Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Curse of Tenth Grave (Charley Davidson, #10)The Curse of Tenth Grave by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel may be my favorite of the whole bunch.

Of course, that might just be because of the whole New York purgatory bit. Am I the only one who thinks that getting out of there, getting back to Albuquerque felt SO RIGHT?

It was okay, but this one was awesome. Now we've unlocked some OP powers, some really fantastical and magical booty-calls, and we get many cool new reveals of cosmic proportions. Even the temporary plot feels more interesting when propped up against the big stuff.

:) Okay, I'm a big fan of Arc-plots. :) I live for big setups and better payoffs. This one has both.

And it's quirky. Win/win. :)

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The House in the Cerulean SeaThe House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

While there are many similarities to, say, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children series, this new book may be, in some rather startling ways, superior to both.

Sure, some magic is better with Riggs and some of the worldbuilding in McGuire is better, but when it comes down to the bare-bones core of a story, it lives, breathes, and dies on the voice, the changes, and the sheer charm of its text.

This one is simply charming. Charming in a way that made me break down in tears.

The romance aspect is sweet. Don't get me wrong. But the majority of the story wasn't about a romance.

It was about children -- bitter, damaged, but healing children -- but who are, above all, still children.

Linus, a grey and almost lifeless cog in the greater orphanage machine, is chosen, for those very qualities, to observe and make recommendations as to whether a very special orphanage is to be shut down. The colorful characters there suffer at the hands of prejudice, of course, and getting to know them is the core of this novel.

Of course, it's the WRITING that makes this particular tale. Linus has always had a particularly open outlook on life despite the greyness of his world before, and it was like he had always been waiting for the right set of circumstances to make him come alive. This is, after all, a novel of transformation, and it works in both directions. :)

I cried. Honestly. The book brought me to tears.

I can't give it higher praise than that it evoked honest tears of love and joy. :)

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Fantastic Mr. FoxFantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It turns out that my kid and I are both Dahl fans. Not uber-fans, but we usually always have a pretty good time every time we crack a book.

THIS IS A GOOD THING. We didn't have that great a time with Narnia. Give us Gaiman, give us Dahl, and even give us Dickens, but Please, No Thank You to Lewis. :)

High points of Mr. Fox:

The bad guys look and sound not like farmers, but bankers. We have a full redistribution of wealth scheme going on here... maybe not so much Communism as it is a garden variety Socialist societal setup told within a simple tale digging holes and getting one's tail shot off.

Fortunately, it's not THAT dry. In fact, I was pretty amused to see just how much hard liquor is downed by all. I mean, it's not just theft and murder we're talking about -- but the full-on drunken debaucheries of the proletariat... FOR the proletariat!

Read it if you don't believe me. :)


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The Dirt on Ninth Grave (Charley Davidson, #9)The Dirt on Ninth Grave by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After the doozy of the prior book, it's not so surprising that Charley needed to hit the reset button. OR that Darynda had to hit the reset button.

This is a light-ish UF even though we deal with the dead and ghosts wanting to get closure and Satan's son is a big squeeze, etc., but when you tip over into the OP category, there has to be some kind of counterbalance.

As long as I don't come across THIS particular counterbalance *coughamnesiacough* too often in my reading, I let it slide because it IS awfully convenient and it CAN be an interesting track to take as we find out all the things about our favorite characters all over again.

Or just plain START AGAIN.

And this is where we are in this book. I've seen this trope done dozens of times -- or more, if you include all the movies and tv shows -- and I've seen it done BETTER than this.

And yet, I'm not playing a comparison game. Did THIS book manage to entertain me?

Yes, yes, and yes. All the snark is here and the slow reveals are all fully expected and comfortable as hell. Even the *deep and abiding sadness* is all just a silly joke to the reader because... let's face it: we know things turn out well in the end.

This is comfort food. There's no other way to describe it.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Eighth Grave After Dark (Charley Davidson, #8)Eighth Grave After Dark by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A solid middle book in the series, but it suffers from the dullness that always seems to creep around whenever any main character gets preggers and they're supposed to be cramped in some claustrophobic location or suffer the whole "being ripped to shreds by supernatural nasties" trope.

Fortunately, both the baby bounces out and the isolation ends, but what carries the tale is -- as usual -- the interpersonal quirkiness, her best friend's wedding, the hot pregger sex, and the proxy investigations.

I never had a bad time during the read despite the possibility it might have been dull. It helps that all the great Albuquerque references remain intact, even if minds do not. :)

Still, what an interesting conclusion, no?

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Some Remarks: Essays and Other WritingSome Remarks: Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There's no other way to put this:

It's a grab-bag.

You have no choice what has been put in it and sometimes it's a few truly awesome short stories and sometimes it's an interview or two and sometimes it's light, almost spur of the moment ramblings and sometimes it's an in-depth essay (through Wired) the delves (or dives) deep into the history, present, and future of undersea data cables.

For some reason I can't quite fathom, my mind keeps swimming around the traveling hacker bits. On the one hand, I thought a great deal of it was delightfully quirky and it gives us a real backbone to the internet at large, from a physical perspective, but on the other hand, I thought it was JUST TOO LONG.

Not everyone is going to have the same mileage with it. I'm generally quite patient with tech stuff and it fascinated me to a certain point until I was just -- okay already, I'd love to have a story now. ;)

Here are some freaking fantastic highlights tho:

The fight between Neal Stephenson and William Gibson! Epic!

The debate between Vegging-out and Geeking-out.

Genre talk, book talk, book talk, and more book talk. :)

But those short stories? Damn... they got me going. And the unpublished book he said he would never finish? GAAAAHHHH!

I WANT MY SERIAL MURDERER IN THE SHIRE!

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Making Money (Discworld, #36; Moist Von Lipwig, #2)Making Money by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Out of all the recent -- or perhaps going back to the very start -- Discworld books, there has never been one that struck right to the core absurdity of our world more than this one.

Maybe that's just me. Or maybe I just find money outrageously funny.

It's probably just me.

