Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

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

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

Of sorrow.

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

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

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still, not a bad book. :)

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Friday, August 16, 2019

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

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

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

It's about finally earning his wings.

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, August 15, 2019

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

This book is very stimulating.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So seductive.

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

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

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

Very interesting.

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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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

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

And it is BRUTAL. Just look at that title.

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

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

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

This one will simply wash you in blood.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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