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Monday, August 31, 2015

The FoldThe Fold by Peter Clines
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author's voice sounds like Dean Koontz and sticks pretty damn close to its SF roots until it turns into some delightfully wacky horror. I'm a creature of habit. I love horror, and anything that gives it to me is my friend.

If it's ostensibly SF before it gives me all that horror, then I'm pink as a bloody peach.

I'll get something out of the way, first. It feels like a hugely popular novel. I don't know if it is, or will be. I'm reading it because it's new SF and it's an author I've never touched before. Even if it is dumbed down a bit for an audience, at least it feels its roots. Mystery first, SF second, and then, after the first two acts are done, it transforms into Horror. I'm satisfied with the progression, but I do think it could have been a bit more complicated and long, building into a grand masterpiece of ideas far outstripping it's fundamental teleportation science roots, not that I didn't appreciate the well-crafted renewal of an old multiverse trope.

Don't get me wrong. As SF I was thoroughly captured and loved the perfect timing and progression. It always kept my undivided attention. I enjoyed the screaming telegraphs of things to come, even if they were all hamfisted and obvious.

There were, on the other hand, some points that truly surprised me and hit me in the gut with the implications and the effects. Practically all the big reveals were damn satisfying and had me repeating the words aloud. It was damn amusing.

And that's what the whole novel was: It was Damn Amusing. The characters changed by way of broad strokes and implacable effects, and Mike was way too good to be true, but hell, at least he had a pretty down-to-earth rationale for keeping a wrap on his gifts. AND I'm so relieved that it wasn't yet another tortured genius trope. So, so.

Clever tale, wonderful progression between genres that built up to big action, and likeable characters. I can't say this will ever be regarded as perfect literature for any genre, but it's mixtures, clear prose, and clear characters gave us all a pretty damn slick and entertaining novel.

You know, brain candy, with mysteries, cockroaches, interdimensional portals, and multi-limbed alpha-predator horrors coming to a popular Californian town near you!

The literature equivalent of a blockbuster summer film. :)

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Saturday, August 29, 2015

TouchTouch by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I've found my next go-to artist for must have reading material.

"Do you like what you see?"

This is like an ultramodern retelling of a vain girl's obsession with appearance versus what belongs solidly beneath the veneer. Of course, how else could you see life when you're without a real body, except those that you steal on contact and flit from norm to norm?

Kepler was truly devoted to doing right by her hosts and loved them in her best way, but she (or he) was always superficial. Janus, on the other hand, eventually moved away from his (or her) obsession with outward beauty to dive right into what really matters deep within, but still failed to get it right.

Galileo, on the other hand, never desired or understood the journey, and made a pure mockery of the outward form, eventually becoming northing more than a child that throws away people (in murder) as a spoiled child would mutilate her dolls, with as much care.

The characters are deep and change throughout the novel, and I love them all, but especially our heaviest soul, Kepler. I simultaneously enjoyed the repetition of the need for revenge and got very tired of it. The feel of the novel needed the reminder every once in a while, certainly, because it might have been lost in the everyday progression of survival in the middle of running, but even if I believe it could have been handled better, I damn well don't have a better suggestion beyond what was already done. I still liked every aspect of this tale.

Cole really grew on me, as did the Aquarius group, even if the group was never particularly likeable. The snippets of past and history made me believe, from my deepest heart of hearts, that our dear author is a great student of history.

I fell into the flashbacks as if I were in the ocean, made to ride the waves of time like the gentlest susurrations of water and motion. I really enjoyed the way I was pushed back and forth, and that's high praise because I never really enjoy flashbacks at all.

This novel is a success. If you come into it wanting to have a F/SF tale of love as can only be told by separate embodiments of a mind/body dichotomy, then you're going to get a real treat.

There are no real similarities in plot and historical exploration in regard to The Fifteen Lives of Harry August, but a bit deeper below the surface, it's easy to tell that she's in the same zone. Relationships with others are super important, even when the sense of alienation is paramount. These are damn full of non-repeating discussions of it, and I am left in awe at the damn polished prose.

So, "Do you like what you see?" Oh, yes. Absofuckinglutely.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Stand on ZanzibarStand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some novels should only be read once. On my second read, I wanted to downgrade my estimation of the novel by a star.

I felt sad.

Sure. Shalmaneser was and still is my go-to model for a hell of a kick-ass supercomputer developing true intelligence and will, with all of it's concomitant problems, such as addiction and hallucination. (How very 1969 of a novel, Mr. Brunner.)

And yes, when I first read this back in 1990, I was surprised and oh so pleased by all the counterculture, drug use, clandestine exploration of assassination techniques, and heavy exploration of genetics within a sociological backdrop.

And now?

I'm only reminded of the great effort that I had to put into reading it. Both times.

I can honestly say that I'll be giving Brunner props forever for all the effort he put into all the digressions, the advertisements, the worldbuilding, and the dystopian outlook of an extremely overpopulated world. I can't say that I particularly liked its readability, though. It annoyed. Greatly. But I can step back and admire it from afar and pray I'm never called on to read the novel again.

On the other hand, I did get into Donald's story easier this time, and Norman with Chad C. Mulligan kicks all sorts of ass from the beginning to almost the very last line in the novel. (What can I say? I prefer letting the computer get the last laugh. It usually does, anyway.)

My hat goes off to the novel, once again, but I'm now hesitating as to whether I'd put this at the top or even in the top twenty novels that I've loved. Even though, in memory, I always put it there before.

Hell, the novel was one of the first fifty novels that cemented my love of SF, and it certainly pushed me off the bridge to go on a hell of a John Brunner spree where I wouldn't touch any other novelist for eight months. I can stand in awe of Stand on Zanzibar all I want, but honestly, I think I LOVED The Sheep Look Up and Shockwave Rider MUCH better. There's a great deal to be said about readability and adventure. Just having a great premise doesn't always mean you've got a truly timeless story.

