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Friday, May 29, 2015

Nexus (Nexus, #1)Nexus by Ramez Naam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have nothing bad to say about this novel. I was forced to stay up very late to read this, and I ducked out of other entertainments just to finish it. Did I get sucked into the idea of a transhumanism emergence? I think so. At least with Nexus, it's definitely my favorite Linux distro, and I've got about a dozen ideas of apps that I'd like to write if I can't find it in open source. I want my new OS!

As for possible complaints about evil governments... Come on...
Anyone read history? Ideas and backlash through coercion abound everywhere. It always has.

Now, I don't really know if this might spark a resurgence of telepathy in SFF lit, but I hope so. People might have gotten burned out on stories like that, but this novel feels fresh. Ignore 30+ years of SF that has resurfaced these ideas across the board, of course. That doesn't matter. When a novel reads well, has excellent rounded characters, absolutely fucking-fantastic pacing, I'm not only willing to run with the novel; I'm willing to shout it from the rooftops.

The story is Damn Good.

The respect for Taiwan cultures propelled the undercurrent of themes so well as to make it inevitable. The expressed deep heart made me stare at the corner of my desk for half an hour and made me cry, especially when everything came to fruition.

You know, now that I think about it, the many fight scenes actually continued to develop the characters. The undercurrent of themes, as well. They were memorable and emotional. I can't often say that about fight scenes in writing. Maybe just a handful of books. I'm very impressed.

Absolutely nothing was wasted.

I'm putting this in my fanboy collection. Seriously. I'm shocked.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Rebirths of Tao (Tao, #3)The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Believe it or not, reading this was like reading a healthy but calorie-laden meal served up for the whole family, full of hormonal spices, just a hint of spiritual grace, and finally washed down with a whole bucket of scotch.

That is: This book was mightily satisfying and easily the best of the trilogy.

A lot of time has passed, and Roen's son is a feisty teenager wanting to jump in the war, which is fine for a setup, but how Chu weaves him through the tale and sets him up to save his papa is more than satisfying. It's mythological. The wrap-up of the trilogy was extremely satisfying, if not quite as epic as the second. The underwater base battle was sweet, but it's the reappearance of truly memorable big bads that brings meat to the series.
Even the epilogue puts a bow on the tale with two broken arms and a beautiful sense that all roads lead to Roen.

Could the future be more bright? We've got our three-times-three act play in full swing here, and I couldn't be more pleased by how it turned out.

I'm a solid fan. If the rest hadn't sold me before, then the moment when Roen started using his head to solve the big problems did it for me. My middle-aged boy has grown up. :)

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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Deaths of Tao (Tao, #2)The Deaths of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book and its predecessor in preparation for the Campbell Award for this year, but despite that, I'm happy to have come out the other side.

It has a much different feel than the previous novel, and I'm not relying on a couple of years passing or a jaded outlook from our previous newbie to inform me of the tone. The war has gone poorly, and the last half of the novel proves it, with setback after setback driving our many heroes into unthinkable positions of forced valor and desperate measures.

The way it all worked out forces me to judge the novel differently between the three act structure. The first was depressing. I'm not going to sidestep this issue. I didn't like it so much. It took way too much time to build up, and each expected payoff turned into a worthless gesture that left me flat.

That being said, and putting aside the first act, I was extremely pleased to pass that behind me and have glorious action and ramped-up consequences and investments, bringing possible and even likely genocide of our favorite aliens to the table. I got into the middle action like a duck to water and enjoyed all of the twists and turns.

But the real joy to this novel was the third act, when everything turns to hell, and like a proper Empire Strikes Back, only a few heroes are left to tell the tale as they scamper about and nibble at their singed tails. I didn't quite expect to see what I did see, and that's high praise. I'm fully invested in reading the third novel. The payout of this book's end was really good. I have no regrets.

So the trick to reading this one is to forget the mud in the beginning and have faith in the rest of the novel. It eventually became a real page-turner, giving us momentum that all the crap in the beginning would eventually turn out all right.

Mind you, though, that things do not turn out right, in proper middle-book fashion. This isn't the light-hearted sci-fi of the first novel. I'd like to say that the tone is developing into something deeper and darker, but that isn't entirely true. It's turning into the dark stakes that we were originally promised in the first novel.

All I can really do is thank the author for eventually delivering on his promise.

That, and buy all his books, of course.

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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 7Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 7 by Jason Aaron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This volume really hit the spot. The story built up nicely even through there was huge amounts of action. We had apparent betrayals that was really burgeoning love, setbacks that were really curiosities, and islands that get to fight Voltron. What's not to love?

Oh yeah, and Hellfire School is out of business. What a sigh of relief.

I love the teasers for the next volume, and hope this means we've going to get a new janitor. Toad really deserves a promotion.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 6Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 6 by Jason Aaron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another crossover, but thankfully it was short. The Dog storyline promises to be at least fairly interesting, and I do like how the kids are starting to work together a little bit.

Unfortunately, the volume just wasn't funny in the way the other ones were. As a counter-balance, it was only passing serious.