Regardless of my little foible, Pratchett strikes to the heart of the matter, making fun of the gold standard and illustrating to us the absurdity of the IDEA of money, while all the while giving us golems, golden suits, clown guilds, a dog who runs a bank, and a very interesting con-man who keeps finding himself in bigger and brighter boiling vats of oil.

This might be one of my very favorite Discworlds. :)



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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The CroningThe Croning by Laird Barron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first Laird Barron and it will not be my last. In fact, I'm very excited to grab anything else he's written for all kinds of reasons: beautiful prose, a creepy old-school horror mastery that straddles the lines between haunting images, idyllic life, and mind-destroying terror.

Indeed, I fell down the rabbit hole of this fantastic exploration of an *obviously* wrong interpretation of the Hollow Earth theory. I got caught up trying to piece together the many different time periods, the cross-sections of a single lifetime. The horror aspects were awesome but it was the mystery that kept me coming back.

How could everything return to normal? Again and again? What is the truth? Or better yet... how is the truth?

It's easy to wave a hand and say this is a Cthuhlu-ish tale. It's more interesting to call this a really dark retelling of Rumplestiltskin. But what is the truth?

This is a wonderfully dark and beautifully written work of cosmic terror couched as an idyllic life well lived... with strange gaps. :)

No spoilers, but I should mention that I guffawed and rubbed my hands by the end. :)

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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Fire Next TimeThe Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, I was turned on to James Baldwin and specifically The Fire Next Time.

For very obvious reasons. Both are written the same way, deal with many of the same themes if not the same examples, and they're both written in a way that makes me feel like I'm the one it's written for. Gently, with love, consideration, and not a little wallop of anger against those who are perceived bad, but to the whole situation and how everyone deserves a small modicum of pity.

We are what we do, after all. We are as we are taught. It's up to all of us to think critically and don't ignore inconvenient facts.

In a lot of ways, this personal memoir-ish work of nonfiction is old-school. A lot of us have already internalized most of its teachings. But that shouldn't be so surprising... most of it is pretty universal and obvious. That's including the inherent anger.

A lot of us feel this way and it doesn't matter what your skin color is. The setup is just rotten.

The question is: where do we go from here?

I agree with Baldwin's sentiment: Understanding. It doesn't mean agreement, but it sure as hell means empathy.

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The Third ManThe Third Man by Graham Greene
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I suppose I shouldn't be all that surprised that Graham Greene's novella, (yes, the Orson Welles movie) was a very well-written and tight mystery/thriller.

I am surprised, however, at how relevant and interesting it is after all these years.

It's tight, interesting, fast-paced, and often surprising. But above all, it grabs you. :) It also happens to accomplish a ton in a short time, doesn't digress forever in weird, inconsequential directions, and it kinda shames a lot of the modern thriller models. :)

It makes me wonder if I ought to go on a true Noir kick and see just how good they really were... or if this just happens to be a truffle among pigs. :)


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Monday, May 25, 2020

Immortal in Death (In Death, #3)Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Okay. So. I'm trying to get into this the way that so many others seem to have gotten into it, but it just has a certain vibe to it. Not a bad vibe, but an AVERAGE vibe. The mysteries aren't anything special. We get similar police procedurals on tv anywhere you look. The romance isn't special. It's wish-fulfillment on a grand scale: a perfect bad rich boy who is absolutely one dimensional in his love for the emotionally damaged police heroine.

We aren't really supposed to ask why. You know. Chemistry, et al.

So what is this book really about? Wedding preparations and saving a friend from a murder rap. And more wedding preparations than saving her friend from a murder rap. And hot sex. And more wedding preparations.

Hmmm okay.

The SF in this is on par with a plopping in a random Star Wars droid and making the MC make a snide comment the way Harrison Ford was likely to do. Other than that, I can't really say this IS SF at all.

I'm not feeling it. I mean, sure, if all I wanted was a lightly decorated HEA among a few dead bodies and easy mysteries, then this is probably right up my alley. But really, it feels like it could be a straight-on cookie cutter from here on out.

Please, someone, tell me I'm wrong and I may continue on.

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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Social Engineering: The Art of Human HackingSocial Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking by Christopher Hadnagy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a pretty good white-hat breakdown of techniques that exploit the more psychological aspects of hacking.

Indeed, while it does go into some really decent detail focusing on awareness of methods, it really shines in highlighting how one might go into business as an Auditor, themselves.

All in all, it is the modern confidence game. You've got thieves and thief-takers. You've got an amazing variety of people out there that simply don't take enough precautions and then you've got others that aren't paying close enough attention to the RIGHT kind of precautions.

Can you imagine having a multi-million dollar security system, teams of devoted security analysts, a fort-knox door, good key cards, and an excellent magnetic lock... all foiled by waving a t-shirt? Or because you helped a secretary out by warning her of her bad-mood boss... or by being an all-right guy helping you out of a jam?

But these kinds of things happen all the time. We've all heard of fishing. We know not to open untrusted pdf files. We know that we need to keep our software updated and relatively better protected from old exploits. RIGHT? Well, apparently not. Social creatures do as social creatures do. People who help you out of jams or mirror your expressions or appear out of nowhere with official-sounding titles and excellent business cards are always... TRUSTED. Someone with a CFO title demands that you do something or lose your job. What do you do?

The thing is, most businesses set themselves up for this kind of chicanery. If you instill respect and/or fear in your employees, don't be surprised when someone from the outside exploits the natural human reactions that come with being mistreated and/or indoctrinated. Being free to ask questions and verify credentials should be encouraged... even when an angry CFO keeps threatening an employee. (Real or not real, the terms of engagement ought to be the same.)

Alas. There's a lot more like this in the book and it's all pretty fascinating. It helps to be a genuine people person if you get into this line of work, but there are lots of different kinds of techniques. The point is to have a well-rounded toolbox and display confidence. Because you're a white-hat... right?

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RadianceRadiance by Catherynne M. Valente
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Re-read 5/24/20:

After re-reading my gushing review from years ago and having just re-read the fantastic book, I wonder if there's anything I can add to it?