(I'm speaking to you, Mr. Love Aerosol.)

"God damn you for crazy idiots! All of you! You're not fit to manage your silly lives! I know you're fools- have you watched you and wept for you. And... Oh my god!"

His voice cracked to a breathing moan. "I love you! I've tried not to, and I can't help it. I love you all..."

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Monday, August 24, 2015

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm almost speechless.

This is one hell of a nonlinear exploration of a repeated life, as can be deduced from the title, but it's also a lot more. It's also a lot better, too.

I loved the premise from the get go. All Groundhog Day but stretched for a whole lifetime, and Harry isn't alone. There are others with effective immortality sharing info through repeated but changeable timelines, allowing for a linear continuation of a setting that can be changed with every single revision.

Claire North did an absolutely fantastic job exploring all the ramifications and rules of the existence, but more importantly, she spun a fantastic tale of exploration and intrigue, revenge, and implacable willpower.

Whatever might have begun as a rather humdrum initial character quickly became one of the most fascinating and deep character studies I've had the pleasure to read in quite some time. More importantly, I didn't even have to stew over it, because the writing was as clear as crystal despite the inherent risk of an inherently complex tale falling apart due to being told out of order.

Of course, this was an absolutely fantastic novel. It didn't fall apart at all. More importantly, it sucked me right in even as I wanted to be a part of the premise and the world and DO things there.

For a long while, there were no distractions that I had to focus on exclusively, and I liked that aspect.

Later on, this changed entirely, and it was smart and intense. The later development was very warm, with an extremely sympathetic and likeable villain. I was pretty amazed that it took several lifetimes to finally wrap up satisfactorily, and it truly did satisfy.

This was a serious piece of literature. I'm surprised and kinda shocked that it didn't make the Hugo list last year. If I had this lifetime to do over, I'd make sure everyone knew this was a serious contender and make sure people knew it was a shoe-in. As it is, I'm pretty sure this novel will stand the test of time, and if there is any justice in the world, people will still be mimicking or talking about it 20 years from now.

Yes. It is that good.

Truly excellent depth and exploration of both story and character, and a premise that is superior to almost any time travel tale I've ever read. I got done with the Lives of Tao series not too long ago, and I really wanted to compare the two because they were close in time and subject, but after reflection, I have to say that this novel is superior in style and seriousness. The other was just plain fun. This one made me believe.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Hugo Fallout, Part Two.

My pick for Best Novel won! Congrats Three-Body Problem! The turnout last night was larger than any previous Hugo ceremony, with thousands of more voters coming out of the woodwork precisely because of the controversy. It's not rigged. Either by complacency or a gaming of the rules, a group of writers and fans decided to go the electoral route rather than a one-to-one counting of ballots. As a result, we got slate voting that is arguably more powerful because a small contingent of like-minded fans can push their unknown favorites upon the rest of fandom precisely because the rest of fandom was not organized this way. Most people, before now, would have pushed their individual choices forward as their five favorites of the year, and we'd get a natural progression of titles that would float to the top. But this time, and increasingly so for two more years, the organized Sad Puppies pushed out individual choice for their followers. As a result, merely because they were organized, they were able to put their favorites almost unanimously across several categories, including almost half of the novels in the main category. What was my take? I hated the fact that what was originally the fan-favorite award had been gamed. I think it violated the spirit of the law, even if it never violated the law. Cream is supposed to rise. It isn't supposed to be chemically enhanced and forced into whatever model by a handful of envious writers and fans. Vox Day, or Mr. Beale, was the most vocal of these. I chose to ignore slates this year, even though my stand is quite unforgiving. I read and judged everything from as much of an open mind as I could get. The fact that SO MANY people came from out of the depths of fandom to vote as they believed right, despite what happened out of complacency with the original nominations, vindicated the Hugos. Normal people like me forked out the $40 supporting membership fee and voted online for our favorites, and even more fans decided to travel to Spokane and show their support for the spiritual grandaddy of all SF awards in spite of the controversy. The results were astounding and rather frightening. There was a major backlash against the Sad Puppies in the final polls, whether it was a direct attack on their methods for pushing their favorites, or whether the stories or editing just didn't live up to the standards of being a Hugo winner. Almost across the board, I agreed with the choices, except for one. I read and really enjoyed Kary English and voted Sad Puppy in that regard. Her works were absolutely Hugo Worthy and superior over the other choices. The only Sad Puppy choice that won is too humorous to mention, but I will anyway. For dramatic presentation, long form, (Movies) Guardians Of the Galaxy won. It probably would have won in any case, because it has the most entertainment value, hit for hit, than any movie I could name for the last five or ten years. I wouldn't have minded if Interstellar or Edge of Tomorrow had won, either, but in this case, I did vote for Guardians, myself, and it won. Just because the Puppies slated it doesn't mean it is bad. I decided that from the very start, and I even put it on my blog at the breaking of the whole story. My take on Mr. Correia? Well hell, I've been a fan of his since reading Hard Magic and I'm still a solid fan through all the MHI. I recognize him as talent, even if it is of a specific urban fantasy and hardware-action gore bent. I like those kinds of books as much as the heavily intellectual and philosophical. I'm still going through all the runner-ups of every year and deciding, after the fact, what I would have chosen for the Hugo during that year. I find that I don't often agree with the actual winning title, but one thing I have noticed is that I have almost 100% loved every single title that made it to the nominees. Mr. Correia is one of them. And just because he didn't win that year doesn't mean he's been slighted. It means that he's joined the ranks of some of my absolute favorite books, Like Anathem by Neal Stephenson or Earth by David Brin. Those didn't win Hugos for their years. Hell, neither did Dune. Herbert shared it with This Immortal in 1965 as a tie. Life is weird, and not all Hugo winners stand the test of time, while some runner-ups do. The Hugos aren't infallible, but even their losers are freaking amazing. An attempt to short-circuit that rising cream function only serves to weaken the power it wields, and I think we all figured that out, in the end. We make of the awards what we want. If we want to just make it a battleground between different flavors of popular fiction, then we get this controversy. If we put aside all such differences and aim to draw out the new classics that will stay with us forever, then we'll get the Hugo's original or evolved intent. I choose to put my time and energy into building something great. I do NOT want to see my passions wasted. I'm pretty sure that what we saw last night was fandom rising to the challenge and saying no to the shit. It's all our problem. We let it get this far and allowed a small minority of others dictate what our top choices should have been. We should have been more involved in the get-go, discussing our favorites for the year and be more generally serious about propelling the best of the best. Yeah. I'm serious about the Hugos. I think we all should be. It hasn't fallen into anyone's hands. It's organic and flawed, but when enough people stand up and say something, IT IS HEARD. Categories with nothing but slate choices were given NO AWARD. I just wish I hadn't been so complacent before this blew up.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Athyra (Vlad Taltos, #6)Athyra by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We've got a whole new Vlad in a whole new land and a whole new MC.