Sure, there were some pretty good visuals that told lots of interesting, if undeveloped, tales, and the implications are fairly long-ranging. If anything, this volume teases out some new and possibly epic timeline snafus, because, of course, we're talking about time travel.

We're not in an X-Men, or a Fantastic Four, or a Guardians of the Galaxy without time travel.

It makes me wonder with rabid-eyed fascination just who really has the Time Gem in the MCU. Namor? Howard the Duck? What the hell do I need to do to get some spoilers here? Google it?

Alas, even that is going to make my head spin like a GRRM fan with his head so far up a usenet feed trying to outguess an author who reads his fans speculations just so he can thwart them.

I'm talking to you, MCU.

Okay. Enough ranting. On to more reading.

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Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 5Wolverine and the X-Men, Vol. 5 by Jason Aaron
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This volume ended fine in true X-Men style, but the middle plot... I mean, what the hell just happened there?

I want to forget that whole thing. No more Frank. I've seen him done much better in at least 14 different places. The only redeeming feature of that little sideshow was Wolverine, and the scene was barely passable. Ugg.

It's a good thing the art is pretty fantastic, or I'd have given up. Nah. Who am I kidding? I always see books through to their end, even if I don't always finish whole 46 novel series. A short run like this with characters I've already grown to love isn't a hard sell to finish.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

The Lives of Tao (Tao, #1)The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Is this a wholly urban fantasy? Or is it a light sci-fi adventure? Is it Office Space meets Star Trek Trills? Is it a self-fulfillment fantasy for overweight and undermotivated readers who dream of getting the ultimate lifestyle overhaul into becoming the ultimate ninja?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And for any of you that aren't already hooked into reading the first of this trilogy? The writing is crisp and clear and it flows like ice down a mountain. We've got some pretty decent fight scenes, an obligatory love triangle (sorry for you poor readers who are already sick of such), and life forms that have been living on the earth since the dinosaurs. Contiguously. What's not to love about such an idea? (What? Plot holes? Who cares. This is a pretty damn fun novel that works seamlessly as a satire. (If you care to read it as such.) I don't mind, either way, and it was fun either way.)

There's nothing wrong with light-hearted sci-fi. It doesn't challenge, but it is a delight to read.

Some might successfully argue that this is what makes it superior. I suppose that depends mostly an your mood or the current setting on your snob-knob.

I'm pretty flexible. I can easily recommend this to anyone.

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Monday, May 18, 2015

TotaledTotaled by Kary English
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short Story Hugo Nominee for 2015

For a brain in a jar story, I was pleasantly surprised to be surrounded by so much pathos and emotion. I was surrounded by human connections and really sweet and sentimental considerations. It's almost enough to renew my faith in humanity, but only when there's absolutely nothing to lose. After all, the protagonist is already dead, filling herself with images of brownies and cat vomit to say yes and no to any questions. It's really a half-life, and bittersweet, but thank god for her research partner. He did right on all counts.

The story made me feel something, and that's awesome. I can't complain at all. This one can rank up there as a solid choice for the year. I'll get through the others soon.

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On a Spiritual PlainOn a Spiritual Plain by Lou Antonelli
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a simple tale that drove home one person's conclusion upon learning that the spirit of a dead man can linger and have interactions with anyone on this particular planet. The dead remain for all of the alien natives, too. Unfortunately, the conclusion we receive from the narrator was rather one sided. The problem faced by the dead was between lingering among aliens or complete annihilation. The ghost chose true death, and it seemed unforced and welcome. The short story ends immediately after the second death occurs among the human crew.

The fact that the chaplain politely rebuffed the help of the alien spiritual advisor, this time, leaves us all in a silent question as to what will become of the second dead. No answered questions, just an ongoing curiosity that had nothing to do with the chaplain's beliefs, but we only have the question as to what he will do with the new dead. Will he council him to haunt the crew? Stay among the natives? Find his oblivion?

"I know the way," can be interpreted in so many ways.

Unfortunately, while the story is crafted fairly well, it's fully "up to you, the reader," interpretation seems kind of weak, as if we're meant to copy and paste our own beliefs upon the chaplain and call it a day well served.

Meh. I don't mind strong opinions in the characters I eventually inhabit. Maybe the story could have benefitted from a little choice.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Saint Odd (Odd Thomas, #7)Saint Odd by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't see how this might be considered a spoiler, since from day one he's expressed this as his fondest wish, but here we are anyway!

Odd Thomas is DEAD.

This book was a final reel winding up the life of a young fry cook who sees dead people and has visions of apocalypses. Cults of satanists and tons of precious friends populated the pages, and we got to see how this young, oh-so-polite, kid learn to reluctantly murder countless bad guys and stay alive just long enough to satisfy his ethics of living before he meets his one true love in the afterlife.

I've loved this series for years. I'm going to be very sorry to see it go. It's so simple and basic that it makes some powerful stuff go on in our viscera.

Most of the time.

Unfortunately, this whole book was a rushed not-quite-recap of the main plot points that didn't really have more than a few good action sequences and heartfelt goodbyes to old allies or at least those allies that remained alive through the series or who didn't stand in for mystical archetypes.

