there really wasn't anything that STOOD OUT compared to any of the other epic fantasies I've read, but that's OKAY.

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Friday, February 7, 2020

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower, #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Want to see the spoilers? Go here:

Full Review



So. I've been sitting here staring at this screen for about 2 hours after finishing The Dark Tower. It was pretty touch-and-go for a bit.

I couldn't see much through the tears.

But I'm back now. It's not like this is the first time I read the book. I had a book hangover then, also, but I think I'm recovering slightly better than that last time.

I'm afraid I can't say ANYTHING about this book without going into spoiler territory. It's brilliant and it's epic, of course, and it keeps blowing my mind over and over and over again right before it tears out my heart and stamps all over it again and again and again... but by the end, I'm saying to myself,

"Go then, there are other worlds than these..."

(view spoiler)

And with that, I beg your pardon. That I do.

I needed to say something REAL about this book that affected me soooo damn much. Still affects me. It's one of the most brilliant works I've ever read, together with the rest of the cycle.

Sure, there are some things that aren't all that good, but EVERYTHING SERVES THE BEAM. And the beam, the Dark Tower itself, is GOOD. For all the things I could complain about, the really awesome aspects FAR OUTWEIGH the bad... and so much so that I'm left giddy and lost in tears.

Say what you will, but these books are something truly memorable.

One more thing:

(view spoiler)


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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Tower of Dawn (Throne of Glass, #6)Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's pretty funny because I keep going into all these Sarah J. Maas books expecting to dislike it for some or maybe all the reasons I an come up with. I mean, it just FEELS like it should be ridiculed if not put on a pedestal because it's so much GIRL POWER, you know? Like it should be some kind of trendy whatnot that will be quickly forgotten once all the rabid fans have tired of it.

And yet.

Sigh. I keep liking these books MORE each time I get to the next in the series. This one, in particular, is an odd duck. It's just side-characters! Chaol, anyone? I mean, sure, he was pretty big in the story until he lost it when his favorite assassin princess blew his mind, but then he's been pretty much out of all the Big Epic Story since then. Until now.

And what do we have?

A slowed-down tale, but well-written. Don't laugh, ya'll, but this is totally a soap opera novel. Can you say Romance between the misunderstood hospital patient and the nurse with a grudge? I can. And I will. I mean, sure this starts out as a fishing expedition to get more support for the assassin's righteous war, but it quickly becomes nothing more than physical therapy sessions and a bit of deep, deep healing for poor Chaol. His healer has her issues, too, and golly she's mean, but as I said, this is a SOAP OPERA.

It also happened to be rather fun. A nice change of pace. The extra reveals regarding the much larger plotlines were solid and the side story among the wyvern tribes and the spiders was a great change from all the sweaty, sexy, nurse-action going on.

But above all, this entire book was a nice change of pace from THE REST OF THE SERIES. It just goes to show that Maas can mix it up. :)

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Monday, February 3, 2020

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is much more wonderful the second time around. Who knows, maybe it'll jump another notch by the third or the fourth. :)

This is a series that only gets better when you're swimming in the massive loads of details that combine Stephen King's life, the amazing worldbuilding of his bibliography, and add the little idea that Stephen King has put his SOUL into the DT.

What do I mean by that? Well, by his own admission, this is his magnum opus, his breathtaking, soul-stealing epic that ties together the grand majority of his separate novels and short stories and gives us a whole cosmology wrapped in an awesomely tight story that not only shits all over anyone's ideas of standard genres, but revels in breaking EVERY genre it can get its greedy little hands on.

In other words: this is a master storyteller's story. Few writers could get away with publishing this OR getting away with all the things he gets away with.

Do you really think that Roland is hoofing it to a huge dark tower in the distance?

Well, yeah, he is, but first, we've got to deal with the multiverse, super high-technology with AI's, multidimensional travel, the forced entropy of every universe, and the fate of a rose, an author, a ball in a bowling bag, and the number 19. Sound strange? Well, add a shootout, car accidents, the trials of motherhood with multiple personalities, and the snickity snack of cutlery and the call for long pork!

Does that sound strange?

This book mostly takes place in modern New York City.

Kinda interesting for a Ka-Tet used to a high-tech/fantasy wasteland that is really just a western, no?

But the most interesting part is something I will not spoil for those who have not read it. This joy is a really, really big joy. The references to King's life, his works, his favorite music, and his fears are all probably the things that gave me the most shivers. The most awe. And definitely the most laughter.

Is this series the most personal of the author's works?

Yes. And we are Well Met. Well Met indeed.

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Nils: The Tree of LifeNils: The Tree of Life by Jérôme Hamon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was initially drawn to this because of the drawings. As I read, I still think the very best part of this graphic novel IS the art. It tells much more story than any of the words.

Is that bad? Well, possibly, if the words don't amount to that much character building or emotional connection. Indeed, the greatest portion revolves around technical worldbuilding that's about as creative as any number of Japanese video game ideas or even feeling like a Nordic version of Final Fantasy or one of the early Miyazaki films (Nausicaa).

I really WANT to like all of that. I've always liked these kinds of themes. Tree of Life, yo! Spirits of the dead and of Life itself!

So what happened? Why didn't I like it more?

I believe that you must love the characters, ease into them, establish them firmly before trying to go all out with the cool tragedies or big magics. There was little enough meat, here, to enjoy. Things happened and then other things happened and then a really big twist that came out of freaking nowhere changed the entire tone of the entire comic and while the RESULTS were cool, the JUSTIFICATION was really bad.

I'm almost of the opinion that we could practically wipe out all the TEXT and have all the artwork carry the entire tale. It was very strong. Maybe not perfect, but really gorgeous art.


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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass, #5)Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Color me surprised. Or rather, shocked. Or frozen. Or a bit inflamed.

Either way, I am surrounded by a bunch of water and it's full of dead bodies.

There's a lot of cutesy romance that I didn't mind all that much or much at all, but I really liked the political wrangling, the subterfuges, the glorious battles, and magical maelstroms. And believe it or not, I really enjoyed all the female side characters. It's just the BOYS that are somewhat annoying. And before you call me on calling them BOYS, I'm well aware that there are few of them under 500 years old.

... they're still boys.

The plot is probably my favorite part. Honestly. This might be the best of the series. :)

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Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Dark Tower: Battle of Jericho HillThe Dark Tower: Battle of Jericho Hill by Robin Furth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume comes with a TON of sadness.

Gorgeous art, as always, but it's hard to see all of one's friends die on the battlefield. This should have been the end of all the gunslingers and Roland as well.

At least we now have the final, horrific bridge between his hard youth and the beginning of his long wandering and his quest for the Dark Tower.

*shiver*

This one was well met. Well met, indeed.

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