Yup, we've gone from big boss to a side role as a mentor for a backwater healer's apprentice, and I can't say I dislike it. We've got all the traditional coming of age elements, a murder mystery, undead lords, and mean small-town peeps.

More importantly, we have the mental space and development necessary to turn a young man into a fully-functioning and thoughtful killer who will be henceforth plagued with not just nightmares, but full-blooming madness.

Great job, Vlad. Smooth move.

/em facepalm

What it doesn't have in huge action and movement, it makes up for in fully developed new characters.

Two thumbs up! Very entertaining!

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Friday, August 21, 2015

Phoenix (Vlad Taltos, #5)Phoenix by Steven Brust
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As a Vlad Taltos novel, it doesn't follow the same tricks as the previous novels, which bodes well. The main issue, assassination, starts and finishes almost immediately, but the ripple effect tears the rest of his life apart.

I can't say that I'm very surprised that his marriage has fallen apart, because that was the main terror of the last novel, as was the revolution, which has now finally blown up the great city.

Poor Vlad. Not only is his vaunted practicality falling to shit, he's actually becoming a reasonably respectable hero that actually CARES to do the RIGHT thing. Oh my. I mean, it's not like we haven't seen a glimmer of this moral and caring Vlad in the past, of course, but to actually admit it to himself?

Oh, The Horror.

And so ends one major chapter of his life, in more ways than one, and he's left with only his dragon companions and his trusty blade and Wonderous Magical Item.

Where will he go? What kind of mischief will a major crime boss and assassin extraordinaire get up to now, without a wife or crew to hold him back?

There's absolutely no reason in hell to go over the implications of the title, except that Mr. Brust had imbedded his own meanings quite nicely into the worldbuilding without ever needing to apply it to our mythology. Too bad the story, itself, does the job quite adroitly. :)


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Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Wandering EarthThe Wandering Earth by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I had been thinking, "What I really need right now is an awesome Big-Idea story that turns the earth into an inter-solar spaceship, reminding me pleasantly of some of the early Stephen Baxter tales," then after reading this, I'd say, "Holy shit!"

Well, as it so happens, I've been in a Bigger-Is-Better frame of mind for the last few days, so getting something like this was like unwrapping a mystery gift and actually getting a 24 karat gold ring.

Liu Cixin turned a great tale, following lifetime of one man from childhood to old age as the world prepared against the expected helium flash and transformation of our sun to a red giant, much earlier than anticipated. It was short enough not to need much in the way of characterization, but it was sprinkled generously, anyway, but what character truly broke free from the story was the Earth, itself. What a delight!

I've read a number of Big-Idea stories and I've loved them all, but this one happened to stay pretty damn close to scientific reality and possibility, even if the amount of cooperation and effort was truly staggering.

I heartily recommend this story!

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That Which Walks Behind the GravesThat Which Walks Behind the Graves by Scott Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story not only walks upon its own two feet, it also rides upon the vermillion tentacles pouring out of the Ashcroft Estate, the forest, and all the places between the graves.

I find myself fascinated with the whispers of the horror. It is so damn delicious, and the characters are so damn full of life until they aren't. What precious little flowers are grown in these corpse's hearts. :)

Honestly, it reads like the continuation of a longer novel that began with The House of a Thousand Hearts, and I can easily see it continuing on with new character and situations, growing into something absolutely huge and sinister, and NOT just a collection of short stories. The promise is so damn nice and the execution is hearty and heart-y.

There's very little I can or should say about the explosions of delicious gore at each climatic scene, other than wow. Too Good. Too brilliant and satisfying. Am I hooked? You better damn believe it.

My only problem now is in waiting for either the anthology that brings the rest of these stories to life, or the novel that continues The Bones of the Earth.

Truly classic, smooth as silk, warm as blood.

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House of a Thousand HeartsHouse of a Thousand Hearts by Scott Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the long traditions of grand horror, I was very satisfied with this short story's descriptions. We've got a deep and overwhelming monster toying with generations of the family, a house that has become the physical manifestation of it, but more importantly, we've got a link to the author's other creations.

I love stories that build something much bigger than just themselves, and the shared worlds give us a sense of awe that becomes a character all to itself. Hell, the Worms are very interesting characters, and the Trauma, itself, is too.

This story is before the great Trauma, but it presages the Trauma quite nicely, giving us a little slice and dice and the ever-present vermillion veins. The forest, the corruption of the world, and the promises of the nightmare beasts got my heart pumping and had me sitting on the edge of my metaphorical seat.