Ah, how about this: Getting a nice hardbound version and sipping the tale like a great wine is recommended.

Re-reads are not only welcome -- but delightful.

And damn... the ending is both nearly incomprehensible and immensely satisfying. Active readers will have a huge, huge kick. :)


Original review:

This was A-Fucking-Mazing.

This is what all SF aspires to be when it grows up and speaks like David Foster Wallace channeling Roger Zelazny.

I want to have this book's babies.

Do I like this? Oh my lord... do I like this??? Okay. Word of warning: don't bother reading this unless you KNOW your mythology, and I'm not just talking about the greeks. There's a boatload of Sumerian in here, as well. Each and every city is appropriate. Each and every name is square on the mark. This book is brilliant. BRILLIANT. It shines with Radiance.

Okay. Now down to the nitty-gritty. We slide easily between motion picture scripting and stream of consciousness, with a few actual epistles thrown in. It's accomplished and speaks of a grand familiarity with traditional mainstream fiction, even going so far as to rise as high as any of the past masters. Don't be fooled into thinking that because this is SF that it is anything less than masterful. I'm going to have to read this one several more times to pick up everything, but even on my first quick read, I picked up more than enough to shiver with delight and drool from both sides of my mouth because I am, essentially, a level-headed person.

One thing that is common upon practically every level of this read, and the title gives it away. Radiance. It's all about bringing forth the best version through the magic of light.

You can read this story from the surface, getting into the magical mystery of Severin and her disappearance, or the magic of moviemaking, but all of that's just the easy route. Another route is to read between the lines, to see that every person and every place is a pure metaphor that works, time and time again, to bolster the initial and ongoing themes of bringing meaning out of death, magic out of life, and raising the standard of understanding everything else with eyes as sharp as the sun. All the artists in this book are on a quest to bring their Art to the next level, and none of them are failures. They are the embodiment of beauty-crafting, myth-building, and obsession. Percival and Severin is a perfect example.

An entirely different level of this same theme caught my attention right off the bat and turned me into a giddy mess. Ms. Valente turned our solar-system into a heaven and a haven, the best of all possible worlds, a place where everyone and everything could survive, custom-made to support life and happiness. I think of all the pulp SF out there, not forgetting Burroughs or Bradbury, that had lush life on Venus and Mars. Of course, she took it much farther. Mercury had it's own unique species, as did Jupiter and Saturn, their moons, and all the way to Pluto and Charon, which had a huge vegetable stalk connecting the two moonlets together in an endless dance, with strange cows and lotus flowers ready to provide life and sustenance for humans when they arrived. It was gorgeous. It was a dream come true, and artistic rendering that turned our hellish system into a horn of plenty, and yes, everywhere was giving us air to breathe. This, too, was the artist giving us a brilliant conception of the world through the Fae Light of movie magic, and I admit that I fell into its spell as deeply and completely as any of the very best books I've ever read. It was told so well that I drowned in not giving a fuck about having realistic science. This was all about dreams and magic, as only our deepest joys of a mythical Hollywood could conceive.

Is this enough to propel you to a wonderful reading experience? I hope so. But wait... I haven't even mentioned the Callowhales.

And I won't. They're very important, and increasingly so.

This is one of the best books I've ever read. Maybe it just speaks to me, and me alone, because I love complicated flights of immense imagination, detailed with such density and beauty that I was forced to slow the hell down and savor each word, each turn of phrase, each reference. Was I doubly amazed by the structure of the read when scenes replayed themselves as to throw all of my ideas about what I was reading into an entirely new light? Hells yes. The writing was masterful. I know I said that before. I'm saying it again because I have to sit back down with this book, SOON, and study it. I WANT to study it. It is so damn rich as to turn practically everything else I read into shallow piles of doo.

:)

I can't believe this is just the first novel I've read of hers. I've been hearing about her works for years, and yet I just never got around to reading any of them. I wanted to. I really did, but something always got in the way. I seem to be saying that a lot about a handful of authors, recently. Well I'm FIXING THAT. I'm going to be reading the rest of her works very soon. No one that can write like this should ever be dismissed or ignored. Brilliance is Brilliance.

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Saturday, May 23, 2020

Never Split the DifferenceNever Split the Difference by Chris Voss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Honestly, I got a weird feeling when I first read the title because it felt almost like a call to arms, like I was being told that the idea of compromise was utterly insane...

and I was right. It is. But not for the sake of arguing for argument's sake. It's funny, but I really liked this book. Any book that has a call to arms like this but keeps a central tenant like "tactical empathy" and "Really, truly listening to someone" isn't crazy.

And besides, it reminds me of the old story of Solomon and the two mothers who both insist that this one baby is their own and they're totally inconsolable about it. Wise old Solomon commands them to split the baby in half and let each mother take the half they want.

That's TOTALLY LEGIT, man.

The Solomon story isn't in this book but it ought to be. Instead, the author just went through Quantico and has done an amazing number of successful hostage negotiations and has helped a ton of people get exactly what they want in the business world.

How? A hint: he's never belligerent. He listens, mirrors what they're saying, and stays in calm control. And when I mean he listens, he truly, actively tries to understand exactly where the other person is coming from... and then finds a solution. Often it's not even the thing the other person asks for, but simply what they need. Understanding, validation, reassurance that they won't be murdered by cops if they come out with their hands up.

Those kinds of things. :)

I simplify, of course, but this book has a ton of great practical exercises to diffuse situations and actively engage whomever you're in negotiations with. When there is a consensus, real progress can be made. That means welcoming every "no" at the table. That merely defines the context. Yes's are fine, but defining the context will get to the heart of what people really want... and oddly enough, it's usually a lot less than or completely different from what they initially demanded.

Of course, it may take a bit more time to figure out the baby situation, but here's a little hint... the mother that screams and gives up her right to the baby probably loves the baby more. I'd trust her.


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Friday, May 22, 2020

Infinite DetailInfinite Detail by Tim Maughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those novels that delve deep into the lives of a richly imagined near-future that takes us on a trip to a dystopia that explores:

THE END OF THE INTERNET.