I wanted to love the wrap-up, and I did feel very warm to some parts of it. The last two parts of the very end even brought tears to my eyes. Very sentimental, very beautiful.

Too bad the rest of the novel felt like it had run out of steam or powered up the bad-guys too much and Odd had no where else to go but Norris on their asses. Which, I'm sorry to say, has always felt a little too unreal for this admittedly unreliable but charming narrator.

I still love the series, but in the future, I might just skip rereading the last one. I want to leave the mystery alive.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This tale is mild. It's the first thing that comes to my mind.

Almost all of the potential and possibly striking conflicts are glossed over or avoided entirely, given up in favor of character study and an exploration of memory; its faults and its joys. This is also what sets the novel apart from so many other dystopian SF, but unfortunately for me, I still would have enjoyed a bit of the grit.

Fortunately for us, the readers, the novel is first and foremost character driven. Plot is not even remotely necessary, and the shifting between two different time periods only serves to aggrandize the meta-theme of art and how important it is, not only for survival, but also for defining what it means to be human, no matter what your circumstances.

I can get behind that.

Unfortunately, I'm spoiled by my memory of such novels such as Lucifer's Hammer by Niven and Pournelle, and especially the harrowing quest to save as many books as possible before the big splash. The later sacrifice in that novel by the one man who held the knowledge still reverberates with me.

But then, that was all about saving science, and not so much with saving art. Perhaps what I really wanted was a powerful novel with a focus on the deepest desires of art and fame. This novel was good, it just wasn't the type of novel that grabs me by my shirt and screams in my face that it is THE novel to inspire. I liked it. It just didn't wow me.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

What Makes This Book So GreatWhat Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can say without blushing that I felt like I was in a long drawn-out conversation about books and reading with a long-time friend.

It might not be true, but it certainly felt true, and it was a continued conversation with whom I spent some truly memorable moments as I walked through the fantasy that was Among Others.

I'm still not blushing, but perhaps I should be, because I dropped a goodly sum of money trying to hunt down all these other books, the ones I hadn't already read, simply because her enthusiasm was simply the last push I needed after realizing that her taste in SFF is sublime.

I feel blessed, as I always feel blessed, after being introduced to fantastic and sophisticated works of high literature. (No one can gainsay me on this. I've spent a lot of time in both worlds, and genre lit is no less brilliant than any other.)

My only regret is that I can't continue the discussion as I'd please. I'd have loved to discuss so many other top-notch pieces and see her take on them, too, but in the end, I might just have to do some further rereading of my favorites. There is a solid logic there that my younger self disdained and my older self has gradually seen for its beauty.

Of course, I might not reread Dune for the fourteenth time. I've pretty much memorized that novel already. But there are a few others that might serve a third or a fourth read.

I have to face reality... the temptation is more than a little unendurable.

Shall I reopen Rajaniemi, Joan D. Vinge, or Brin? How about Eco, PKD, or Gaiman? Or Neal Stephenson, Manly P. Hall, or Ayn Rand? (Yes, indeed.)

The list feels like it ought to be endless, and perhaps when I'm 800 years old it might still seem that way, but for now, the brightest stars are the most effortless to name.

Thank you for this conversation!

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Monday, May 11, 2015

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People HelpThe Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I should be too old, too jaded, too well-read, and too involved to get sucked into book that MAKES ME WANT TO BE A BETTER PERSON.

It happened anyway.

So before I get into the review, I just want to thank the writer for her openness and honesty. I want to thank her for revealing such heartbreaking intimacy to us. I was already a fan, but I wasn't part of the fen. That has changed. I saw something that spoke to me and revealed a level of courage that was more compelling than practically anything I've ever seen, heard, or experienced.

The key concept here is being courageous in telling the truth, regardless of the consequences. Secondarily, it's about asking for help and being able to receive it, but just because I've put this as second doesn't necessarily make it less important. It just means that its message might have been lost if it wasn't for that moment where the pages bled and my fingers smeared Amanda's blood all over my furniture and on my shirt and in my eyes as I unsuccessfully tried to wipe away my tears.

On to the review.

The message eventually ramped up to revolve around the revolution of Kickstarter, and I assume it was also the impetus that made the publishers want her story. Little did they know they'd be getting something so very human and encouraging, showing the rest of us introverts and artistic types that we aren't wrong in wishing for a world of connection on our own terms, that being dissatisfied with accepted modes of living isn't a sign that we'll never be able to be true to ourselves.

We are not meant to be lost and unable to cope with our lives. We are meant to find our real kin and be a part of their lives, as they will be a part of ours. The only way that is possible is by opening ourselves up and being truly able to receive the help when it comes. I know it sounds cliche, perhaps vaguely mystical, but in this book, it's absolutely emotional and breathtaking and visceral.

I want to be seen. I want to be in love with every human connection I make. I see you.

So simple, so persuasive.

And ultimately, it is the most personally rewarding book I've read in a long time that doesn't set its feet in the airy world. I feel as if I had a long and wonderful conversation with a true friend.

Fuck the review. I'm just going to say, again, "Thank you, Amanda."

If you ever read this, assume I'm giving you a hug.

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