My only complaint is the conclusion of the story. It's fine in the grand scheme of the world, but it doesn't do justice to the microcosm already established within itself, unless, of course, the main character was the house and the monstrosity. (I'm tempted to leave it at that and assume I hit my hammer on the nail.)

That being said, it fits quite nicely with the Ashen Man side story within The Bones Of The Earth. :)

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Dark Forest (Three-Body, #2)The Dark Forest by Liu Cixin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Will the Dark Forest sprout the seeds of love?

It's an excellent question, even if it induces a deep pessimism and the likelihood of eventual suicide. And yet, this is exactly what we're asked to consider at the end of this excellent novel.

First things first. How does it compare to the first novel? Well, it's a very different read. I can even say it's sedate and deliberate, despite the axe being held over the Earth and all its inhabitants for hundreds of years. We've got a sociology experiment going on here, with lines drawn between optimism and pessimism, faith and despair, and it shows in everything that goes on in the world. In this respect, the novel is very much a product of the many classics of the SF genre that never need to rely on great space battles to tell a good story, and while there IS a space battle, and it's very interesting, it is by far and away the least important message that the novel is wanting to get across.

Strategy is the real plot motivator here, like playing an extremely long game of Go. Lies and the game of darkness is necessary and obvious from the start. Whomever plays the game best will manage to save their civilization. Humans? Or Tri-Solarans?

The secret is there all along, from the first few pages to the last few, and yet we have hundreds of years, societal upheavals, blackmail, and the unsatisfied desire to live a simple and good life.

I started the novel assuming that I'd have a problem with the characterizations again, as I did with the TBP. For the longest time, I just assumed that I'd be dealing with cardboard characters that were only there to promote and ultimately propel the story forward. (Which would have been fine, in fact, because the TBP was so full of wonderful ideas and scope that it held its own regardless.)

I honestly didn't expect The Dark Forest to actually hold up its main character, Lou Ji, to a higher standard and push him through the tale as strongly as it did. Perhaps, had I known that he'd be as strong as he was, I would have paid much closer attention to him from the very start.

As it is now, I'll know what I'll need to do upon a second closer reading. What was mostly unsaid was his internal debate, but that's no matter, because it was always there, mostly hidden in the same way that the Dark Forest hides all.

With some effort, though, his motivations and plan could easily be mapped and enjoyed as an omniscient reader, enriching the tale's excellent ideas with a truly heroic and sacrificed man.

Will the dark forest sprout the seeds of love? Who knows. But it's clear that Lou Ji plans to live his life under the assumption, up to and beyond the point of his greatest despair. I loved it. This novel is not an idea novel, after all.

Sure, it has plenty of interesting ideas, from turning fight vs flight into a moral and then a forced imperative, to assuming that the best way to fight transparency is with the occult. Speculative science took a serious back seat in this novel, but that's okay. We had plenty of other things to keep us busy.

As for the bad parts of this novel? Well, the translation of certain terms are extremely unfortunate. I can't tell you how much I absolutely hate the terms used for our heroes and our villains. Wall-Facers and Wall-Breakers? Seriously? Yes, I get it. You face the wall and contemplate how to scale it, planning move after move until you cannot be beat. Got it. Wall-breakers break the Wall-Facers. Got it.

But, my god, they sound so stupid in English. I would have been fine with a dumb name like Go-Masters or Chess-Masters. At least we'd have a better image in our heads than someone who sits like a dunce in a classroom after being scolded by the teacher. Seriously.

Other than that, I really enjoyed the stratagems between these contestants with the weight of the worlds upon their shoulders, even if it did seem a bit contrived that the UN would decide to prop up a few of their best and brightest to face off with the Tri-Solarans in a battle of wits. (The Tri-Solarans still have their molecule-probes, and they can place them wherever they want to watch and plan accordingly, so with this greater intelligence on their side, the UN planned to force all that intelligence gathering upon these Wall-Facers as either the heroes-that-must-be-beat, or one fantastic diversion to put the enemy off the trail. Not bad reasoning at all, if you can convince the enemy to fall for it. Fortunately, they did.)

I truly believe that the two novels go nicely with each other, and now, I'm even more excited to read the third, but now my expectations have been adjusted away from epic space craziness into the true beginnings of real communication and discovery. Again, shall we go over the dichotomies of faith and despair? I thought not. :)

It's a very thoughtful novel. I recommend it to everyone who loved the Three Body Problem with the caveat that you ought to expect a grand social and strategic battle of wits that showcases an understated and lazy hero who's only claim to fame is a deeper understanding of the stakes and the will to keep his mouth very tightly shut. (That part was very satisfying.)

Was it challenging? Yes. Was I slightly disappointed at times? Yes. Did I get over it? Absolutely. :)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Gunner's ApprenticeGunner's Apprentice by Brent Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

He read this to us when I was at a SF convention and the whole audience sat, enraptured, as we were led to our dooms. I wanted to strangle the author at the time.

As a practical joke, I've never been quite so had in all my life, and the fact that he pulled it off with such a straight face and with an obviously great story like this, KNOWING that all his fans were seeing such a brilliant turning point in the novels that we were there for, was sufficient for all of us to cheerfully murder Mr. Weeks by the end of the story.

Never mind that my estimation of him as both one of my favorite writers only increased after this.

Anyone who can toy with my emotions so facilely deserves every penny of my hard-earned money.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Bones of the Earth (The Bones of the Earth, #1)The Bones of the Earth by Scott Hale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book that practically no one has read, but


First, a word to the wise. This novel continues a long tradition of great adventure fantasy and discovery while being extremely rooted in the very best traditions of better-than-Cthulhu horrorgore.