Honestly, I'm reminded quite a bit of William Gibson's style. It's a slow and careful build-up of situations and world-building that gives us a no man's land of internet outcasts, people who don't want to be spied on or tabulated for all kinds of data mining, the path that micro-society takes after ten years, and the world of a post-internet breakdown after that.

We get all the arguments and commentaries on our current lifestyles. We get the arguments for and against the business side, the surveillance state, and the desire to finally be free of it all. We spend more time with the last group and sympathize with them.

But honestly? This is a pretty pure dystopia that focuses the light not on single issues but spreading it all about among the deeply-drawn characters.

I can't express how much I was impressed by the quality of the details. Indeed, the title says it all.

However... I did not precisely fall in love with the basic story. It was okay, but the commentary was its master, spreading itself throughout all the cracks in the novel. That's not a bad thing. It's an impressive thing. I just didn't enjoy it as much as I feel I should have.

And really... despite our utter reliance on the internet today, would we really go that bonkers without it?

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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #4)So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Compared to any other book in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, I may say something rather controversial:

I think it is the best book.

Mind you, it's a close tie with the first book, but when we add an actual satisfying end to a rather delightful little adventure that has relatively little torture and a great deal more of truly romantic romance, I feel it deserves a boatload of respect.

It's full of all the little zingers we've grown to love, it has enormous amounts of satire... and it's simply beautiful. Do I love Fenchurch? I do. Do I think she's fantastic for finally giving that poor old sod, Arthur, a chance? Nay, even PITY? Ah, that's the interesting bit. It feels genuine. And delightful. And they're SOOO cute. I'll even say right here and now that if every romance on the planet panned out exactly the way this one did, I would die a very happy man.

Did I mention that they're CUTE??? And the flying is MUCH better than that scene in Christopher Reeve's Superman. Word.


And, I should mention here... even though the official fifth book in the series, Mostly Harmless, was written a full 8 years after So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, I'm just going to say that the reading order MUST be adjusted for taste.

Keep So Long as the last book you read. It makes the whole thing CHARMING and BEAUTIFUL. If you read Mostly Harmless, then read it right before So Long. That way, when you have that bitter taste in your mouth, you can wash it down with the pure charm of So Long. :)

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Machine ManMachine Man by Max Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have become a little Max Barry fanboy. Everything he has written has so far has tickled all my iterative parts, whether they were augmented or otherwise, and I found myself chuckling with all the delights a well-crafted tale can often bring.

I mean, the IDEA is an old one, but damn if Max Barry didn't up it a notch or ten by being written really well, have very excellent science sense, and even make it more interesting by casting the main character in a light Autistic-spectrum.

What can I say!? I loved the steady build-up from an awkward engineer with no social skills to an amputee on a mission to improve his equipment. Transhumanism always did start out with humble beginnings.

Of course, what I love most about this book is the writing. It's always interesting, clever, and steady and fun. So many prior writers who do cyborgs never really start out at the truly humble beginnings and most either stick with the military angle or with the post-revolution. I think of the Deus Ex games. Or even RoboCop. :) But this takes it in a very fun direction because we're reading all about the possibilities of enhancement and we're focused entirely on the balance between wondering how we're going to perform some horrific body-chopping on ourselves and what kind of toys we're going to fit ourselves with.

You know. Like a video game. And it's FUN. :)

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Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Thraxas (Thraxas, #1-2)Thraxas by Martin Scott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Touted as something rather original and a winner of the World Fantasy Award, I kinda expected this to be rather heavier on humor-meets-Noir-meets-D&D vibe than, say, a pleasant knock-off of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series.

In actuality, I see a lot more in common with Lankhmar and a bit of the old Private Investigator than with, say, Discworld.

Some tropes are tweaked mildly but none are taken in extreme directions. The chainmail bikini is more like the outfits at Hooters and the woman is working her way to a better life... versus stupid male fantasies. Okies. Nice. But brilliant? I tend to think not, but this series might need continued reading to build up a compendium of awesomeness. Discworld definitely needed it before it became super-well-beloved.

But this? I come at this from 20 years down the line from when it was originally published. Independent and self-publishing are full of works like this and they are all of comparable quality and humor. I can't say it will have stood the test of time unless we say that these kinds of genre-mashers ARE the legacy we should be looking at.

And if that's the case, then I think it succeeded quite nicely. Thank you! :)

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Seventh Grave and No Body (Charley Davidson, #7)Seventh Grave and No Body by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Is it popcorn supernatural sexytime or is it a trip down 'burque nostalgia lane?

Why can't we have both!? Okay, okay, we can have both.

And the trip is always more fun than the destination. Gimmie everything Chili please, even the sexytime, and I'll forgive the fact that the basic plot is just the increasing danger of Charley's father-in-law.

Hell hounds? Okay. No problem. I guess it's the requisite stepping stone before we get to the really good stuff. And I don't really count certain relationship milestones as the good stuff. It's almost always... ho-hum usual. Sorry, Reyes fans! This is getting old.

BUT all the supernatural and the quirky personalities? That's golden. :)

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Mostly Harmless (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #5)Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Out of all the Hitchhiker's Gude to the Galaxy books, I think I must digress and say that 'Mostly Harmless' does not, in fact, refer to the Earth, but to itself.

The book is mostly harmless except when it isn't.

In fact, it isn't mostly harmless at all.

There are many humorous passages and lots of quirky zingers and a sensation of the penultimate plotless surreality of life, the universe, and everything, but like LIFE, itself, it just feels like an accumulation of STUFF THAT HAPPENS.

Trying to find out the great question to the answer to the universe has mostly derailed in service to living a bit of life and trying to get a little enjoyment out of it before we die... which sounds, suspiciously, like what we all do.

COME ON! WHO WANTS TO READ ABOUT THAT???

But then, seeing where an alternate universe Trillian winds up and watching Ford confront the corporate mega-annoyance of the publishing industry around The Guide does have it's bright points... but let's face it... Arthur's daughter is a REAL PAIN IN THE RANDOM.