Getting through the book was was like eating great key-lime pie (and I like key-lime pie) while understanding that I'm actually a post-Cthulhu monstrosity born to a world that has already had the great beast awaken and convert our modern landscape into so much trash and reality-corruption, and the key-lime pie is actually dead babies.

Sound like too much for you? Well, just wait! The beginning of the book gets us a solid introduction by way of an initiation ceremony, which is pretty standard stuff until she passes dead cell phones in the brackish water. After that, and moving through a few important scenes leading to being part of a larger scouting party, the novel is really easy to enjoy. Her quests keep the story moving so smoothly that I just couldn't put the book down until I drowned in my body's exhaustion, and the first thing I did upon waking was resume it. Finishing it has left me with an enormous hunger for more.

Am I impressed as hell? Did I get my fill of key-lime pie? No! Because I haven't read anything quite this horrifying and unabashedly imaginative since only a few of Clive Barker's books, and those tend to get a bit digressive. Scott Hale's novel was damn direct and adventuresome, and while the eventual reveals were not entirely mind-blowing, they were, on the other hand, very satisfying and grand. There was a hell of a lot of payoff in this novel, and not only from the evocations of horror, but also from characterizations through actions, pathos through deeds and force of will in doing what she thinks is right.

I LOVE HORROR, and I feel that love pouring through to me from this author, too!

I have no higher praise that I can give to this, or any other, novel. It grabbed me by my tastebuds and threw me into a post-apocalyptic supernatural nightmare world and never once let up or lost its tension. Please, may I have some more?

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The Children of MenThe Children of Men by P.D. James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel seriously freaked me out when I read it. I actually sat in stunned and depressed contemplation at my own lack of children and the decisions I believed I held dear at the time.

I didn't care to bring children into this world, and at the time, I hated the world pretty much entirely, so I got struck against the back of my head after reading this and I haven't really been the same, since.

The novel took me on a very disturbing ride with the ultimate death of humanity by way of sterility. The most powerful aspect of the novel was the people's reactions, how their worldviews veered off in strange ways.

Suicides were all very well and obvious, but I think I enjoyed the other paths the mind took in reaction.

I still can't believe that the novel had the effect of changing my mind about my life. I like to consider myself pretty well-read and aware, but sometimes a huge kick in the head can come out of nowhere. I changed my mind. I wanted to live. I wanted children. I hadn't wanted children before.

Very big life choice, no? Maybe it says more about me than the novel. I don't really know. It did surprise the hell out of me.

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Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Girl with All the GiftsThe Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So. This was a YA title, right?

Then hell yeah, nothing sends up the best message to any ten year old girl reading this that if you can't sporulate your handlers, then by all means, shoot them in the head. It's gotta be better to kill off the human race and start over as bright zombies anyway.

Honestly, I loved it. I did get the feeling, right as we got to the point where our bright little ten year old showed us how much of a genius she was, that it would be a nice twist if she became the inheritor of the world. It was just a fleeting thought, and I might have really enjoyed that kind of ending. She was, after all, very thoughtful and caring for a genius-level zombie.

Little did I know, right?

I loved this book. It wasn't just a solid read from beginning to end, with wonderfully developed characters who actually change and deepen as it progresses. It had pathos, good and bad shot through every person, and so many pertinent dilemmas to push through. There was never a truly extraneous line of text in the whole novel. It was tight and very well edited to the point that it has become a bright star of truly fantastic quality.

I took it easy while reading this because I didn't want it to end. It was very smooth going down.

Other things that stood out, of course, were the solid extrapolations of the fungal vector, the quality of the sub-genre entry, and the uplifting endnote.

Okay, maybe some people wouldn't see the end as uplifting, but I pretty much rooted for the fungus during the entire novel. I mean, just imagine: strength, speed, amazingly reduced caloric intake, and a whole world to dominate once they managed to scramble up from the dark ages. I couldn't believe how JEALOUS I was.

Yep. I was green with envy. It wasn't the tint of my skin. I swear.

I totally recommend this for all you zombielovers out there. I've read more than my fair share, and I have to rank this up there with at least my top five, if not my top four.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Bombs Away (The Hot War, #1)Bombs Away by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There's a lot of this novel that's good, if not particularly my taste, but then again, there's a lot that I had to slog over.

First, the good:

This history of 1951 diverges immediately, and we get immersed in a multitude of characters from around the world, from China, Hungary, Russia, Germany, as well as a host of locations in America, including Seattle, California, and parts of the East Coast. I felt like I was a part of the world as a whole, steeped in not particularly deep descriptions of the locales, but at least enough to get the general feel.

The Atom Bomb drops in Korea, followed by a retaliation from Russia in Alaska, followed by American's retaliation in a podunk Chinese town, followed by an escalation followed by an escalation, until we have a hundred low yield city-busting Atom-Bombs littering the world and taking out all the major cities. Neither Stalin nor Truman can stop the tide, nor do they want to. The bomb dropping, although strictly horrible, is probably the most interesting thing about the novel, because we get seemingly real people's reactions to it, the hardening of their hearts, making do, and continuing to live through all the mess of the world. "I Serve the Soviet Union!" was perhaps repeated too many times, or at least the meaning behind it was.

The novel is served best upon reflection of its reading. I liked remembering all that had actually happened in retrospect.

And now, the bad:

There was way to many characters to ever truly get invested in any, although a few came close. I discovered late in the reading that I may as well treat the book as a survival type horror. Don't get too close to anyone, because they'll probably not be around too much longer. That's fine if that's what you were expecting, but I'm a type of reader that actually likes good character and heroic (even semi- or quasi-heroic deeds). There was remarkably little of any of that in the novel. It was just long parade of characters getting through the changed world, either setting up for another bombing run, running a tank, taking care of the kids, or making a living as a stranger in a strange land. It was okay, but to me it was pretty meh.