Seriously, the whole book goes just south of a Vogon Poetry Reading after that point. It's almost like we're reading a tragedy but we don't really want to admit to it. We'll order room service and buy New Zealand but that's just a funny bit to cover up for the fact that LIFE HAS IT IN FOR US.

If this book wasn't so accurate in its hilarity, I might want to take a boot to its posterior.

Mostly Harmless my ***.

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The Tyrant Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade, #3)The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After the first two books in the Masquerade, the third would have to pull off a miracle to outdo what has already been done.

I mean, seriously, I've never read a more grimdark tale of friendship and betrayal in the name of a cause. The second one already blew my mind with a certain bloody scene, so I was frankly a little worried that this one would be yet another huge build-up and betrayal.

Strangely, I got the feeling that the author was worried about the same thing. And, indeed, he went out of the way to surprise and delight me with the kinds of twists and turns in this book.

What other books would have me sit on the edge of my seat with SEVERAL lobotomies?

What? The book lobotomized me? ;) Perhaps, but I feel all the smarter for it. Tons of economic theories, lots of time on the sea, and even more time building alliances. And I was amazed almost the entire time.

Few books go all out to worldbuild the way this one has, and few do it with genetics, gene warfare, unique mutations, economic warfare, and naval battles.

This read is not for the faint of heart, but it is a very worthy sequel. If you've come this far, don't miss out on this one. :)



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Sunday, May 17, 2020

Life, the Universe and Everything (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #3)Life, the Universe and Everything by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a lot of ways, this book is a lot better than Restaurant at the End of the Universe simply because it has a lot more regular plot action and better-defined enemies despite all the Timey-Wimey stuff that comes necessarily with being a hitchhiker.

Things I've learned:

Arthur Dent is a mass murderer. Or a slightly scattered universal-sequential murderer. Or maybe he's just tactless.

Cricket, or rather, the planet Krikkit is full of a bunch of a-holes.

And I've also learned that I REALLY, REALLY don't want to know the truth.


Which is, when you think about it, completely absurd since I'm going to keep reading the series, and it is filled with NOTHING BUT THE UNVARNISHED TRUTH.


On a side note, I do want to mention that I teared up a little bit when I learned how to fly. Again. And I mean not the teary-eyed kind that comes from cooking some onions with olive oil, but tears of sheer amazement that I've always been flying wrong.

And to think that walking was just a bastard version of the same thing: put one foot forward, fall, and fail to hit the ground. Huh. Amazing.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #2)The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Truly, the most memorable characters in this book are the ones in Disaster Area.

Just ignore the inane ramblings of the most important person in the universe, Mr. Beeblebrox, the man who says What all the time, or the brilliant but somewhat easygoing Trillian, or Froody Ford. They're just bit players. Indeed, the character that chews cud is rather more intelligent than the grand majority of those B-Cast characters sent to crash on that backwater planet with the official main characters.

Didn't you know? Between Disaster Area and the robot with the brain the size of a planet are the ULTIMATE main characters.



And now that we've met the meat... welcome to the best show in the universe served up with a huge side dish of pokes at God (or some philosophical backwater person who claims to be the leader of said Universe), the Universe, and Everything.

Anyone want to play a game of scrabble?

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Sixth Grave on the Edge (Charley Davidson, #6)Sixth Grave on the Edge by Darynda Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yep, I'm on the bandwagon with all the lovers of this series. I may have begun loving it because it's so geeky and Albuquerque everything and the bumper stickers and the t-shirts are just too spot-on memory-lane for me not to gush over them, but I stay because I've fallen in love with Charley.

She DEFINITELY has a death wish. Her snark alone makes her deserve anything that's coming to her, and that's including the end reveal(s) of this novel.

Fortunately, for a Grim Reaper to have a Death Wish is all kinds of funny. Not even Funny-Funny, but more Groan-Funny, and the way these women fawn over the son of Satan? Let's not go there. Or go there much.

Strangely enough, we finally got some interesting and DIFFERENT sex scenes. Because I know there's a huge percentage of the lovers of this UF that are ALL in it for the sex, I won't disparage them, but I did have to mention that it got... INTERESTING. Rather than just explosion this and explosion that. :)

But jeeze. That end. Not the END END spoiler, but the one in the mental institute. ; ; *sigh*

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, #1)The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a firm believer that every budding reader ought to read this book first so they can be utterly and completely ruined for literature for the rest of their lives.

Of course, if you're an older reader, with experience and verve when it comes to words, you might also be completely ruined for literature for the rest of your life, too, but I'm not counting you. In fact, I don't care about you.

I have a towel.

And I know how to USE IT. It's almost, but not quite entirely unlike having a clue.


Fortunately, I, myself had been totally ruined for literature early on my life and I think I might have read this book around seven or eight times before I got the idea that nothing else I would ever read would quite stack up to it and afterward, I just decided to become Marvin and assume that the whole world was not quite worth living.

But, again, fortunately, I remembered that I was an Earthling and I could replace most of my cognitive centers with "What?" and get along quite nicely. So that's what I did and ever since I've been reading normal books and saying "What?" quite happily.

You SEE? Happy endings DO happen. As long as you're not a pot of Petunias. Of course, that story would take WAY too long to tell.

I think I want to grab a bite to eat. Maybe I ought to meet the meat.



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Immortality, Inc.Immortality, Inc. by Robert Sheckley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This humorous SF novel from 1959 is notable for its cavalier attitude to death. Of course, it makes a pretty standard case that society would naturally break down it there was no POINT to living, especially if you had set up your life insurance... :)

Yes. Life insurance is actually AFTERLIFE insurance. If you can afford the process, you too can live on and get yourself a new body.

Sound familiar, fans of Altered Carbon?

Of course, Sheckley goes into some of the more interesting aspects of this world, including hunting parties to give yourself a proper send-off, to insurance scams, to the whole fish-out-of-water storyline so commonplace in older SF, where we also must go through our own culture shock.

The novel may not be as sophisticated as many modern novels, but it IS a lightly humorous adventure, not an all-out social commentary that skewers everything it touches. And that's just fine. :) I still had a good time even if I rolled my eyes at some of the assumptions and story cliches. After all, it WAS 1959. Dames and Gents always seemed to always find those super-standard roles. lol

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Galveston (Resurrection Man, #3)Galveston by Sean Stewart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book certainly puts the reader through the wringer.
It's never an easy read on us, but boy, it's a very fascinating trip.

I probably should have started with the first two books in the trilogy but I'm just going through the World Fantasy Award winners and figured I would probably get into this book regardless. And I did. It's not hard to pick up on the fact that strange gods and a perpetual behind-the-veil Mardis Gras were happening on the streets of a post-devastation Galveston in Texas. Indeed, the magical world invading the world has happened several times with varying degrees of recovery.

I felt like I stepped into a rather more local American Gods written by an actual American. And without obvious cliches.

Were the revelers actually the trapped damned folks over different ages? How about the iconic gods?

Even so, the story mostly focuses on a couple of young characters who are put through some seriously messed-up paces, made to stand against the walls of Stewart's story, and they had to stare down into his barrels.

I didn't even LIKE these characters for a good portion of the story. And the whole fixation on poker? I get it! But then, I never really ENJOYED poker, either. And yet... Stewart's story came together and made me feel something pretty powerful. I both love and hate these characters and it's something solid, or solid-sludge, drifting across the pages and transforming in the middle of the storm.

I have to admit I grew to love this novel, but it took TIME to get to this point. What a ride!

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

This Alien ShoreThis Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a very surprising read.

I had read a trilogy by C. S. Friedman before and while it was mostly fantasy, it had some really great SF elements. This one was entirely cyberpunk with a very cool, very deep worldbuilding Space-Opera storyline.

What did it remind me of?

A mix between Cherryh's Downbelow Station and a post-cyberpunk civilization with a rather heavy focus on sophisticated and interesting hacking ethos.

For 1998, it has a lot of the Stephenson sensibility while remaining true to the core idea of societal divergence, a diaspora of genes, and alien inculturation. I almost feel like I'm reading Cherryh's more complicated and fascinating works.

But who was the real star in this novel? I'd say it's the computer virus. :)

This novel really brings me back to the days when SF used to be 3rd-person limited viewpoint. The vast array of worldbuilding potential always feels much greater than other, more modern fiction, but this time period, right before most SF turned into a much more limited or first-person viewpoints, is much more developed and richer with ideas.

I have to admit I miss this kind of thing.

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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Fifth Grave Past the Light (Charley Davidson, #5)Fifth Grave Past the Light by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm really starting to notice just how much this action-filled mystery/UF has become an eros-fest. Not that it's TOO much out of place, considering just how much regular, plain geekiness shines on the pages from this, my hometown Albuquerque.

So I've got a big handful of steamy sexiness on one hand and a huge-ass spicy burrito on the other. Sometimes it's REALLY hard to choose. Trust me. Give me Christmas or give me death.

Fortunately, our favorite Grim Reaper is surrounded by both Christmas and Death and an extra-whopping serving of Reyes. I think that's satisfying most folks reading this series. Seriously. But, me? I'm still in it for the supernatural (with an actual reference to Supernatural), the geekiness, and the cool mysteries.

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A Mirror for ObserversA Mirror for Observers by Edgar Pangborn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classic SF from 1954.

Obviously it must be read as a product of its time and I think it's pretty good for all that, but while I DO enjoy the whole conflict of Passive vs Active Martians living among us, trying to decide whether they are just observers or want to actively destroy us, it's very much a Hawk Vs Dove kind of story.

It's not bad but I did get a bit annoyed with the endless exposition-in-dialogue that was rather common for the day.

It IS, however, still a step up from the endless hokey perceived-pulp SF that was common for the time. Put it vaguely on par with early-early Philip K Dick without the paranoia. :)

I wouldn't seriously recommend this for modern readers unless you like to read things in context. America was on an expansionist footing, having fully realized their power after the end of WWII. The commentary is pretty spot-on.

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The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous GeographiesThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies by John Langan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rarely will I read a short story collection that pulls me in quite as completely as this one did.

Or rather, it's a rare short story collection that not only pulls off truly excellent horror in every instance while simultaneously *deconstructing* the field, drawing in clever and wide literary techniques, WHILE also making it evocative and delicious.

Sometimes the voice breaks the fourth wall and sometimes it drenches you in a very dry sense of humor. Sometimes it's written in an immediate, deeply detailed way that drowns out the real world and swallows you whole.

Interestingly enough, Langon writes his won sophisticated takes on zombies, werewolves, and even vampires, but that is NOT to say they are at all derivative. Langon knows and loves his horror genre and brings his stories to truly excellent literary heights. He's a writer's writer, making his words sing and he always takes his time to fully develop each story.

I can't recommend him enough.

ALL of the stories are wonderful, but I should point out that I have a large fondness for a few.

Technicolor - A tribute to a Poe story written in a delightful lecturer's voice. I chortled and had to google the crap out of it.

City of the Dog - Post-Lovecraftian apocalypse Norman Rockwell.

Mother of Stone - Excellent investigative journalism meets... oh just read it. Langon pulls off something very special here. :)


I repeat: all of the stories are fantastic. :) But there's a very special treat for the end. Writer's notes. :)

There wasn't a single thing about this collection that didn't delight. :)

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Saturday, May 9, 2020

Bloodring (Rogue Mage, #1)Bloodring by Faith Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a lot of potential in this book but there isn't enough actual to keep me going. I mean, the whole angels and UF feel with magical crystals and mystical overwhelming sex energies that tie into the magic system IS fairly interesting, at least on paper.

It's also a fairly average post-apocalypse tale set in the deep cold.

I don't know. I never really connected with the main character and only mildly cared about where the story was going. A potential world-building is only as good as the characters who live in it, and the Mage-Heat stuff was... weird. Not good weird. Just... weird.

Maybe this could have been the next hottest thing but it's been years and it just isn't.

I had a lot more fun reading her Jane Yellowrock UF.