It felt like a never-ending list of name dropping, whether it was location or people, and I was very bored and distracted for the main duration of the novel. I had to pick up a caffeine addiction just to keep my mind on the book. I felt like I wanted to do anything, anything at all, OTHER than read this. I'm sorry, but WWII does NOT do anything for me, and neither does the Korean war, or modern war in general. It never has. That isn't to say I haven't tried, of course, and I can list a long number of documentaries, movies, non-fiction, and fiction that I've slogged through to try to "get" the war bug. I never did. And I probably would have DNF'd this after the first thirteen pages, honestly, if I didn't have such iron-self control and dedication to reading through every single novel I finally decided to start reading.

It just wasn't for me, but seeing a protracted atomic war right out of the infancy of the tool IS quite interesting. At practically no other time in history would anyone possibly have a hope to pick up and continue on with their lives. The later explosive yields would have precluded much of that.

It wasn't the end of everything, but it certainly showed the world a fresh hell. Like I said, I like the novel in retrospect. I like thinking about what it accomplished for me without ever wanting to slog through anything like it again.

As for ideas, I think the novel did a great job. As for writing, or getting into the characters... not so much. I would have much preferred a few primary characters going through all those locations, growing as individuals and watching their comrades or friends die, or die themselves, rather than spread too little butter over too much bread the way it was.

Do I recommend this? I'd say yes, if you're the type of person who likes alternate histories, lots of characters showing off lots of locations, and a good appreciation of close-to-reality worldbuilding. Otherwise, no.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

EifelheimEifelheim by Michael Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In all fairness, I ought to give one or two more stars to this novel for the following reasons.

The sheer amount of research put into the novel to make a complete picture of a small medieval German town and it's surrounding politics, not to mention the great walk-on parts of Occam and the peripheral references to Roger Bacon, made the novel a true tour-de-force.

Mr. Flynn's well-thought out idea behind hyperspace was explored quite thoroughly and also deserves much praise.

Even the basic premise behind the novel, where chivalrous knights meet grasshopper aliens, where priests are successful in converting bug-eyed aliens to christ, and a humanistic treatise on the nature of charity applied equally to the alien and the human during the horrible times of the Black Plague made the novel shine.

Why I am not giving the novel a 4 star or a 5 star is purely upon me. I was bored. It took an awful long time to get through the novel, for me, and I'm generally very forgiving for every text I pick up. I can usually find great things to say about a novel even if I didn't quite like it.

I'm in a different position for this one. I liked it. I liked it quite a lot. Unfortunately, I wanted more action, more reveals, more melodrama, more something that I can't quite put my finger on. Perhaps I would have been as happy with the novel without the present day sequences. Perhaps I would have been more happy with a lot more philosophy shaken in to the situation. These are personal preferences, and I know that's such an obvious thing to say within a review. I want to apologize for not giving the book more stars because I feel like it tried so hard and was brilliant on so many other levels. If I were to say that the novel was technically great, I wouldn't be wrong, but it also drops the hint that something was missing.

Perhaps, in the end, what I was looking for amidst the beautiful detailed description of the world he wrote was something as small and juicy as a theme. Perhaps I just wanted a theme that was beyond the good christian alien.

I really feel guilty. It was good. I just have the feeling that something was missing. Maybe it was me.

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Dexter Is Dead (Dexter, #8)Dexter Is Dead by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dexter is cursed. There just doesn't seem to be a way to close out his stories in a way that truly satisfies. First it was the tv series, and now it's the books.

Now, of course, if i were just going to be comparing apples to apples, by comparing the end of the tv series to the end of the books, I can unequivocally recommend the book without qualm.

We still have the dolorous dementia of a drowning Dexter, all friendless, family-less, and fraught with firearmed foes and one steadfast psychopath of a brother to watch his back. Such things are pretty damn good, minus the somewhat slow start, and the main body of action kept me glued to my seat. It's the end, on the other hand, that's cursed.

The end of the previous novel pretty much hamstrung Dexter, anyway, so it's not hard to see that this final novel is a swan song. But there's the rub: We're still meant to see him as our dark hero when there's nothing left for him to be heroic about, except for maybe the third or fourth recycled plot of having to save his children. Even here, we barely got to see any of them on stage before Dexter is going all heroic against deep odds and

(Here's the spoiler alert)

He sacrificed his life for them.

Is it as bad as all that? No. Not really. It's pretty standard stuff, actually, and I really wanted a much grander send off for down-in-the-dumps Dexter. You know, something to really showcase and give a sound-off to all his favorite fans out there, like me.

Is this a sour grapes moment? Possibly. But I really think he deserved better.

Overall, the novel was quite good, notwithstanding the beginning and the end. It jumped back to life. Too bad it had to die so ... sad.

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Finches of MarsFinches of Mars by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am thoroughly disappointed.

There are a few parts of the novel that I can latch onto and say, "Yes, this snippet seems fairly interesting," but they are too few and far between, suffering from either a lack of imagination or a serious review of what good authors have already accomplished over the last two decades when dealing with the familiar topic of Mars colonization.

Even that might have been forgivable if the common thread tying each snippet had been strong enough to make me want to keep reading. It could have been anything; perhaps a strong or interesting protagonist, maybe a triggering and unusual idea or possibly a striking image, or failing that, a few better poems beyond those that were painstakingly reproduced in the novel. (I strongly suspect is Mr. Aldiss's own, but I haven't made any attempt to confirm this supposition.)

Unfortunately, I came to a very, very late conclusion that yes, indeed, this novel's point was that we need to get our brightest off the damn planet and start again elsewhere. Unfortunately, this was told to me explicitly in the appendix, and I didn't have the pleasure to come to this conclusion on my own during the main reading. Instead, I was subjected to a sub-par Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear, but only including the population of Mars, a sub-par Mars only slightly as interesting as Greg Bear's Moving Mars and far, far behind Kim Stanley Robinson. There are other examples I could have made, but make up your own mind: How interesting is a colony of six towers representing different parts of Earth, fully dependent on supplies coming from Earth, and watching them be forced to flounder as all the Earth falls apart from it's own inadequacies? Does it sound like a pared-down version of everything else you might have read? It does to me.

As for characters, the most interesting, and I am loathe to admit that they are anything like interesting, is a snot-nosed punk who got his mother pregnant, and the mother was prematurely praised for having produced the first viable child born on Mars. I thought to myself, "Is this going to be the thread that keeps this disjointed and rambling narrative going?" The answer is, fortunately or unfortunately, "No."

The people are varied and variously semi-likeable or not at all likeable, and few of them have much time on the stage, and almost none of them have anything very important to contribute to the narrative.

If I had come into this hoping just to read a book of pessimistic slice-of-life vignettes that watched humanity's eventual implosion, even that could have been accomplished with a great more aplomb. I wouldn't, therefore, have wanted or expected

Warning. Spoiler ahead:

[a miraculous time-traveling visit from the colony's distant descendants offering miraculous tech and seeds that would turn Mars into something life-supporting and therefore ensuring their own eventual survival, and I don't care how many times we get the idea from the story's astronomers that the universe is more wild and varied and connected strangely. I know I would have wanted a LOT more foreplay from that direction before I got slipped THAT.]

I don't generally give out reviews for books that I haven't liked, because I generally do a lot of research before I pick up a book. This case was a bit different for one reason. I was given the opportunity to read it through Netgalley, and the other novel I had recently reviewed for Mr. Aldiss kicked serious ass and I want to praise it to the moon. Literally. On a spiderweb.

This novel simply felt like there was no love driving it, or that it was produced like a bunch of scraps thrown together in hopes that the reader would see something brilliant in it that doesn't really exist. And perhaps there might have been, assuming that strong thread I mentioned had kept a hot and burning fire running through it, and a decent editor to quash that freaking ending and demand a rewrite.

According to the author, this is his last novel. He has been writing for a long time, and many people have praised him. I've praised him with my limited knowledge of his works, and I was perfectly willing to give this novel the benefit of the doubt because he earned a great deal of leeway with Hothouse.

This novel hasn't squandered all my goodwill, either. I'm most definitely going to read some of his other earlier works and be sure I have a truly decent sample to judge the author by. After all, I am one of those people who absolutely adored the movie A.I., and it was only recently that I finally grokked the fact that Mr. Aldiss wrote the short story on which it was based. I can go by the fact that two out of three is still a winner, and this novel is probably an outlier.

That being said, I've got to be honest: I did not like Finches of Mars, but I'm also not assuming this is a truly characteristic sample of his work. At least, not yet. If you're new to him and want to read his stuff, just please, please don't read this one. There's simply too little to recommend it.

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Saturday, August 8, 2015

City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1)City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a novel of ideas, the novel is absolutely rich and fantastic.

But when it comes to the writing, I had to complain a bit about the choice of tropes. I'm wasn't certain that a mystery was the absolute best medium to propel the main tale, but when the book is said and done, I can't fault how it was wrapped up. Everything made perfect sense. I found that I was caught up in my own prejudices even as I was reading it, and the journey had changed me in the end, which is strange enough, because we're not talking about great human quirks that plague us. It was just the fact that I was reading a truly superior fantasy that thought it was a murder mystery.

It turned out to be a sneaky novel that paraded about like a police procedural in the beginning but wind up being a god-slaying action adventure and political coup. What the hell? Seriously, I was pretty ambivalent during most of the first third of the novel. I really enjoyed the brilliant worldbuilding, but the operative angle and murder mystery was just okay. If it's intent was to slow me down and take the view, it did, but I didn't need it. I was already completely hooked by the world.

And then something happened. At first it was Sigurd. And then it was Shara and the conspiracy, the hints of killed gods coming back.

One thing anyone ought to know before reading this book is that it has a really fantastic magic system. As a mystery and eventually a political novel, it turns out pretty awesome, but as an epic fantasy that masquerades as a modern land of industry after the assassination of all the gods that could bend reality to their will, the novel's pretty freaking fantastic. The fantasy compels and twists and delights.

When the action starts, it ranks up there as a heroic legend full of all the classic signatures, outperforming so many of my own favorite fantasy classics that I actually put the book down to cheer for a while.

The two main characters made this novel shine, heavy mashups of tons of tropes, and yet it wasn't a mess. I felt their personalities eventually blow across the pages like a storm.

Sigurd was a Queequeg. He was an unkillable tortured hero pirate and sidekick, and lost prince and a godkiller.

Shara was the transforming naive government functionary detective historian setting reluctant foot into national politics and fighting injustice while also happening to be a god-killing great-granddaughter of a tortured godkiller that brought about the technological supremacy of Saypur so many years ago.

Truly, I loved how complicated these two were. Their mashups were delightful.

But the question is: How does anyone transform such humble mystery beginnings into a nearly hopeless epic battle against truly reality-warping gods?

I'm at a loss to explain. (It's that good.) Read it for yourself to experience the journey. ;)

Mr. Bennett has successfully built a set of stairs into the sky, one step at a time, but unlike Bulikov, these stairs actually GO somewhere. Bravo!

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Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Little MenThe Little Men by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Girl Noir. I can't say I've ever read any before now, but who cares? I loved it. Megan Abbott's prose is so damn sharp that I can hear the hunting knife scratch on the inside of my kitchen wall from here.