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Friday, May 8, 2020

Quantum ShadowsQuantum Shadows by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I wanted to like this more than I did. I've never read anything else by Modesitt but I admit to seeing and thinking I OUGHT to have been reading the books.

So when I did see a new release in Netgalley, I fully jumped on the bandwagon.

What did I find?

A rough-going opening that was more concerned with term-wrangling and a detective game of trying to get a grip on character and what kind of tale this was going to be. When I finally realized that we were dealing with *fairly* normal story bones underneath philosophical, mythological, and especially religious (or meta-religious) settings, I eased into the story and enjoyed the interesting action and mystery aspects.

Getting there, however, made me feel like we were playing catch-up with a big nod to some other big SF names, but put on a particular Modesitt spin. ... So what do I mean? ... I get the feeling like we're stepping into a hard-SF godlike story that blends neatly into multi-religious meta-comparisons with walking embodiments everywhere.

In one way, I love this kind of thing. In another, it REALLY has to be done well or I feel kinda cheated.

I get the feeling like a number of devoted readers, probably fans, are going to get into this book in a really big way. I personally didn't feel the weight of the things that came before, though, so most of it was lost on me.

I didn't get hooked, but I saw some potential. I'm wondering if I ought to have started ANYWHERE else, first.

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Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet (Charley Davidson, #4)Fourth Grave Beneath My Feet by Darynda Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As always, these books are light UF fun with more than just a hint of darkness, but for me, I think I enjoy the Albuquerque, NM geeky vibes most.

Yes, the Frontier restaurant even has a cameo. Do you think they paid for the advertising? :)

That being said, the STORY itself had a few pretty cool twists and I despair at seeing the number twist continue on into the 13th or 14th books. That might get WONKY. But for now? I'm having a good time and it's quite relaxing to fall into something like this.

It's comfort food.

Solving cold cases with the help of ghosts? Surviving encounters with demons? Romance with the son of Satan? Being the Grim Reaper?

BEING A GEEK?

Well, it has all the proper earmarks. :)

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Thursday, May 7, 2020

Mythago Wood (Mythago Wood, #1)Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I generally have an "um.. okay..." to a "hate" relationship to most 80's fantasy. I tend to love the era's SF and horror, so I often feel like I'm poo-pooing it unnecessarily. Aren't they all an interrelated tapestry?

Hmmm. I usually think so. But in this case? No. I don't want to go there. The '80s are a time of huge psychological infusion in literature and I always tend to like the IDEA of that more than the actual works that use it.

In this book, we're treated to an IDEA of fantasy that is part-Jungian but mostly a Freudian obsessional extreme. Or, if you want to look at it in a different way, it's the Grail quest motif as a symbol for the generative impulse. Maybe a bit like this: San Greal = Sang Real. The quest for the mythological not-girl, brothers killing brothers.

Or here's a big concern: regular people becoming myth and thereby gaining... and losing quite a bit in the process. The obsession cuts away at all the other things that make a person real until they are both bigger than life and much, much less.

So why did I give this four stars instead of five, if I like the basic idea so much? Especially since it won the World Fantasy Award in '85?

Because it got wonky.

I mean, I probably would have enjoyed it MORE had it gotten REALLY wonky with some better self-referential, partway meta core myths to work from, but this one hearkens back to a mix of Grail and directly-earlier influences... and then only took them so far.

I wound up wanting to like the IDEA behind this novel much more than the actual tale or the subject of the idea.

Now I want to go back to reading American Gods again.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Ghost in the Electric Blue SuitThe Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit by Graham Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Weird stuff out of the way... I just took note that this came out within fifteen days of Stephen King's Joyland. And like Joyland, they both take place as a coming of age tale with a young man joining the seasonal help at an amusement park decades before today, with romance, somewhat dismissable supernatural elements, and very period political concerns.

Odd, right?

That being said, the quality of this particular novel was quite lulling and it evoked the whole sensation of this English bygone time that simmered with racial tensions and peculiar changing mores. Sex, scams, generally having a good time before college is the name of the game.

Hooking up with a woman with a domineering (rather abusive) boyfriend and running around without getting caught takes up most of the tale, and I have to admit... it's okay. It's gentle, amusing, and it takes no real chances. The skinhead convention definitely gave it good conflict fuel, but other than that... I've read much better, similar, tales... such as the one I mentioned in the first paragraph.

Still, it certainly wasn't bad and it might appeal very well for certain types of readers who prefer the comfort food of youthful nostalgia.

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Monday, May 4, 2020

WWW: Wonder (WWW, #3)WWW: Wonder by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ah, the last book in this trilogy had a lot to live up to and it succeeded for the most part.

What can (or should) you do for an intelligent entity living in the World Wide Web who has been outed across the world? Take over? Declare peace? Be hunted, or be the hunter?

It is the Prisoner's Dilemma writ large with many iterations. And does Sawyer pull it off? A worldwide revolution?

Yes. But again, for the most part.

What's my complaint?

Yeah, well, that's my problem. Sawyer's political leanings and outlook is too close to my own to judge this as anything other than a "oh, wow, I really appreciate this" setup.

Do I believe in win/win scenarios and deep optimism? Yes. Do I believe in rational behavior, strong methods to bring about the best good for the most people? Yes. So I believe in mercy and understanding? Yes.

And that's kinda the thing. This novel is SO DAMN OPTIMISTIC and joyful to read, with all the conflicts arriving from the outside rather than from within, that I felt like I was reading a wish-fulfillment fantasy.

Come on. Who here hasn't wished for some near-omnipotent being to come down to earth, kick the evildoers in their seat, and give the rest of us a means to take the power into our own hands?

Yeah, that's what I thought. :)

But then, look here at the title of this book. If that doesn't give it all away, I don't know what will.

And I REALLY DID ENJOY it. A lot. :)

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WWW:WatchWWW:Watch by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having only read the first two of this trilogy that is, obviously, a single-story, I'm forced to write a review that reads more like an update rather than an all-out "This is Great".

That being said...

This is great!

Why?