What can I say? I love Penny. I feel empathy for her. I got sucked right in to the mystery and sucked right into her empathy for poor Larry. This was damn fine suspense, worthy of any of the best horror writing I've ever had the pleasure to read. You might say I rolled in it like a dog to shit on a grassy knoll.

Okay. Raise your hand if you're one of those crazy fans of Mulholland Drive. It's okay to admit it. I am one of those people. You remember that scene with the little people? The 'OMGWTH am I seeing, and why am I so fascinated with something I can't understand' kind of feeling?

Well, yeah. I got that here. I loved it. Almost magical realism. It skirts the edge without quite making the cut, and that's the whole point. The whole story is sharp.

I think I've found a new guilty pleasure. Moaar girl noir. ;)

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HothouseHothouse by Brian W. Aldiss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm really impressed with this 1962 classic. I was fully prepared to assume it would be outdated and skimpy on the characters, but what I actually got was a thought-provoking tale that was so heavy on the worldbuilding that the worldbuilding was more like three or four characters in its own right.

I mean, you know its some serious science fiction if we're transported a billion years in the future, where men and women are a fifth our current size, where the earth and the moon are locked to constantly face the sun and the world had devolved and mixed and blurred lines between animals and vegetables. The prose was more than strong enough to prevent such a monstrosity of a novel from collapsing, filled with tantalizing images of truly odd creatures and situations I can barely guess at.

I only had a few issues with some of the characters. Some of the species of man were really dumb, and that was kind of the point, but I just couldn't believe that they'd have no sense of self-preservation. That point irked me. But other than that, I understood why the main characters didn't get much of a chance to grow or change. It was an outright adventure novel, exploring new lands, trying to survive while being driven by the mortal enemy of mankind.... his brain.

My god, that aspect of this novel was pretty damn cool. Mankind entered into a contract with a parasite that gave us our intelligence in the deep past. A fungus that, when combined with another living creature, makes it smarter. With time, it moved from being a crown of spongy fungus that looked like a brain to inhabit the slowly enlarged cavity of our modern heads, until all man thought this was the natural order. When the sun aged and became deadly to the fungus, mankind fell into the state of beasts again.

To have a hardy and evolved fungus drop upon you in the middle of the jungle to give you heightened intelligence, you'd think that would be a good thing, right?

Intelligence is overrated. :)

What a mess it caused for Gren.

The world was fantastic, spanning from spiderwebs that spanned between the earth and the moon, twilight zones where wolfmen roam, trees that shoot fire, and fishmen that rise up from the waters to preach about civilization and the coming nova of our sun. Too cool.

There's one more thing. These stories were written in 1961 before they were put together as one novel the next year. As I was reading it, I kept thinking to myself that this novel was the inspiration for Dune. The Morel could access our genetic memories into the deep past. The ecological concerns were breathtaking and very well thought out and developed, whether or not they're inaccurate. There were so many links and ties between the two novels that I had to put it down and do a little research. I kept assuming that this was a homage to Dune, for heaven's sake. Nope. It came out 4 years before Dune, and does an awesome job at outperforming Dune in these ways.

Is that high praise? Yes. Do I see why one of the short stories that made up this novel won the Hugo in '62? Yes. Can I imagine that during the 5 year time that Frank Herbert was writing Dune, he got inspired while reading the magazines these stories were published? Yes.

What a fantastic coincidence. :)

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His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire #1)His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You'll have to forgive me, folks, but I'm reviewing this from a decade-old memory, so I may get a little mixed up with some of the books that follow this first one. If I don't, then all's good in the world, right?

So what I remember most about the first Temeraire was how much I loved getting embroiled in a military dragon training camp for the service of His Majesty the King of England. For me, this was a brand new concept. I hadn't read any steampunk. I hadn't even read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell. I thought this book was freaking awesome, but I kept wondering, back in those days, if this was truly the right kind of novel to be propped up as a Hugo. It was, after all, fantasy. I got over such crap since then, but at the time I was prejudiced against it on that point alone.

It was very fortunate for Ms. Novik that I loved the easy writing, the sense of magical adventure, the personality quirks of the team of dragons, and the hopeless nature of their riders. So of course I had to dive in to the next three novels right away, and I did.

So what happened after that point? I don't know. I never picked up another in the series. Maybe the whole concept ran out of steam for me, but I do remember the first two books very fondly, and the first was the best of them all. It's the whole thing about fresh starts and being the underdog that appealed the most.

It was a very fun read!

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Monday, August 3, 2015

Apex (Nexus, #3)Apex by Ramez Naam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This third novel is a serious departure from the first two. Global politics and truly high stakes action is involved, including several full-featured revolutions, the machinations of an evil world-mind, and a nuclear war. Sound pretty epic? It is.

And there was enough action and solid pace to make the introduction of many new characters worth continuing.

Don't worry, though! If you're worried that those surviving main characters don't carry over into this novel, rest assured. All of them have central roles, and it was satisfying enough to be a retelling of Siddhartha. (Although, to be perfectly honest, I much prefer this version. It's as accessible as only a transhumanist revolution featuring love and hate can make it.)

I always thought my idea of throwing thousands of poisonous snakes into a locked congress was a good idea, but Mr. Naam had a better idea. Read this novel and tell me if I'm wrong!

Did I think the novel surpass the first? Hard to tell. It's very different. The first novel was full of sympathetic and idealistic characters that I really latched on to. The second novel really departed from that, and so I was stuck in the pov's of morally ambiguous people who eventually redeemed themselves with their choices, or not. The third novel focused on anger and revenge versus redemption, but on a nicely grounded but still global scale, jumping from China to India, to the US, and back again.

One thing I really loved was the huge homage to Gibson's Idoru, made to serve an awesome purpose. I found myself cheering. :)

I still want to be a part of Nexus. I'd down the drug in a heartbeat. Maybe I have a lot of faith in humanity.

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