If I went by a certain set of standards that was commonplace ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been reading this novel and saying... hey! This is on par or better than almost ALL the SF out there. It has all the huge scope, the excellent science, the pure speculation of what a modern-day singularity might become with our current technology. It has emergent an emergent AI, with full explanations, in the World Wide Web. It has heart, social and Game Theory, great storytelling, and a hugely updated nod and a literal nod to Wargames.

And above all, it's GOOD. Effortless storytelling, easygoing pace, enjoyable characters, and an almost corny plug for Canadians.

So what happened? Robert J. Sawyer has written something easily as good if not better than his prior Hugo noms and wins in the early 2000s. I actually ENJOY this on more levels than his other trilogy.

Hell, I started crying once or twice. And the whole damn thing is OPTIMISTIC and HOPEFUL.

Awards aside, this is very good SF. I think it should be a staple of all you fanboy-and-fangirl's diets. And this is especially true if you have noticed an ongoing trend in SF in general that seems to be having a conversation with itself. As in... every generation builds on what the prior generations have created. The same is true for SF as in everything. But in this case, Sawyer is self-consciously bridging several huge gaps between all the classics and the modern sensibilities.

I can do nothing but applaud.

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Sunday, May 3, 2020

Last Chance to SeeLast Chance to See by Douglas Adams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, shortly after Dirk Gently's second novel, Douglas Adams takes off across the world with a zoologist and, together with a ton of misadventures and great photographs, they meet dragons, tough-skinned 17-month gestating aliens, birds that have forgotten how to forget how to hit the ground, and we learn that DNA has a major *issue* with aftershave.

Multiple aftershaves. *shudder*

Back in the day, I saw this book in the bookstores and I said to myself... "Hey! Buddy! Where's the next fiction novel? I mean, sure, raising awareness for animals that are on the way to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe IS a good cause, but I WANT MY FICTION."

And so I took thirty years to get around to reading this.

I feel slightly bad. This is a shame-read. The book has shamed me on many levels while making me laugh.

Well! At least there's that!


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WWW: Wake (WWW, #1)WWW: Wake by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's been a while since a book brought me to tears. It's been a while since a book brought me to tears out of joy and optimism.

This one did. It wasn't earth-shattering, but it was absolutely joyous.

Why?

Well, the main reason is that I absolutely love stories of emergent AIs. And when Sawyer applies a lot of very well-researched speculations based on only the technology we have now, building a beautiful picture of waking up from first principles?

I have nothing but respect for this.

And yet, this is hardly the only thing this book is good at. The main story is gorgeous as well. Young Caitlin has grown up blind but thanks to some equally interesting sight-restoring techniques, she discovers she can see the World Wide Web as colorful geometry.

Between her own life and discoveries, some very nice parallels with the overall story-structure with a team of scientists and a half-Bonobo monkey and a quasi-revolutionary hacker on the other side of China's Firewall, we've got a huge, beautiful setup and the first very careful steps of a new consciousness.

I can't stress how well this was accomplished. This isn't a fly-by-night story with the same elements but with a tenth the research, care, or intelligence. This is a direct commentary on our current science and it actually gave me a sense of real wonder. Awe.

It also helps that it accurately describes just about all its foundations in not just a clear way, but in an ACCURATE way. :)

But what did I love most?

Okay. I'm weird. I loved the Shannon Entropy Function. I want someone to run a plot on me, please. :)


Let me sum up something:

This book ought to be well-known. It ought to be discussed and enjoyed and in the common zeitgeist of modern SF. It isn't a throwaway title meant to pass an afternoon away. It's a complex and stand-up commentary on what we could all BE, in all the best ways that SF can function.

Of course, if I might get to the point sooner, I should refer back to my first statement. The book made me cry from joy. It OUGHT to be enough to encourage anyone to read it. :)

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Saturday, May 2, 2020

Our Lady of DarknessOur Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before there was Urban Fantasy... there was 1978's Fritz Leiber writing Urban Fantasy. :)

Strangely enough, I was very engaged with certain parts of this novel, how it set itself up as a horror within a horror, a horror writer going through a dark patch that then leads him into a very STRANGE patch where ideas intersect with an almost Lovecraftian (or Clark Ashton Smith-ian) becomes a novel of investigation and eldritch (idea) horror.

Just why did all those old friends, the horror triumvirate (and associated) back in the '20s and '30s, die early or suicide?

There's lots of great literary name dropping and history packed in this novel. And more than that, there is a lot of great collective unconsciousness meets virus meets memes action going on here... ESPECIALLY for the time this novel came out. I'm reminded of some of my favorite modern UFs that play with geek fandom or bibliomancy or the like, but the style is very much a mix between a noir mystery (with drug use) and a simmering 70's horror novel.

In other words... it doesn't quite FIT with the modern view of novels. :)

And for me? I love how strange it is. It might not be the strangest novel ever, but it definitely got under my skin. :)

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Mercy Blade (Jane Yellowrock, #3)Mercy Blade by Faith Hunter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Continuing Jane Jellowrock's adventures as a hunter of rogues, we've set foot in Were territory at last. Not that I'm a huge fan of weres at all, mind you, but I was amused at how litigious they were. Or maybe I'm not all that surprised... :)

I wavered a little bit between 3 and 4 stars, settling on 4 simply because the worldbuilding continues to be above average for the genre.

I do have one little point I'd like to make: Rick was kinda turned into a MacGuffin. It might have been somewhat more interesting, except that Jane got all torn up over certain aspects that made me think she wasn't really as confident as she otherwise was.

Sure, sure, people can be strong in many different ways and weak in others, but that's just it... she HAD been strong in the sense of getting what she wanted out of relationships and had not come across as someone so susceptible to jealousy and/or outrage at betrayal. Indeed, all this focus on the negative side of relationship stuff has got me sitting on the fence. I both got annoyed with it AND I wanted to give the author props for going all the way with the consequences. The realistic touch was both good and bad in that it reduced my enjoyment of my otherwise escapist reading.

That's just my opinion. Mileage may vary.

Otherwise, I did enjoy the action and bloodshed, the mystery, and some of the romantic sparks. It is pretty average, however.

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